Fall's Top 10

Game week has arrived at the University of Alabama, and the team's attention has turned to Middle Tennessee. But this year's fall training camp was packed with interesting and surprising stories. Some have been left out, like the battle for positions between Justin Britt and Jeremy Clark at defensive tackle, or the ups, downs and remaining uncertainty of the kicking and punting positions. But here are the top 10 story lines of fall training camp, 2005:

10. Projecting Receivers
Most people automatically classify Alabama's receiving corps as a team strength. That's hard to argue, but some might say there is more potential than proven readiness in the group. And its true the group has some things to prove on the field this year after an up and down fall camp.

There were good and bad practices for the unit. Zeke Knight looked like a monster in spring scrimmages, but in fall camp he was relatively quiet. Keith Brown is the Tide's best home run hitter, but he missed one scrimmage with a slight concussion had wasn't as consistent as others. On the up side, DJ Hall has been the most consistent receiver and is perhaps becoming Croyle's favorite target. Will Oakley has earned a more prominent role, and Tyrone Prothro has been his normal play-making self.

9. Nick Walker's Rising Star
Walker is another non-surprise, but a big fall story nevertheless. He can run, he can jump and he can catch, making him a powerful weapon in the Alabama offense. Walker is also big enough to be able to block effectively, but blocking is the part of his game that needs the most work.

The attention on Walker actually grew when Trent Davidson was forced off the 105-man roster after having surgery on his foot. Davidson could be back in the first half of the season, but Walker was thrust into the number one role to start. Walker was expected to push Davidson for the starting job even if both had stayed healthy for the fall.

8. Matt Collins Hit Parade
One question entering the fall was whether Matt Collins was a spring training flash in the pan or an up-and-coming on-field contributor. Collins answers those questions every time a back runs between the tackles. Freshman Prince Hall might eventually be better suited in some situations, but Collins used fall camp to establish himself as a quality back-up to Freddie Roach, especially in short yardage situations.

7. Greenwood surprise
Many people pegged Prattville freshman defensive end Bobby Greenwood for a redshirt year before camp ever started. Fortunately, Greenwood nor any of the Alabama coaches reached that conclusion prematurely, and Greenwood became the most likely true freshman player in the defensive front seven.

Defensive coordinator Joe Kines said Greenwood was a little bit ahead of the other young lineman following the first scrimmage, and he reiterated the statement after the second scrimmage. Alabama fans should hope for similar results during the regular season.

6. The OL Shuffle
It seems like there was constant shuffling along the offensive line during fall camp, but in reality the right tackle (Kyle Tatum), center (JB Closner) and left tackle (Chris Capps) were in the same spots from start to finish without missing a beat.

Cody Davis didn't challenge Capps for the left tackle spot after spending fall camp with an injured hamstring.

To begin fall camp, B.J. Stabler was in one day and out the next nursing the knee he had arthroscopic surgery on in the spring, trying to win the right guard position outright over Mark Sanders. Stabler had fluid drained from the knee and ultimately the decision to have another surgery was made, putting him out for 3-4 weeks or more. That left room for true freshman Marlon Davis to step in and share time with Sanders at the spot, and to draw the coaches' attention.

When left guard Antoine Caldwell twisted his ankle and was out for a week, Sanders moved over to share time with Taylor Britt, leaving Davis to take all the repetitions with the first string.

When the offense takes the field for the first time next Saturday, it will probably be back to where it began the fall, with a freshman right guard (Davis instead of Stabler) and an untested left tackle.

5. Where in the World is Jimmy Johns?
He started at quarterback, where he looked raw but very promising. Just over a week into fall camp, Johns began working in special teams drills instead of throwing with the quarterbacks in early practice periods, and the next day he was out of the "yellow no contact" jersey worn by quarterbacks and into a red jersey with the running backs.

Johns never put up any big numbers in either of the Tide's final two scrimmages, but he showed flashes of being a powerful, hard-to-bring-down running back in each one. Johns will battle for time with Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch at the all of a sudden crowded spot. On special teams he will contribute often. Exactly where this athlete would get on the field was a big story this fall.

4. Brodie being Brodie
It's important not to overlook the obvious fall story lines – one being the participation of Croyle. The senior will be the crux of the Tide offense. Consider that Croyle threw six touchdowns in the first three games last year while Marc Guillon and Spencer Pennington combined for six in the remaining nine games hints at Brodie's importance to the squad.

Does the offensive line have to pass protect and run block? Do the running backs have to provide a balance? Do the receivers live up to their potential? The answer to all these questions is yes. But if number 12 is out of the lineup the offense will take a productivity hit similar if not as bad as a last year's.

3. Hot! Hot! Hot!
Football practice in August will never be as brutal as it once was, and that's probably a good thing. Water breaks are now considered a wise precaution instead of a sign of weakness, and there are only a handful of two-a-days now with none back-to-back.

But this fall camp has been brutally hot nevertheless. The heat index at Alabama's fall camp has been near or above 100 degrees every day, topping out around 114 a couple of times. Lightning and thunderstorms forced practices indoors a few times, but that was the exception to the rule.

2. Darby's comeback
The return of Kenneth Darby could be called anti-climactic, but that's good for the Alabama football team. Throughout fall camp there was a steady progression for Darby. An early run by Darby in Alabama's first scrimmage where he twisted a drug a tackler ahead for an extra yard signaled his return to full-speed action.

And the number one story from Alabama fall training camp…

1. Tim Castille's Fast Return
Castille hoped to be fully recovered from multiple ligament tears in May or June, but when he was still limited at the beginning of fall camp speculation was hot about a possible redshirt for the junior.

Instead, Castille will be an invaluable player at halfback and fullback for the Tide this year. After being held out of the first scrimmage, Castille returned to live action for the second fall scrimmage, and was the leading rusher in the shortened third scrimmage, and all talk of a redshirt for Castille has ceased.


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