As is the case at several positions where there is good competition, Alabama is very young at tight end. Even after upcoming sophomore Trent Davidson (a co-first teamer in 2004 before being out last year with a foot injury) moved to offensive tackle in the spring, Bama has three sophomores, a freshman, and an incoming freshman who are expected to provide the playing time at tight end.
A hope for almost every Alabama football team is that the Tide will use the tight end more in the offense. Oddly, Shula's philosophy is that the tight end will be a much-utilized pass receiver. But what Shula wants and what Bama has been able to deliver in this area have been far apart.
Last year the tight ends caught only a dozen passes in a 10-2 season. In the Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech, Alabama threw 31 passes. Tight end statistics: Travis McCall had one reception for one yar.
In 2005 spring practice, one of the highlights was the receiving of tight end Nick Walker. But last fall, Walker had a number of dropped passes and finished with only nine receptions for 120 yards. McCall had three receptions for 22 yards, 19 of those yards on one catch (against Auburn).
That is not to say that the tight end is not part of the offense. Alabama's offense includes running plays in which the tight end must block. The tight end is also used in pass protection sometimes. But it is as a receiver that Shula hopes to get increased productivity.
After redshirting in 2004, Walker started the 11 regular season games and earned Freshman All-Southeastern Conference. The 6-5, 245-pounder was in on 572 snaps. He showed a glimmer of what Shula hopes for in a couple of games as he had three receptions for 34 yards against Arkansas and three catches for 46 yards against Ole Miss.
McCall, 6-2, 250, was considered a better blocker than receiver. He was a true freshman last year after he had to return to high school in 2004 to make up a miniscule amount of work to be academically eligible at Alabama.
While McCall, who started and finished spring practice number one, and Walker, who was number two throughout the spring, are the favorites for the starting job in the fall, there are others who could figure into the playing picture.
Sophomore Charles Hoke, 6-6, 240, drew praise from Alabama's coaches throughout the spring. Hoke saw only limited action last fall as a true freshman, appearing in seven games.
Cole Harvey, a 6-3, 250-pound freshman, was a grayshirt last fall, then joined the team for Cotton Bowl practices in December. He was signed as an offensive lineman, but has good speed for a big man. After some thought of working him at fullback, he was placed at tight end in the spring.
Tight end is sometimes used as a fullback-type and from time-to-time fullbacks such as junior Will Denniston (6-3, 221) are used at tight end.
Although he wasn't able to practice in the spring, a regular visitor at practice is incoming freshman tight end Preston Dial (6-4, 242).
Tight end will always be a priority in recruiting in part because the men who play the position are ordinarily good athletes with good size. Sometimes a tight end signee will end up at another position – offensive or defensive line, linebacker, or fullback.