Tommerdahl breaks down the 'W' position

Whenever a change in offensive positions or terminology is announced, some fans expect a reenactment of Alabama switching to the Wishbone. This year both the ‘A-Backs' and so-called ‘Ws' have been discussed extensively, but Tight Ends (or Ws) Coach Mark Tommerdahl plays down the changes. <br><br>"It's not as big deal as some might think," Tommerdahl said. "You've got kids now that will have their hand in the dirt, but they'll also be in the backfield."

Tommerdahl refers to the dual learning now expected of his athletes. For example, fullback-turned-W Donnie Lowe might end up as a lead blocker out of the backfield or positioned next to the tackle as a weakside tight end. Big Donald Clarke could function as a blocking or receiving tight end. And on any given play Theo Sanders, one of the best all-around athletes on the team, could be a fullback, H-Back, strongside or weakside tight end.

Donald Clarke is built more in the mold of a traditional tight end.

It's a demanding position, requiring talented athletes. But Tommerdahl thinks he's got the players to handle it.

As one of the few athletes with the talent to bring off all the roles encompassed by the W position, senior Theo Sanders has a big load to carry this season. "This past spring he had to improve on his pass catching skills and also his ability to dual learn," Tommerdahl said. "His pass-catching skills are still a work in progress, but he has gotten better. Theo is as versatile a kid as I've been around. The ‘W' is perfect for him."

Having bulked up to around 250 pounds of solid muscle, Donnie Lowe has the frame to handle some tight end duties, as well as his more traditional role of blocking fullback. The key will be keeping Lowe healthy. He's been prone to concussions in the past, but Tommerdahl is optimistic.

He's worked hard to improve his footwork this summer, but junior Donald Clarke is still best suited for blocking tight end. Tommerdahl commented. "The position depth chart will shake out logically in the fall, but in the mix behind Theo you've got Donald Clarke. He'll be more of a true Y (strongside tight end). This past spring Donald had to play more physically and with more confidence, which is typical of a guy that didn't play in but one game last year.

"We would describe Donald's pass-catching skills right now as ‘adequate,' but that's not good enough. He needs to improve."

If Donnie Lowe stays healthy, the Tide will have few if any depth problems at the ‘W' position.

Nicknamed ‘Swarzennegger' because of his bodybuilder's physique, Clint Johnston has yet to play a down of college football. But he's already become a fan favorite (especially among the females). "Clint physically was a pleasant surprise to us in the spring," Tommerdahl said. "He looked better than we thought a true freshman would. Physically, he's pretty versatile. He is another dual learning. He's been working at strongside and weak. Ideally that's what you'd like to get them all to do.

Obviously a powerful athlete, Johnston has also shown he can catch the football. "In our last scrimmage before we broke from spring ball he had two touchdown catches," Tommerdahl related. "We've been pleased with his catching. He showed the ability to do that in high school. We need to have Clint step up."

A torn ACL kept him out of spring practice, but the Tide coaches expect good things from David Cavan. A sophomore eligibility-wise, Cavan has been on campus for two full seasons and now weighs in the 250-pound range. Tommerdahl commented. "One athlete that definitely needs to be mentioned, even though he missed all of spring with an injury, is David Cavan. He's got a long, lean body, but he's really improved his upper body strength. And he can run."

Though he needed to gain some weight to compete in the SEC, even as a slender true freshman Cavan impressed observers with his ability to catch the football. "He is an excellent receiver," Tommerdahl said. "One thing that hurt us this past spring was not having Cavan. He will be expected to fill a role for us this fall. He'll have to come on in a hurry."

One of the strongest athletes on the team, Johnston has also impressed with his receiving ability.

More in the mold of a fullback/H-Back, Marquez Dupree was moved to the ‘W' position during spring practice. The son of collegiate great Marcus Dupree, Marquez has struggled to stay healthy since arriving at Alabama. But he has very good potential. "He got shifted late, but if he develops at the position Marquez has a really bright future," Tommerdahl said. "He definitely needs to be mentioned. We only had him about ten days in the spring, but he looked pretty good. He's really got good athletic ability. He's just a kid that needs to learn and grow up in the position."

Discussing his top group of athletes at the ‘W' position, Tommerdahl believes in his unit's ability. "We have to have some young guys step up. But those kids are all legitimate possibilities for playing time."

True freshman Nic Luke will begin at the ‘W' position, but a redshirt year is probable. Walk-ons Teddy Gryska (tight end) and Nathan Cox (fullback) will help provide depth.

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