Football Fights: Flanker, Split End

Heard any rumors about Alabama wide receivers? Started any? It seems as if there are more than enough for every Crimson Tide enemy and most Bama fans to have had a hand in at least one story of doom regarding the wide receiver positions in 2006.

Although this series has generally focused on one position, we are intermingling the split end and flanker analyses in our summer look at Alabama's depth chart for two reasons:

One, even though the flanker is a back and the split end a lineman, at Alabama (and on many other teams at every level) the positions are interchangeable. Moreover, a team frequently has more than two wide receivers on the field together, the additional men flankers and/or split ends. One would search long and hard to find a football team in which the split ends and flankers were not coached by the same man. At Alabama, that man is Charlie Harbison.

Two, there has been so miuch talk about Bama's receiving corps, split ends and flankers.

On paper, Alabama returns both starters from last season. Keith Brown is the returning starter at split end and D.J. Hall was the starting flanker for most of the season. However, there were exceptions. Both players missed some games, Brown because of injury, Hall for what is believed to have been academic ineligibility for the Cotton Bowl. When Hall was out, Brown started at flanker and Matt Caddell was the starting split end.

And there is the Tyrone Prothro factor. Although Prothro did not always start, he was clearly Alabama's finest wide receiver last year.

In Brown, Hall and Prothro, Bama has three legitimate returning starters. But how many will be in uniform when the Crimson Tide opens the 2006 season hosting Hawaii on September 2?

Least likely is Prothro. The upcoming senior (who has never been redshirted) opened the Florida game as the potential goat, but on Bama's first offensive play became the hero. And on his last play of the season, he suffered a severe injury, a compound fracture of his leg that has not come close to healing.

Prothro, who muffed a punt following Florida's first possession, more than atoned when he caught a Brodie Croyle pass behind the Florida secondary and turned it into an 87-yard touchdown on Bama's first offensive play. With the game well in hand, 31-3 in the fourth quarter, Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula gave the first offense one final play. It was a disaster. Not because Croyle's pass fvor Prothro in the e3nd zone was incomplete, but because Prothro was lost for at least the season.

No one at Alabama has ventured a guess at when Prothro might return, but after some eight months on crutches it is unreasonable to expect him back in 2006, at least not for the season-opener.

Playing in just five games last year, Prothro was Alabama's fifth-leading receiver with 17 catches for 325 yards.

The next question involves Hall, who took over most of Prothro's playing time and ended up as Bama's leading receiver last season with 48 catches for 676 yards. He was no great surprise after having won the Ray Perkins Award as the most improved receiver in 2005 spring practice. And this spring he was winner of the Dixie Howell Award as the Most Valuable Player in the A-Day Game with two excellent touchdown receptions.

But Hall missed the Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech. And he was in the news this summer when it was revealed that he was not in school for the first semester of summer school. Shula has said publicly that Hall will be back in the fall.

Brown had an excellent Cotton Bowl, primarily because he scored the Tide's only touchdown. That came on the second play of the game when he took a short pass and raced 76 yards for a touchdown in Bama's 13-10 win. He was Alabama's second-leading receiver for the year with 34 catches for 642 yards.

Brown has good skills, but doesn't always perform consistently. And he has a history of nagging injuries that keep him sidelined.

Usually reliable sources say Brown must have a very productive summer on the academic side.

It is important to consider that Alabama will have a new quarterback this year. It would help him to have capable, experienced wide receivers.

Matt Caddell played in all 12 Alabama games last year, but had only 13 catches for 179 yards and no touchdowns. Also playing in all 12 games was Ezekial Knight, but he has been moved to defense. Caddell had a good spring, winner of the Ray Perkins Award.

Alabama has high hopes for sophomore Will Oakley, but Oakley has been the hard luck kid of the wide receiver corps. The former prep track star hasn't been able to keep his hamstring together, a pull forcing a redshirt season in 2005, another pull ending his season before it began last year. And he missed most of the spring with yet another pull.

There were also high hopes this spring that junior college transfer Nikita Stover,, formerly the number one prospect in the state of Alabama, could come in and challenge for playing time. But Stover suffered both from a nagging injury and from not having played football in well over a year. He has a lot of ground to make up.

Aaron McDaniel moved from the secondary to wide receiver in the spring. A quarterback in high school, he has a lot of ground to make up at this new position.

Wide receiver is a position where freshmen have typically been able to help. Although Alabama signed just one wide receiver out of high school in this class, there could be at least one other who gets a look at split end/flanker.

Mike McCoy was the lone prep wide receiver signee, and the inside story is that he was number one on Alabama's recruiting board. Late in recruiting season, Bama went after and landed Javier Arenas, best known as a defensive back and kick return man. With Alabama having nine new defensive backs in this signing class, it would not be a surprise to see one or more of them end up at another position. Arenas is a very likely candidate for wide receiver.

Editor's Note: The 2006 starter is almost a sure thing at a number of Alabama football positions, mostly spots where starters return from Bama's 2005 football team that went 10-2. But one thing that increases the productivity of a team is having quality competition at every position. The Crimson Tide is not yet to that point, but there are positions where the battle is on. This is another in our look at the battle for positions for 2006.

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