Alabama Coach Mike Shula is watching for freshmen to move into the playing rotation this year. There are a couple of spots where it is almost inevitable that first year players will be a part of the depth chart in 2005.
Alabama only occasionally issues an official depth chart, so this is an educated guess based on practice observations.
Although Shula said early that he thought about eight of the 26 new players might see playing time as true freshmen, he is not bound by any number. And as he has watched practice one has the feeling that he is revising that number upwards. And, of course, it is common for freshmen to get their first playing time as members of the special teams.
Alabama opens the season September 3, hosting Middle Tennessee State at 6 p.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Here are some freshmen players who might be in playing rotation on offense.
There are two freshmen on offense who were "grayshirts," signing in 2004, but then not entering The University full-time until last January. Quarterback John Parker Wilson and offensive lineman Drew Davis are technically true freshmen, but both took part in spring practice.
Wilson is the odds-on favorite to be the back-up quarterback to Brodie Croyle when Bama opens the season. Davis is in a battle to be a back-up offensive tackle.
Other true freshmen are trying to earn a spot in the offensive line, an area the Tide is having to rebuild after losing three seniors–Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis, now both in the NFL, and Danny Martz. Evan Cardwell is working at center, listed number three, but possibly moving up if Taylor Britt has to move to guard to shore up that position. Three-year starter J.B. Closner is the starting center.
Freshman Marlon Davis is one of those trying to earn playing time at the least and possibly the starting job at right guard. Senior Mark Sanders is considered the leader with redshirt freshman B.J. Stabler a possibility.
At quarterback, Croyle will be backed by Wilson and Marc Guillon. It is not likely that true freshmen Jimmy Johns and Jimmy Barnes will be able to get ready to play, at least in the early part of the season. But both have big upsides.
There were no fullback signees in the freshman class. Tim Castille is trying to return from surgery after suffering a knee injury last year. In his absense Le'Ron McClain has grabbed the first team job. And Victor Horn, a former Auburn tailback who transferred to Bama, has been a surprise as he has made the switch to fullback.
The two positions where true freshmen almost certainly will play this year are tight end and halfback.
At tight end, redshirt freshman Nick Walker is the leader, particularly with soph letterman Trent Davidson out a few weeks with a broken foot. Greg McLain, a hard-luck senior, is listed number two. But true freshmen Charles Hoke and Travis McCall have been impressive, with Hoke probbly the leader.
With Kenneth Darby back to seemingly 100 per cent after spring surgery to repair a sports hernia, he will be number one. But after Bama's lack of good injury luck in recent years, no one is counting on him to go all the way in every game. Aaron Johns fell down the depth chart last winter and spring, while walk-on Theo Townsend also in contention. But eyes have been drawn to two outstanding freshmen this fall. Glen Coffee may have a slight lead on Roy Upchurch, but both have shown considerable talent and could get into the playing rotation.
Last year wide receiver was a big question mark for the Tide. True freshmen D.J. Hall, Keith Brown, and Zeke Knight, along with redshirt freshman Matt Caddell and 2004 sophomore Tyrone Prothro played well. As a result, no true freshmen wide receivers are on the list of scholarshipped Crimson Tide players and the wide receiver positions appear to be a strong for the next couple of years.
Over the years Alabama has had a number of outstanding true freshmen who earned playing time, and even starting positions. This could be another year like that. But what Mike Shula is building for is a year when freshmen don't have to play for a team to be successfull.
Next: A look at which freshmen might be in the playing rotation on defense.