Behind Brodie

One of Alabama's most successful eras came in the 1970s and early 1980s when the Crimson Tide dominated with the wishbone offense. The offense called for a quarterback who could be an effective running back and was at more risk for injury. In 2005, almost everyone believes Bama success depends on keeping Brodie Croyle from injury.

In the wishbone era, it was reasonable for pre-season analysis of Alabama's football team to include information on the back-up quarterbacks. Although Alabama was generally far superior to its competition, it was pointed out that "We Alabama fans are the only ones who worry about who is going to be the third team quarterback."

As we approach two months until 2005 kickoff, thoughts turn to the health of Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle. It's not because Croyle isn't healthy. He had knee surgery after the third game of 2004, but looked good in the spring and Head Coach Mike Shula said Croyle could have participated in all contact work. "But," Shula pointed out, "it's a lot more important that he's ready to go for the season than it was that he go in the spring."

Croyle has gained weight and strength and reports from summer pass skeleton work is that he has been very effective. But he has missed most of the last two seasons, in 2003 with a bad shoulder that required post-season surgery and with a bad knee last year. (He also missed his senior year of high school with a knee injury suffered in the first game of the year.)

So it is natural for Alabama fans to worry about Croyle's health.

But we don't know much about the back-ups at other schools. Tennessee did well last year with back-up quarterbacks, but more often than not there is a big fall off when the starting quarterback is lost.

What would have happened to Auburn last year if Jason Campbell had been injured? No one can know for sure, and Auburn certainly had other offensive weapons, but anyone who knows anything about football knows that Campbell had an extraordinary season. It is unlikely his back-up would have been as effective.

What will happen at Florida if Chris Leak–the pre-season Southeastern Conference Player of the Year–is injured? If new coach Urban Meyer exposes his quarterback as he has in past coaching stops, we may find out. And it's likely that Florida does have other good quarterbacks.

Would David Cutcliffe have lasted as long as he did at Ole Miss if he hadn't had Eli Manning? Or if Manning had been injured?

On paper, Marc Guillon would seem to be the back-up quarterback going into fall drills. He was the back-up entering 2004 and after Brodie's injury started two games–losses to Arkansas and South Carolina–before being sidelined for the rest of the year with a back injury. He played in four games.

Spencer Pennington ended last season as the starter in seven games, and would have been a senior this year. But Pennington gave up football for baseball. Ironically, observers of last summer's pass skeleton work thought Pennington should have been the back-up to Croyle, ahead of Guillon, going into 2004.

The apparent number two quarterback in the spring was John Parker Wilson. Signed in 2004 out of Hoover High School, Wilson elected to gray shirt, entering Alabama in January as a true freshman. He was able to go through a little practice work as Bama prepared for the Music City Bowl last December and was very effective.

Although Wilson wasn't completely polished in the spring, he showed great potential. There were scrimmages where Guillon had better statistics, but Wilson looks like the heir-apparent to Croyle.

And this summer there have been no Guillon sightings at pass skeleton work. Meanwhile, Croyle seems to have taken a mentor role with Wilson, taking the freshman under his wing to prepare him for his Crimson Tide future.

One area in which Wilson must improve is getting his passes thrown more quickly. In practices, the quarterback is protected. In games he will be sacked if he doesn't mend his ways.

Quarterback performance depends in great part upon the supporting cast, and with Alabama's offensive line being rebuilt, some question about tailback health and depth, and other factors, the task of being Bama's quarterback could be a very hard job this fall.

Under the best of circumstances, it is not ordinarily a job for a freshman. Obviously, Wilson has a leg up on most freshmen because of his spring work, but he is still without college game experience.

Two very true freshmen will report in August (actually, Jimmy Johns has already been around town and Jimmy Barnes is coming soon), and there are a couple of walk-ons around, too, including Adam Thrash.

John Parker Wilson is the likely back-up. Ideally, he'll learn his craft as the mop-up man in 13 games in 2005.

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