Croyle and his Bama teammates have been in Tuscaloosa most of the summer working on strength and conditioning and working on the practice field without benefit of coaches. The coaching staff joins them Tuesday when 105 players, including at least 25 newcomers, will begin pre-season practice.
Alabama opens the season at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 3, hosting Middle Tennessee State in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Almost every evaluation, every prediction, every story of Alabama football begins with, "If Brodie Croyle can stay healthy…" Croyle missed much of 2003 with a shoulder injury that required post-season surgery and all but two-and-a-half games of 2004 with a knee injury that required surgery.
"It would have been nice to have been able to coach Brodie one spring when we had him, but that isn't going to happen now," Rader said. "But in the spring he got as much work as possible, as much as the doctors and trainers considered wise. He got most of the work in the shotgun formation because we didn't want him putting stress on the knee with dropping back. But it was not a waste of time. He got a lot out of it and it kept him mentally sharp, as did his work in meetings."
Rader added that the silver lining in the cloud of Croyle being limited in the spring is that back-ups John Parker Wilson and Marc Guillon were able to get more repetitions. "I would feel comfortable with either one of them going into a game, and the team feels the same way," Rader said.
Health issues are addressed only by the head coach, and Rader did not comment on the progress being made by halfback Kenneth Darby (recovering from a sports hernia) or fullback Tim Castille (recovering from knee surgery). He did say that he expected all three incoming freshmen running backs–Roy Upchurch, Glen Coffee, and Ali Sharrief–to have a chance to play. There is only one scholarshipped fullback behind Castille: LeRon McClain. Rader said the next fullback would be walk-on Kyle Bennett, but added that Alabama has many personnel groupings and would not necessarily have to always have a fullback.
Those groupings include two or more tight ends. Although Rader did not mention the possible loss of Trent Davidson in the early work because of reported foot surgery, he noted that Nick Walker had an excellent spring and that two 260-pound freshmen (Charles Hoke and Travis McCall) would be joining the squad. "The young linebackers have a chance to play," Rader said.
He also has confidence in Alabama's stable of wide receivers, most of whom played meaningful roles last year and who have enough experience this year to play more than one position. That is important in disguising the offense.
After Croyle, the top subject around Alabama football is either the injury situation at running back and fullback or the lack of depth in the offensive line. Rader is aware of the depth situation up front. He said, "A Division I team should be three-deep in the offensive line. We're probably one more recruiting class away from having that situation."
He said pre-practice coaching staff meetings did not address the possibility of offensive linemen being able to play more than one position, but that it might be necessary this year to provide depth.