In Search Of 70

One of the great myths of college athletics is that the athletes come first with universities, conferences, and the NCAA. Money comes first. Consider limits. No matter how many athletes a school can afford to put on scholarship, the NCAA limits that number. It doesn't matter how many players a coach might like to reward by allowing him to dress out if the conference determines the maximum number.

It is unusual for Alabama to play a non-conference road game other than a bowl game (in which there are no dress out limits). But when the Crimson Tide played in Hawaii in 2002 and 2003, every player who had been considered a contributor was rewarded by being allowed to make the trip.

The Western Athletic Conference (WAC), of which Hawaii is a member, is not so generous. The WAC has a rule that its teams may travel no more than 60. (Think how many WAC football players that robs of the opportunity to go to Hawaii when that game comes up on the rotation?) And so when the Warriors come to Tuscaloosa to open the 2006 season a week from Saturday, there will be no more than 60 Hawaii players given the opportunity to be in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Alabama, of course, will have no limit on the number of Crimson Tide players who can dress out and play in that non-conference game. But the Southeastern Conference has its cheap side, too. In conference games the visiting team may travel and dress only 70 players. The home team for years could dress only 80, but in recent years the SEC made a small concession to sanity by allowing the home team to dress 95—after designating the 80 who will be allowed to play.

We would love to see the documentation where a football team lost a game because the home team was able to play more than 80 players. It's not a matter of an advantage. It's a question of whether a player who sweats in practice Sunday-Thursday can enjoy the experience of being in front of the crowd, dressed in uniform while his parents beam, having that memory of a lifetime of having been in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night.

Alabama will play four non-conference games with no restrictions, but Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula and his staff have to be thinking about the SEC limits. In upcoming days decisions will be made so that Alabama will be working with a squad of about 80 for games, even though there will be about 120 players on the practice field after the limit (that word again) of 105 practice players is lifted with the start of classes on Wednesday.

It seems logical that 70—the lowest common denominator--would be the number to work with in establishing the depth chart. Naturally, personnel will change, owing to injuries or promotions or the opponent or some other factor or factors. For instance, against Hawaii Alabama might not play much in its standard defensive alignment of four linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs. Someone like Simeon Castille, who is listed as a right cornerback, might give way to someone else there while he plays at nickel.

Coaches probably have a number in mind of how many players they need at each position—three quarterbacks, five offensive tackles, six safeties, etc. In addition to offense and defense, the staff must make determinations on special teams players; not just the kickers and snappers and holders and return men, but also the men who will cover punts and kickoffs and protect on punts and field goals and extra points and block on kickoff returns.

Being able to play on special teams might make the difference in a cornerback making the travel squad or not.

There are important practices this week on Monday and Tuesday (including a scrimmage on Tuesday) that will factor into the final working number. Here is our guess at how the depth chart might be shaping up, keeping in mind that some players (wide receivers, for instance) might be able to play more than one position and that some players are selected in this chart because of their perceived usefulness on special teams.

OFFENSE

Split end (3)—Keith Brown, Matt Caddell, Darwin Salaam

Left tackle (2)—Andre Smith, Drew Davis

Left guard ((2)—Justin Britt, Justin Moon

Center (3)—Antoine Caldwell, Evan Cardwell, Morgan Garner

Right guard (3)—B.J. Stabler, Marlon Davis, Michael Johnson

Right tackle (3)—Chris Capps, Kyle Tatum, Cody Davis

Tight end (3)—Travis McCall, Nick Walker, Charles Hoke

Quarterback (3)—John Parker Wilson, Marc Guillon, Jimmy Barnes

Halfback (5)—Kenneth Darby, Roy Upchurch, Jimmy Johns, Ali Sharrief, Terry Grant

Fullback (3)—Le'Ron McClain, Tim Castille, Will Denniston

Flanker (3)—D.J. Hall, Will Oakley, Nikita Stover

DEFENSE

Left end (3)—Wallace Gilberry, Chris Harris, Brandon Deaderick

Left tackle (3)—Jeremy Clark, Lorenzo Washington, Brandon Fanney

Nose tackle (2)—Dominic Lee, J.P. Adams

Right end (3)—Keith Saunders, Bobby Greenwood, Zeke Knight

Weakside linebacker (3)—Juwan Simpson, Demarcus Waldrop, Marcel Stamps

Middle linebacker (3)—Matt Collins, Prince Hall, Ken Vandervoort

Strongside linebacker (3)—Terrence Jones, Zach Schreiber, Eryk Anders

Left cornerback (3)—Ramzee Robinson, Chris Rogers, Marquis Johnson

Right cornerback (4)—Simeon Castille, Lionel Mitchell, Eric Gray, Javier Arenas

Strong Safety (3)—Marcus Carter, Rashad Johnson, Cory Reamer

Safety (3)—Jeffrey Dukes, Justin Woodall, Sam Burnthall

SPECIALISTS

Placekicker (2)—Jamie Christensen, Leigh Tiffin

Punter (2)—P.J. Fitzgerald, Adam Hill

Snapper (2)—Luke Spaulding, Brian Selman


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