First Platoon

Many years ago to break the monotony of watching Alabama's national championship contending teams prepare for the season–in the wishbone glory days of the 1970s–the assistant trainer at the time, Sang Lyda, and the assistant sports information director, yours truly, would play the One Platoon Game.

Decades ago, college football players were required to play both ways. Although the rules regarding substitution ebbed and flowed through the 1930s, '40s, '50s, and into the '60s, the premise of one platoon football was that players had to be good enough to play both ways, staying on the field as defenders after giving up the ball as offensive players, and vice versa.

Lee Roy Jordan was a feared Alabama linebacker, but he was just as devastating as a center. Bobby Marlowe could have made any all-star team as a running back or linebacker. It was not unusual for a player to be a safety one season and the quarterback the next year, as was the case for Steve Sloan.

But, for the most part, football was not as good as it is with players specializing in one position.

So what were Sang and I thinking about in the 1970s?

We were picking 11 players who we would want if we were going to have to play one platoon football. Or we might pick 12, so that we'd have a quarterback who we could take off the field for defense and sub in another player. But mostly we'd pick 11. You'd want someone like Terry Jones, who was outstanding as a center and an all-star defensive tackle in his Alabama career. You'd want Ozzie Newsome because he was the best football player imagineable. You'd figure out someplace to put him on defense.

You have to think about what kind of offense and what kind of defense you would use.

But we didn't worry about kickers, snappers, and holders. We figured with the 11 athletes we had, someone could take care of those duties. In the early 1990s when Alabama was struggling with its kickoffs, I suggested to Gene Stallings, "You have about 150 players out there, almost everyone the best player on his high school team, probably at least a third of them did the kicking off for their high school team, and you probably have 10 guys out there who can kick off into the end zone. Why can't you find one?" He said, "Hell, you'd think I'd be able to find someone who could play left tackle."

I haven't spent much time or done research to come up with my 11, and you may come up with quite a different list. But here is my list of 11 members of the 2006 Alabama football team, including why I picked them and where I would play them.

John Parker Wilson would be my first choice because I'd want a quarterback. I don't think John Parker has ever played defense, but he's a good athlete and we'd work him in at safety.

I'd also want a center, and I'd take the starting center, Antoine Caldwell. He is another player who may never have played defense, but he certainly looks like he could play outside linebacker.

You couldn't have an Alabama football team without a Castille, so it seems. We're taking the younger, Simeon Castille. He's a fine cornerback, which we need, and has a history of being an outstanding pass receiver, so he'd be one of the wideouts.

Justin Britt is another from a Bama football family who makes the list. He has proved he can play both offensive guard and defensive tackle. Indeed, he was a starter and co-first teamer on defense last year, and he's slated to start on offense this year.

For the most part, those selected for the One Platoon Alabama Team are starters on either offense or defense for the Crimson Tide. But there is one exception.

Prince Hall is not quite first team at middle linebacker, but he'd be the middle linebacker on the One Platoon Team. He'd also be the fullback. This is based in great part on the testimony of legendary California high school coach John Barnes (the father of Tide quarterback Jimmy Barnes). Coach Barnes said when Alabama got Hall they got both the best linebacker prospect and the best fullback prospect in California that year. (But the best prospect from Northport, LéRon McClain was also a linebacker, and would be a fine choice.)

You couldn't pick Alabama's One Platoon Team without taking the Crimson Tide's best player. Kenneth Darby is an exceptional running back, but he can also play on this team as a strong safety, even though outside linebacker was his position in high school as a two-way player. (Jimmy Johns got plenty of consideration for this position, based in part on the hit he made in kickoff coverage against Mississippi State last year, forcing a fumble and starting the Tide on the way to its win.)

Wallace Gilberry has a history of playing both ways. He was a tight end much of his high school career before moving to defensive end. He'd be a defensive end and tight end. (Oddly, Bama's other defensive end, Keith Saunders, has a similar tight end-defensive end history and wouldn't be a bad pick here.)

A very nice practice play a week or so ago sealed the deal for Jeffrey Dukes to make my team. The Tide safety made a spectacular nab of a pass for an interception and convinced me he could be the safety and a wide receiver. And since he was his high school's MVP on both offense and defense, that doesn't seem like a stretch. He'll have to move to cornerback on our squad. (This was one area where I agonized over whether to pick Dukes or to select Ramzee Robinson. Robinson was a high school quarterback and would probably be an excellent wide receiver.)

Big men have almost always had some experience on both sides of the football. I decided not to worry if Andre Smith had ever played defense. Somehow I think the big freshman could hold his own, just as he's doing in winning the starting job at left tackle on offense in pre-season camp. He'd be a two-way tackle.

Jeremy Clark, a three-year starter at defensive tackle, would also be a starter at offensive tackle. Something tells me he could get the job done. (Obviously, consideration had to be given to Kyle Tatum. He was a regular at defensive tackle as a freshman and then a two-year starter at offensive tackle.)

Finally, the squad has B.J. Stabler, a starting guard who would be an end on the defensive line.

I would have expected to have had more defensive players than offensive players on my team, but the breakdown was six offensive–John Parker Wilson, Kenneth Darby, Antoine Caldwell, Justin Britt, Andre Smith, and B.J. Stabler– and five defensive–Jeffrey Dukes, Simeon Castille, Prince Hall, Jeremy Clark and Wallace Gilberry.

There were many near-misses for my team. For instance, Juwan Simpson was an outstanding defensive back and wide receiver in high school and is now an excellent linebacker. Zeke Knight is proving to be a good defensive end and could play wide receiver. Terrence Jones is a linebacker who was a star hurdler in high school. Dominic Lee was considered a top prospect both as an offensive and a defensive lineman. And on and on.

I'd be interested to see who you might have, perhaps for just one position or a few positions, perhaps an entirely different squad.

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