Who's got AC's back?
Antonio Carter's continuing struggles with lingering pain hasn't just affected the rotation at wide receiver. Heading into fall camp he was also counted on as the No. 1 option returning punts and kickoffs. If he'll be available to catch passes early in the season and how much are still very much open questions, but what's clear is that someone else needs to step up and handle returns.
For punt returns, several athletes have worked at the job, including Brandon Brooks, Roberto McBride, Ramzee Robinson, Charlie Peprah, Anthony Madison and Triandos Luke. Though both contribute at other positions, Brooks and McBride would actually be considered punt return specialists. During his last two of high school, Brooks returned eight punts for touchdowns.
On kickoff returns, Triandos Luke (No. 1 along with Carter in the spring) will likely still work with the first unit. Also getting reps in practice are Brooks, Ray Hudson, Ken Darby and Marcus McKnight. Both Brooks and Ray got off long kickoff returns in Saturday's kicking scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Obviously Alabama has several talented athletes capable of taking a kick return all the way. But under Dennis Franchione "ball security" is everything. For example, last season Freddie Milons started off as the punt return guy, but a few dropped balls in practice later and Milons was on the bench with Carter handling the job.
So who's "Mr. Security" this season?
Watch for Shaud Williams. The fourth-year junior is both talented and trusted. And with the current Tide staff, "trust" is everything.
Traffic jam at corner
Back in the spring, Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond told us that he had numerous athletes that were all "right there" at cornerback. His list then included returning starters Gerald Dixon and Hirchel Bolden; redshirt freshmen Anthony Madison and Charlie Peprah; and veteran backups Corey Ferguson and Roberto McBride. Since then that group has grown even more with the addition of true freshman Ramzee Robinson and junior college transfer David Scott.
Who'll start? Probably seniors Dixon and Bolden, but Thurmond's decision will definitely not be easy.
Of course the real question is not who will start, but will those two athletes be able to compete effectively against top-flight SEC receivers? And despite Bama's plethora of athletes at corner, that question can only be answered on Saturdays this fall.
At the beginning of fall camp, Franchione indicated that at least one true freshman might be called on to play this year on the defensive line. Since that time Ahmad Childress' solid play coupled with good injury luck (so far) has probably changed that dynamic.
At this point, fullback Greg McLain would be the only "likely" participant from the 2002 signing class, with all the rest "likely" slated for a redshirt.
However, a few of the athletes have been so good, so soon that the decision to hold them out will be difficult. The Tide coaches like what they've seen from all the newcomers, but Ken Darby (carrying the football), Juwan Garth (covering kicks) and Jeremy Clark (along the defensive line) all look good enough to contribute this year--if needed.
The "if needed" phrase is, of course, the key.
Right now Alabama is okay on the D-Line, meaning Clark should get that preparatory year in the weight room that all linemen need before competing in the SEC.
The Tide is also very deep at tailback. And even though Darby has the look of a future star, his debut carrying the football for Alabama will probably be in 2003.
Juwan Garth, expected to contribute defensively at Rover in coming years, has been very impressive in kick coverage this fall. But burning his redshirt for special teams duty alone is unlikely.
Grizzly or teddy?
Line up Alabama's defensive tackles shoulder to shoulder, and based on sight alone Anthony "Bear" Bryant would be the easy pick as All-American. Six foot three, 335 pounds plus of powerful muscle--and he can move, too.
Marveling at his natural ability, the Tide strength coaches report that Bryant can be as strong as he wants to be. In only his third season on campus, Bryant already holds two of the weight-lifting records for defensive linemen (440 pounds on the incline press and an eye-popping 775 pounds on the squat).
But All-America honors for defensive linemen aren't awarded based on athleticism alone. In the trenches it's all about production. Explode at the snap. Fight through the double team. Get off the block, and punish the ball carrier.
A combination of attitude and a "fast motor" are what distinguish good D-Linemen from great ones. And once "Bear" learns to show a little "mad dog" on the playing field, there'll be no containing him.
Bama fans (and coaches) are anxiously anticipating that day.