'W' position involves multiple responsibilities

For Mark Tommerdahl spring drills brought a change in philosophy, as a shuffling of positions saw the fullbacks and tight ends grouped together, increasing the total number of athletes at his position. <br><br>Whether or not he adopts the new title of ‘W' position coach or sticks with the more traditional ‘Tight Ends,' Tommerdahl is definitely spending more time teaching now. "All those guys have had to expand their learning curve," he noted. "And they've done a good job of it."

Instead of listing separate fullback and tight end positions, the terminology is changed somewhat to indicate the dual roles involved. Athletes such as Donnie Lowe and Marquez Dupree will be Ws, meaning they can handle both fullback and weakside tight end responsibilities. And bigger players like Donald Clarke and David Cavan will be known as Ys, indicating their ability to play strongside or weakside tight end.

A former high school sprinter who is now one of the strongest players on the Tide team, Theo Sanders is ideally suited for the new ‘W' position.

"The best thing to do is just call them Ys and Ws, because we really don't separate them," Tommerdahl said. "There is a lot of dual learning involved."

With four-year starter Terry Jones Jr. now practicing with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, Tommerdahl was also looking for extra bodies this past spring. He explained, "We had some individual concerns about the overall depth factor. We had to have some young guys step up. But that doesn't mean that we were worried about replacing TJ."

The idea behind grouping the formerly separate positions is simple. By training athletes to play more than one position, opposing defensive coaches will have a difficult time calling formations based simply on personnel.

For example Donnie Lowe may be in the Tide huddle, but where will he line up? An offensive formation with a blocking fullback calls for a different defense than a two-tight end lineup with strongside and weakside tight ends.

And if you're the opposing defensive coordinator and you spot David Cavan on the field, do you switch to a coverage scheme to take away the tight end over the middle? Or do you walk your safety up to help nullify the extra blocker on a running play?

Weighing in at 250 pounds, Donnie Lowe has the size to handle the role of weakside tight end and fullback.

Ideally, Tommerdahl would love to have position players capable of handling all three roles. But blocking fullback, pass catching tight end and blocking tight end require different skill sets.

In fact, right now senior Theo Sanders--a player who combines speed and raw strength--is probably the only player on the Tide squad genuinely capable of handling all three. "When you look at the players we have, we've got some versatile athletes," Tommerdahl said. "But Theo is unique. He's as versatile a kid as I've been around. This new combo position is perfect for him."

Most of the athletes working with Tommerdahl are more specialized, limiting their ability to carry out all three roles. "That's true for now, but you'd like to get to a point where they all dual-learn," Tommerdahl said. "Of course it's just logical that some will be more suited to some parts than others.

"A kid like Donald Clarke who is more your traditional big tight end will be more suited to the Y than to the traditional fullback role."

For now, the athletes under Tommerdahl's tutelage have a lot of learning to do. But long-term he likes the idea. "It allows more kids on your team to be more involved, simply because they're dual learning--and in some cases they're triple learning," Tommerdahl said. "There is no reason a particular athlete can't know strongside tight end, weakside tight end and fullback."

Having gained up to 250+ pounds, David Cavan can now handle either strongside or weakside tight end.

Interestingly, in the dog-eat-dog world of SEC recruiting, Tommerdahl also believes that the Tide scheme will help attract the top athletes. He explained, "This system also gives us a lot of flexibility in recruiting. We can now go in and tell a guy we've got several different slots you can fit into."

Due to NCAA limits on the size of travel rosters, in the past Tommerdahl would place no more than three players on the travel list. But now, even though they're all now known as ‘Ws,' the multiple roles played by his athletes means that Tommerdahl will be responsible for relatively more athletes at away games.

"When you combine the three positions, typically you'd look at traveling six," he said. "That's a pretty realistic figure. When you're looking at Ys and Ws and fullbacks together, you need that many.

"After all, in some short-yardage situations we'll load up with three (Ws) on the field and come right at you."

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