2007 Offense

The BCS system makes for one exciting bowl game, which is good. Of course, before the BCS system it was possible for two or even three bowl games to figure into the national championship picture, which made New Year's Day very exciting for the fans of a number of schools.

That doesn't mean bowl games other than the national championship game are meaningless. A bowl game is still a reward for the players, still a trip to somewhere interesting for fans, still an opportunity for those teams in bowl games to get a little head start on the next season.

For the Alabama Crimson Tide, which has the nation's most storied bowl tradition (more bowl games, more bowl wins, unmatched success in the major bowl games, etc.), a bowl invitation is important for the historical implications. This year's Bama team may or may not be in a bowl game, and when that is determined we will examine it.

Meanwhile, Alabama is going to have a football team in 2007, and it's never too late to take a look ahead.

Alabama will return nine offensive starters from this year's team. The losses are at fullback and halfback.

Fullback is hit particularly hard by graduation. Both starter Le'Ron McClain and back-up Tim Castille will have completed their eligibility. Returning fullbacks are upcoming sophomore Baron Huber, who came to the Tide as a linebacker; walkon senior Will Denniston; and redshirt freshman Patrick Hanrahan.

Bama loses only one halfback, but Kenneth Darby got the lion's share of carries at the featured running back position. He had 200 rushes in the Tide's 6-6 season, nearly four times as many as backup Jimmy Johns, who had 59 runs.

Owing primarily to two obvious plays that were instrumental in Alabama's 22-15 loss to Auburn, many consider right offensive tackle the most important position to find a new starter in 2007. Senior Chris Capps returns. Kyle Tatum, the 2004 and 2005 starter and this season's backup, will have finished. Center Antoine Caldwell played a few snaps at right tackle against Auburn. Bama does have a handful of redshirt freshmen offensive linemen and one of them might be a right tackle.

Alabama's coaching situation could have an effect on the primary needs for 2007. A change in coaches or a change in philosophy could affect the situation. Next year's offense might not include a fullback. The offensive line might be revamped or given more effective schemes. But only the most exotic offense would not include a running back.

Although Darby did not have the year that he expected, or that was expected of him, he will be hard to replace. And that takes into consideration a large number of returning candidates.

Darby had 200 rushes for 820 yards, a 4.1 yards per carry average. What he did not have was a rushing touchdown. Johns had a slightly better average, 4.3 yards per carry on 59 runs for 254 yards. Ali Sharrief was the only other tailback healthy for the entire season and he was used only in mop-up situations on offense.

Alabama will also look to the ranks of those who were injured in 2006 for competitors for the 2007 tailback job. Glen Coffee was top 2005 backup and listed behind Darby in most preseason depth charts this year. But Coffee was injured in a preseason scrimmage and held out this season. He is expected to be fullspeed when Bama begins spring practice in February.

Many expected Roy Upchurch to be a top competitor for at least a major backup role following his impressive 2006 spring and early training camp work. But for the second consecutive year Upchurch had to undergo surgery to correct a congenital ankle problem. Based on his good recovery from the 2005 surgery, he should be fine for 2007.

Almost no one had freshman Terry Grant figuring into the crowded 2006 halfback position until the former Mississippi Mr. Football had a fantastic scrimmage against Bama's first defense this fall. Both Grant and Upchurch saw early season action before suffering injuries. Upchurch had already been redshirted and will be a sophomore next fall, but Grant will be granted another redshirt year.

Alabama's halfback numbers are good and there have been examples of quality at the position. That should make for good competition beginning in the spring and paying dividends next season.

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