And Behind Him...

Ask anyone. For Alabama to succeed this year, senior quarterback Brodie Croyle has to stay healthy. Or junior halfback Kenneth Darby has to be healthy. Or junior fullback Tim Castille has to be healthy. Or the offensive line has to come through. We've heard it all.

But what if someone at one of those positions is injured? Alabama still has to play the game.

An injury means that the next man has to step up.

Ask any coach.

There is no doubt that football stars have emerged because an injury to another player provided playing opportunity. But it's about as likely as Barbara Streisand taking the night off Broadway and the understudy taking over the role permanently. Not likely.

Still, the show–and the games–must go on.

So who are the critical back-up players for Alabama this year? Here's a look at some who may be most important either to take over after an injury or to provide depth. Today's look is at the offense.

Brodie Croyle generally would be considered to be the most important offensive player because he is the quarterback. Before his injury in the third game of last season he had been very impressive. And other than a couple of lackluster games by Marc Guillon, Croyle is the only Tide quarterback with experience.

But based on spring practice, if Croyle is injured it appears likely that freshman John Parker Wilson would get the call. Wilson has had a very good summer, according to Croyle. Guillon has been absent from summer drills after re-injuring his back following spring practice, according to a published report in the Tuscaloosa News quoting Coach Mike Shula.

There have also been very positive report of the work by incoming freshman Jimmy Johns, who has been in Tuscaloosa all summer.

Tim Castille is listed as Alabama's returning starting fullback, but he was also the top back-up at halfback last year until he injured a knee against Tennessee. Castille actually started at halfback with LeRon McClain on the first play of the first game last year, and that backfield was the Tide's staple in short yardage situations.

McClain could conceivably be the fullback this year with Castille the back-up at both halfback and fullback. But most believe that if Castille is fully recovered from his injury that he will return to his number one fullback position with McClain in the important back-up role.

Kenneth Darby is also expected to return full speed as the number one halfback after his thousand-yard performance as the half-a-season starter in 2004. Although on paper the back-up halfbacks (in addition to Castille) are soph Aaron Johns and freshman walk-on Theo Townsend, it could be that another true freshman will be number two at the featured running back spot.

And there are three freshmen halfbacks who could conceivably move into that position behind Darby. In order of reputation they are Roy Upchurch, Glen Coffee, and Ali Sharrief.

It's hard to distinguish the back-ups from the starters at the wide receiver positions. A handful of experienced hands from last year are rotated in and out at both split end and flanker in what is considered to be one of Alabama's strengths. After spring practice, it appeared that the top men were Matt Caddell at split end and D.J. Hall at flanker, but no one would be surprised to see Tyrone Prothro, Keith Brown, or Elzekial Knight as a starter. All are considered first team.

Last year Bama had three tight ends and most of the time all of them were on the injury list or just coming off it. Two of them–David Cavan and Clint Johnston–have graduated. Senior Greg McLain has a long history of injuries, making it difficult to count on him. Soph Trent Davidson and redshirt freshman Nick Walker are generally considered to be the men battling for number one, with the other to be a much-used back-up.

It's not too difficult to pick the back-up at the offensive line positions. He's the one not starting. There is no three-deep at any of the five offensive line spots without listing a true freshman. And true freshmen starting on the offensive line are rare.

There are only two starters returning–center J.B. Closner and right tackle Kyle Tatum. Following spring practice it appeared that Chris Capps would be the left tackle, Antoine Caldwell the left guard, and B.J. Stabler the right guard.

Those three newcomers have a total of 77 plays of college experience, and all 77 of those plays were by Capps last year. Caldwell and Stabler are redshirt freshmen. The back-ups are either freshmen–left tackle Cody Davis and right tackle Drew Davis–or men who saw only mop-up duty last year–center Taylor Britt, left guard Justin Moon, and right guard Mark Sanders. If one had to guess at a true freshman making the playing rotation on the offensive line, it would probably be Marlon Davis.

It is possible that an offensive line injury would cause some shifting. For instance, if Closner had to miss, it is possible that Caldwell–who was recruited as a center–would move to that spot.

So who is the most critical back-up? That remains to be seen, depending on need. If Croyle is injured and Wilson is successful as a freshman, he would likely win that "honor." But possibilities exist at almost all positions.

Obviously, the best scenario is that no back-up is pressed into service because of injury to a teammate, but that is not realistic.

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