When Eric Gray came into Alabama spring practice as the starter over Simeon Castille, it came as a shock to some people. Some blew it off as punishment for Castille's academic ineligibility for the Cotton Bowl, but others wondered if Gray had showed improvement during bowl practices, which Castille could not participate in.
"It was little bit of a surprise, because he had gotten more playing time last year," Gray said. "Injuries is what kept me out last year, so I knew that if I had the opportunity, I felt like I had the confidence heading into off-season workouts."
Defensive Backs Coach Chris Ball would not elaborate on the decision to place Castille as Gray's back-up, but he said that Castille was not only challenging Gray, but also Ramzee Robinson.
"Eric's going to have to work to keep his job," Ball said. "But that goes for the other side too. Ramzee Robinson is going to have to work too. Simeon might take his job. The great thing about competition is that it makes you better.
"Simeon wasn‚t at bowl practices so we thought that Eric should get the nod coming into spring. Eric has looked good. He's covering well, and his man-to-man skills are good. He's just playing really well right now."
Gray earned playing time in the Cotton Bowl and recorded one tackle in the Tide's defensive masterpiece against the nation's top passing offense.
Castille served as the nickel back during the 2005 season and played in the 11 regular season games before the bowl game. The junior-to-be racked up 28 tackles, including three for a loss and two sacks. He recorded two interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Though he was listed second on the spring depth chart, Castille said he feels that he has nothing to prove.
"I know what I can do and I know that I can play football," Castille said. "The Cotton Bowl thing is behind me, so I really don‚t feel like I have anything to prove. I‚m doing what I know to do, and that's working hard and making plays. I‚m just trying to lead my team and get better."
Castille said he has had an "all right" spring, but he has earned constant praise from Head Coach Mike Shula, and Coach Ball was no different.
"Simeon has looked really good," Ball said. "He's been really playing well this spring. He's been as good as there is."
Gray has seen his hard work pay off. He picked off a pass from John Parker Wilson in one of the Tide's scrimmages at Bryant-Denny Stadium before spring break, but he knows that he will have to maintain his work ethic to keep his crimson jersey.
"You know [Castille] is going to come out and work everyday," Gray said. "He's full of God-given talent, so you‚ve got to be on your Ps and Qs and not slack up. If there's a day that you slack up, that's the day that he will get you. Because you know that he is going to work hard everyday."
All Alabama players are expected to be working to some extent as The University is having its spring break. The Tide will report back for physical examinations to test for that on Monday, then spring practice will resume with a drill in shorts (one of the three mandated shorts practices of the spring) on Tuesday. Bama will have a full gear practice Thursday, March 30, then conclude spring work with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium beginning at 1:30 p.m. CST Saturday, April 1.