Bama's Wounds Continue into Spring

It's not getting any easier to keep track of the Alabama football team these days. With spring practice beginning Tuesday, Head Coach Mike Shula brought written notes to a news conference held with reporters Thursday in Tuscaloosa in order to catalogue the injuries and defections from his team since the end of the season.

There were also reasons to be upbeat for Shula, however.

"Things are happening real fast," he said. "I feel real good about the things that we have had happening in the winter workouts. We want to find out about players, the guys who we redshirted last year and guys that will have to fill in for starters from last year who left. Offensive line and tight end will be two key positions for us."

"We're still beat up," the coach said.

Shula announced Travis West and Clint Johnston (previously reported) will not return to the team as a result of career-ending injuries. Paperwork has been filed that would allow Johnston and West to remain on scholarship, but not count against the team's total scholarships.

"Travis had the injury in his pelvis and had surgery on a hernia," Shula said. "I have a lot of respect for Travis West. He's one of the toughest guys out there. I wish him well. These guys (Johnston and West) are going to stay in school and hopefully going to get their degrees here in a couple of years."

Repeated concussions forced the end of Johnston's career.

Shula also confirmed the departure of defensive lineman Chris Turner, and added the names of wide receiver Will Roach and walk-on fullback Damien Jones to the list of players who had decided to "move on" to other things. Shula also noted walk-on quarterback A.J. Milwee transferred to UNA.

Roach, a class of 2003 signee, spent much of his time at Alabama on the injured list. A shoulder injury during two-a-days last fall hampered him in 2004.

Jones came to Alabama last spring after pursuing a baseball career for five years. He jumped from position to position, but was unable to crack the lineup.

Turner signed in 2004 and was behind Todd Bates and Wallace Gilberry at defensive end. Turner had 10 tackles in 58 plays last year and did not earn a varsity letter.

There were still more players who will miss some or all of the work in the Tide's spring drills, including quarterbacks Brodie Croyle (knee) and Marc Guillon (back), running backs Kenneth Darby (pelvis) and Tim Castille (knee), offensive guard B.J. Stabler (knee), defensive tackles Jeremy Clark (knee) and Justin Britt (ankles/feet), placekicker C.J. Rhody (ankle) and punter Patrick Eades (hip).

Shula said, "Ken Darby will miss the first couple of weeks, at least, with his stress fracture. The goal is to get him ready for the fall," and that Brodie Croyle and Marc Guillon will also be limited in what they can do when spring practice begins. Tim Castille's rehabilitation is progressing well and he was never expected to be able to go in the spring. Shula said it will be May or June before Castille is back to 100 per cent.

Shula said the injuries in the offensive backfield is one area that is "a little disappointing. But Ken Darby is a proven guy for us, and as much as we'd like to have him for spring ball we know what he can do. The running back position might not be determined until the fall as far as the depth chart there."

Le'Ron McClain will be the only scholarshipped fullback in the spring, and Shula commended McClain's work ethic in the weight room and conditioning drills. Shula said in the spring McClain "needs a ton of work with his hands – catching the ball," and expects him to get the necessary amount of work.

Shula said being shorthanded in the offensive backfield does allow him to experiment more with three- and four-wide receiver sets, as well as with a two-tight end, one-back formation.

He said, "Obviously we were hoping Brodie would be 100 per cent for the first practice. We've got to make sure he can get as many reps as he can, but do it in a way that's not going to re-injure his knee. He's not at 100 per cent, obviously. Hopefully he will do more than he did this time last year."

Shula said that mentally, "I think Brodie is doing great. It's like water off a duck's back for him."

Croyle said he would "definitely" be involved in seven-on-seven drills in the spring. He said the only thing keeping him out of live action is that "I can't take off full speed and I can't decelerate fast enough. They said that is the last step."

Croyle has been conducting informal one-on-one and seven-on-seven passing drills in the past weeks. Guillon continues to undergo treatment for his back and has not been able to participate in the informal passing drills.

With two quarterbacks limited in the spring, grayshirt freshman John Parker Wilson will have an opportunity for extended practice time in the fall much like Guillon did in 2004. Wilson has also been participating in the passing drills.

Shula said the spring for Wilson would be, "real important. It's kind of what this whole grayshirting thing is about. With Marc and Brodie being limited he's going to get a lot of work."

Stabler underwent knee arthroscopic knee surgery recently and Shula said he hoped Stabler would be able to practice in the spring. Clark had arthroscopic surgery on his knee on Wednesday, and Shula said, "I'm not sure if he'll make it back for spring."

Britt is recovering from surgery on both his feet/ankles in early January to correct a problem that caused pain and inflammation during the 2004 season. Britt is expected back in the mid to latter part of spring practice. "(Britt) had some extra bone removed behind is ankle, that's the best way to describe it," Shula said. "He's moving around pretty well."

Rhody had surgery before coming to Alabama and knew he would redshirt at that point, and he had a second surgery late in the 2004 season on the same plant foot to repair cartilege damage. Rhody has just begun kicking again but is not at full strength. Eades is still recovering from injuries sustained in a car wreck last year, but Tide coaches are hoping for at least a limited return in the spring.

Defensive coordinator Joe Kines said that Dominic Lee also had surgery in the off-season, but Shula said that Lee, "is going to be ready to go. There are other guys that are still injured but as far as being ready to go, they will be ready.

Asked if he considered moving spring practice to a later date to allow for the healing of injuries, Shula said, "Some of these injuries we have only a certain amount of time we can wait, unless we want to go in April, and nobody wants to go in April. We have good reasons for having spring earlier. We felt like it was good last year and we wanted to keep it early."

Shula noted the positions of offensive line, tight end and running back as the most important areas to see improvement. JB Closner will remain at center and Antoine Caldwell will see his first look at left guard.

"Probably the biggest misunderstanding of our offense is that we don't want to throw to the tight end," Shula said. "Trent Davidson is more of a blocking tight end. Nick Walker is a guy we want to get ready and get a lot of reps this spring. There's going to be a learning curve there, but he's going to get a lot of work there in the spring."

Shula said he considered moving Closner to guard and Caldwell to center, and intends to work Caldwell at both positions. Shula said there might be other moves in the spring similar to last year's move of Charlie Peprah from corner to safety, but "not right now."

Shula also announce that former holder Gabe Gardina will replace Paul Hogan as a graduate assistant on staff. Gardina worked around the program last season as a student assistant.

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