Football Fights: Fullback

There is a strategy among some football programs to downsize, in a manner of speaking. There are certain positions being eliminated, or at least curtailed, by some teams. One is middle linebacker on defense. Another is fullback. Even Alabama, which has outstanding fullbacks, sometimes has a no fullback offense.

Alabama has a pair of outstanding fullbacks, upcoming seniors Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille. McClain is a traditional fullback, primarily a blocker in Bama's offense. Castille is more a combination back, and is sometimes used with McClain in the Crimson Tide's "Jumbo Package."

Both are right at home at The Capstone. McClain grew up in nearby Northport and played football at Tuscaloosa County High School for former Bama player Robert Higginbotham. Castille is a second generation Tide player, the son of former All-America Jeremiah Castille. Tim is also the older brother of Bama cornerback Simeon Castille.

McClain, 6-1, 256, would be listed as the returning starter. Last year he started in nine games, including the final six in Bama's 10-2 season. He had only eight rushes for 39 yards, but caught 18 passes (fourth on the team) for 140 yards. He had touchdown receptions against Utah State and Southern Miss.

McClain was not a fullback in high school. He was his team's featured running back and had over 1,000 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns as a senior.

McClain got his starting opportunity when Castille was injured as a sophomore against Tennessee. Castille admitted that he did not feel 100 per cent recovered in 2005, but this spring seemed to be completely over the knee injury that short-circuited his sophomore year. Last year Castille led the Tide in touchdowns with seven as he was the short-yardage specialist. He had 45 rushes for 124 yards, most of those from the halfback position when paired with McClain. He also had 10 receptions for 56 yards. He scored two touchdowns against Southern Miss.

The good news for Alabama is that both McClain and Castille are experienced players and senior leaders. The bad news is the Tide has them for only one more season, and since they will get almost every snap between them, the position will be inexperienced in 2007.

Two newcomers were impressive in the spring, though. Baron Huber came to Alabama projected as a linebacker or defensive end after a stellar senior season at Powell High School near Knoxville, Tennessee. But Alabama Coach Mike Shula wanted to look at the 6-4, 238-pound redshirt freshman as a fullback in the spring. Huber took advantage of that opportunity to show that he can run and catch and, most importantly for the position, block.

A real surprise of the spring was Patrick Hanrahan. Like McClain, Hanrahan was a high school tailback at Springville. But the 6-0, 245-pound son of a former Tide player Gary Hanrahan showed in the spring he has good fullback skills, notably very effective blocking ability.

Will Denniston, a 6-3, 225-pound junior walk-on from Mobile, has worked at both tight end and fullback. That is not a surprise since the positions are somewhat similar, with the tight end sometimes dropping into a backfield position, the fullback sometimes approaching the flank of the offensive line. Denniston is listed as a fullback going into the fall.

Coach Shula has said time and again that he wants quality competition at every position. Fullback is one spot he has it.

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