Questions searching for answers, part II

Friday marks the first practice day for the entire squad, but the players won't don full pads until the following week. Yesterday's release of the 105 roster provided some information, but there are several questions that still remain unanswered. <br><br>Focusing on cover corners, quarterbacks and the "Big Uglies."

Will youth be served at corner?

With pundits and insiders alike predicting big things from the redshirt freshmen, one of the more interesting developments this past spring was the improved play of Bama's veteran DBs.

Anthony Madison had an excellent spring.

Hirchel Bolden, Gerald Dixon and Roberto McBride are all good athletes, but 2001 was hardly a vintage year for Alabama corners. The Tide finished a disappointing 95th in the nation for pass defense, and fairly or not the cornerbacks received much of the blame.

Charlie Peprah did everything he could to make the coaches' decision to redshirt him last year a hard one, and Anthony Madison may well have been the best cornerback on campus this past spring. Barring injury, both seem destined to play and probably start at The Capstone. The only question is "When?"

Backup Corey Ferguson will also be in the mix, and junior college transfer David Scott was singled out for praise by Franchione yesterday.

Can Bama's ‘good' line become ‘great?'

Portis may be Bama's best run blocker.

No one disputes that Alabama enters the 2002 season good on the offensive line. All five starters return from a unit that led the SEC in rushing, averaging 226.4 yards per game.

But as Franchione points out, in a sense the Tide is still "young" at the position. Granted, Alonzo Ephraim and Marico Portis will be seniors. But for all five athletes (three of whom will be sophomores) 2001 marked their first season as starters.

Ephraim finished up the year first team All-SEC. Justin Smiley and Wesley Britt made first-team on the conference All-Freshman team, while Smiley landed on the national team as well. And when you consider that Portis and Evan Mathis, the other two starters, are among the strongest players on the squad, it's clear that Bama is talented on the OL.

Smiley and Britt both made the All-Freshman team.

But how good are they?

Several pre-season magazines have rated the unit the best in the SEC (though Georgia Bulldog fans would argue the point). However, if Alabama's O-Linemen are to become better than just good, improvement must be made.

Ephraim, Portis, Smiley, Britt, Mathis and company must make significant strides in protecting the passer while continuing to build on their dominant run blocking from the end of last season.

Might a "quarterback controversy" be a good thing?

Watts enters his final season.

It's perhaps an overworked maxim in football that the most popular player among fans is always the backup QB, but for some time now at Alabama that has seemed to be true. Certainly the immediate years before Franchione took over always featured arguments over which player should start.

Tommy Tuberville's opinion notwithstanding, last year at least the issue was mostly settled. But after beating out Andrew Zow for No. 1, Tyler Watts was again bitten by the injury bug and missed the final three games of the season.

A now healthy Watts heads into his senior year firmly in control of the starting job. But three factors will motivate the Tide staff to get backup Brodie Croyle into games as often as possible.

Croyle has an excellent arm.

First, as tough as Watts obviously is, he can just as obviously be felled by injury. And then there's the other obvious point that Watts is a senior, and nobody wants to start off 2003 with an inexperienced quarterback.

But the most important reason for playing Croyle is simple.

He really is that good.

Whether he'll develop into Alabama's next great quarterback will be played out on Saturdays to come the next four years, but there is no questioning Croyle's ability to throw the football.

And in a conference as fiercely competitive as the SEC, coaches can't afford to leave any weapon holstered.

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