Surprising Starts

A few days before Alabama opened the 2006 football season against Hawaii, Crimson Tide Coach Mike Shula said that he would dress at least the 105 men who had been on the reporting roster for pre-season camp. After the beginning of classes on August 23, that roster swelled to about 130, and Shula said some of the additions might also be dressed for the game against the Warriors.

When Alabama went onto the field for pre-game warm-ups there were 105 men in full uniform. Additionally, Tyrone Prothro, who was part of the 105 even though he is expected to spend all this year rehabilitating from his 2005 broken leg, was on the sidelines in his jersey and warm-up pants. Then another handful of Tiders joined warm-ups and there were 113 in full uniform.

Shula had pointed out that because it was a non-conference game there was no limit on the number who could be dressed. (In Southeastern Conference games the visiting team is limited to 70 men and the home team is limited to 95 men dressed, of which 80 are designated as allowed to participate in the game.) Because it was a home game, Bama could also afford to have a number of players dressed who were not on the "travel roster," meaning the players assigned rooms at the Sheraton Four Points, where Alabama's team stays the night before a home game.

Alabama had five first-time starters against Hawaii, including a rare true freshman starter in offensive left tackle Andre Smith. Although freshmen have been eligible for varsity play at various times in college football history, the current rule allowing true freshmen to play was instituted in 1972. Since that time there had been only six true freshmen to start on offense or defense in opening games. Oddly, half of those were—like Smith—men who played offensive tackle.

Previous true freshmen starters in season opening games for Alabama were offensive tackle Larry Rose in 1985, offensive tackle Jon Stevenson in 1991, tight end Terry Jones, Jr., in 1998, offensive tackle Dante Ellington in 1999, linebacker Saleem Rasheed in 1999, and current Tide fullback Tim Castille in 2003.

Other first time starters for Alabama against Hawaii were sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson, junior defensive end Keith Saunders, junior middle linebacker Matt Collins, junior safety Marcus Carter, and sophomore Rashad Johnson, who started at nickel back.

Although there were reports that junior left guard Justin Britt and senior strong safety Jeffrey Dukes were making their first starts, Britt had a handful of starts at defensive tackle last year and Dukes started as the nickel back in the Cotton Bowl at the end of last season.

Another true freshman seeing notable action in the season-opener was placekicker Leigh Tiffin. Regular placekicker Jamie Christensen was dressed out, but did not play as he is recovering from a groin pull.

Other Tiders who had their first game action were linebacker Prince Hall, cornerback Marquis Johnson, linebacker Zach Schreiber, running back Roy Upchurch, cornerback Chris Rogers, running back Ali Sharrief, wide receiver Mike McCoy, cornerback Javier Arenas, running back Terry Grant, fullback Baron Huber, center Evan Cardwell, safety Sam Burnthall, snapper Luke Spaulding, offensive guard Mike Johnson, defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick, punter P.J. Fitzgerald, and placekicker Andrew Friedman.

Senior offensive right tackle Kyle Tatum saw his streak of 24 consecutive starts (dating back to the 2003 Hawaii game) come to an end as Smith started at left tackle and former left tackle Chris Capps started at right tackle. Those extending long starting streaks included Capps, center Antoine Caldwell, halfback Kenneth Darby, defensive end Wallace Gilberry, and linebacker Juwan Simpson extending to 13, and cornerback Ramzee Robinson and offensive guard B.J. Stabler extending to 11.

There had been some question about Simpson playing in the game because of an off-season incident. One player missing action, wide receiver D.J. Hall, was held out with a sprained ankle, but was also not scheduled to play for disciplinary reasons, Coach Mike Shula said after the game.

Alabama opened both offensively and defensively in slightly altered alignments. Normally, the Tide has four defensive linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs, but against Hawaii Dominic Lee did not start at defensive tackle and, instead, Bama went with a fifth defensive back, nickel back Rashad Johnson. On offense, Bama normally has two wide receivers and one tight end, but against the Warriors Keith Brown was the lone wide receiver and Bama started with two tight ends, Travis McCall and Nick Walker.

Alabama played 60 men in the season opener. The Tide used 21 on offense, 24 on defense, and 15 just on special teams. Here are those who played with starters listed first and the number of plays in parenthesis. If there are two numbers, the second is the number of plays on special teams.

OFFENSE

Split End—Matt Caddell (48), Mike McCoy (2)

Left Tackle—Andre Smith (62-6), Cody Davis (4)

Left Guard—Justin Britt (61), Mike Johnson (5-6)

Center—Antoine Caldwell (66)

Right Guard—B.J. Stabler (61), Marlon Davis (5)

Right Tackle—Chris Capps (46), Kyle Tatum (20)

Tight End—Travis McCall (46-10), Nick Walker (43-6), Charles Hoke (2-6)

Quarterback—John Parker Wilson (66)

Halfback—Kenneth Darby (42), Jimmy Johns (14-11)

Fullback—Le'Ron McClain (40-15), Tim Castille (27)

Flanker—Keith Brown (46), Will Oakley (20)

DEFENSE

Left End—Wallace Gilberry (41), Chris Harris (17)

Left Tackle—Jeremy Clark (28), Brandon Deaderick (12)

Right Tackle—Dominic Lee (9), J.P. Adams (15)

Right End—Keith Saunders (34), Bobby Greenwood (11), Zeke Knight (24-6)

Strongside Linebacker—Terrence Jones (43-3), Zach Schreiber (20-4)

Middle Linebacker—Matt Collins (16-2), Prince Hall (38)

Weakside Linebacker—Juwan Simpson (58-4), Demarcus Waldrop (2-4), Marcel Stamps (3-9)

Left Cornerback—Ramzee Robinson (60), Marquis Johnson (2-16), Lionel Mitchell (24-10)

Right Cornerback—Simeon Castille (59-4), Eric Gray (20-13)

Strong Safety—Jeffrey Dukes (61)

Safety—Marcus Carter (34-5), Rashad Johnson (40-12)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter and Holder—P.J. Fitzgerald (4 punts, 4 field goals, 2 extra points)

Placekicker—Leigh Tiffin (4 field goals, 2 extra points, 1 kickoff), Andrew Friedman (5 kickoffs)

Snapper—Luke Spaulding (4 punts, 4 field goals, 2 extra points)

Coverage and Returns—Roy Upchurch (9), Chris Rogers (8), Cory Reamer (15), Ali Sharrief (16), Javier Arenas (6), Terry Grant (6), Bryan Kilpatrick (8), Forress Rayford (5), Baron Huber (5), Sam Burnthall (1), Evan Cardwell (6)


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