As a result of NCAA sanctions, Alabama can only bring in 17 new players on scholarship this fall, eight short of the normal number. The coaches hope to make up in quality what the group lacks in size, and the new defensive linemen are seen as especially talented.
Jeremy Clark, a defensive end out of Daphne, probably projects at tackle, but he could contribute early on the outside. Camden's sack specialist Chris Browder is expected to grow into a defensive end. His natural speed can't be coached, but if he plays this season, it would be more likely at outside linebacker. The pride of Tuscaloosa-Central, Chris Harris has prototype size for defensive end. Greg "Moose" McLain will begin at linebacker, but as his body matures he could end up on the D-Line. And big Kyle Tatum dominated in high school at defensive end, though most early speculation has him moving to tackle in college.
For different reasons, junior college signee Ahmad Childress (with three years left to get in three seasons of competition); and Henry Smith (who will begin his college career in junior college) are not candidates to redshirt this season--at least not at Alabama.
"I'm not going to play anybody just to fill a spot," Eggen explained. "But if they come in and they're talented enough and they've prepared themselves to be ready, then we would put that person in the ball game."
Last season, 18 new athletes joined the Tide on scholarship. Junior college transfers Atlas Herrion and Donald Clarke saw backup duty on the offensive line and at tight end respectively. But though the coaches were sorely tempted to play athletes like Freddie Roach and Charlie Peprah, every new freshman but one sat out his first college season as a redshirt.
Of course defensive end Todd Bates played in 2001 and did well. But were it not for Antwan Odom's shoulder injury, it's virtually certain that Bates would have redshirted, also. "Generally speaking, it takes a young man a year or two to really develop," Eggen acknowledged.
With the program facing NCAA-mandated limits on scholarships for the next three seasons, there is no question that the staff prefers to redshirt as much young talent as possible, stockpiling bodies for the future.
But Eggen still won't rule out the possibility that some of his talented newcomers might contribute right away. "I think we've got a couple (coming in) that have good strength," he explained. "If they play with good pad level and have the quickness to be successful, then they can play."
Most fans assume that strength and physical maturity are the two main factors dictating a redshirt year for new players. And it's certainly true that lineman on both sides of the football benefit from a year in the weight room to add bulk and power. But Eggen points to another factor every bit as important, if not more so.
He explained, "The key is can true freshmen acclimate to the intensity level--not so much of the games--but of practices to get them ready for the games? That's the biggest difference they face. Players coming in out of high school don't understand how physical and how tough it is every day in practice.
"But you have to have that experience in order to be ready to play on Saturdays."
EDITOR'S NOTE: While most fans talk about a redshirt season in terms of incoming freshmen, obviously every athlete has five years to play four seasons of football. And a redshirt can be taken at any point during those first four years.
The Tide loses four senior D-Linemen to graduation after this season, Kindal Moorehead, Kenny King, Jarret Johnson and Derek Sanders, two of whom (King and Johnson) are slated to start at tackle. Therefore, don't be surprised if a veteran interior lineman like Atlas Herrion ends up sitting out 2002.
For that to happen, Alabama would have to enjoy reasonable injury luck this season. But such a move would give Bama two returning veteran tackles (Herrion and Anthony Bryant) prepared to start in 2003, with several talented youngsters backing up.