Football notebook, late September edition

Cleaning out the reporter's notebook. <br><br>Topics today include "traveling redshirts," Peprah's best position, ignoring pain and an ever-thinning depth chart at tight end.

Traveling redshirts

Every profession has its assortment of catch phrases, unique to those involved, while often confusing to those on the outside. But college football seems to have more than its share. The latest bit of new jargon for Alabama fans to absorb is a so-called "traveling redshirt." Coach Franchione pulled the phrase out last week when talking about true freshman Kenneth Darby's possible role as a fourth tailback this year.

Kenneth Darby will practice with the varsity and travel with the squad, but the coaches hope to redshirt him this season.

Four tailbacks/A-Backs had seen action for Alabama this season, though normally a squad can get by with three. With the injury to Ahmaad Galloway, the Tide needs to get a fourth running back ready for game action, and Darby will fill that role. So Darby will practice with the first- and second-string offense, learning the schemes in case he's needed. And he'll travel to all away games "just in case." However, the staff would very much prefer not to burn the true freshman's redshirt season in merely a back-up role.

Hence the term "traveling redshirt."

Darby isn't the only true freshman in that category. The coaches also would like to redshirt defensive tackle Jeremy Clark and quarterback Brandon Avalos. But each plays a position where bad injury luck could dictate earlier playing time than planned. So both will make the trip to Fayetteville, but hopefully neither will get into the game.

Though he's a senior in terms of eligibility, offensive tackle Atlas Herrion is also a "traveling redshirt" this season.

Peprah to safety?

Ever since Charlie Peprah first set foot on campus, there have been persistent "rumors" that the cornerback would eventually end up at safety. It's a compliment really. Practice observers and more casual fans look at his size (a legitimate 5-11 and 195) and note his impressive physique, and their logical conclusion is that he's a strong safety waiting to happen. Despite the fact that Peprah has practiced exclusively at cornerback every day since the second week of the 2001 fall camp, the idea simply would not die.

Charlie Peprah (left) and Roman Harper (right) watch in the weight room.

Of course there's no doubt that Bama's struggles at safety last season, combined with the relative dearth of big-name athletes listed at the position, helped keep the rumor alive.

Certainly the Tide coaches saw what the fans did. Peprah is an impressive athlete, strong, fluid with the arms of a taller player and a knack for covering wideouts. And on top of all his obvious physical talents, Peprah is extremely smart. The defensive staff saw all those things--they just envisioned him as a lock-down cornerback, capable of taking the other teams' star receiver out of the game.

Any player on the squad could end up being moved to a different position "for the good of the team," and Peprah is not exempt from that rule. Yes, with his physical ability and football instincts, Peprah would make a fine safety. But after working exclusively at cornerback for the past 13 months, he's now starting and playing very well.

So don't look for a position move any time soon.

It's only pain

Most Tide fans are familiar with the story of Evan Mathis last season. After suffering a stress fracture in his leg during fall camp, the (then) redshirt freshman kept his injury a secret. He reasoned at the time that if the medical staff found out about his problem, he would lose out on playing time. And of course as it turned out Mathis took over as starter early in the season, a position that he never relinquished.

Evan Mathis continues to play through pain.

Mathis endured the pain all season, and also put off surgery until after spring practice. Then a rod was inserted in his leg to "fix" the fracture and allow the leg to heal. Like Antonio Carter, Mathis continued to experience pain during fall camp this season, but he's been able to play through it.

Add to his list of maladies a broken toe, suffered earlier in the season. It was painful (anyone that has suffered a similar problem can attest to that fact). But given what Mathis endured last season, that problem was shaken off as a minor nuisance. Then in the North Texas game a defensive lineman's helmet drove directly into his leg, impacting the exact spot of last year's stress fracture. Mathis missed a few snaps before returning to finish that game.

Afterwards talking to reporters, he revealed that the collision may or may not have re-fractured the leg. They'd find that out the next day after X-raying the area. For the record (and any opposing coaches out there), the leg was not re-broken. "But it doesn't matter," Mathis quickly added in the media room that day. "I played with it all last season, and I can play with it again if I have to."

Thin at tight end

Donald Clarke

Given that two former tight ends (Theo Sanders and Clint Johnston) are now listed at the ‘W' position, it's a little bit misleading. But there is no question that Alabama's list of true tight ends is growing shorter. Junior Donald Clarke--all 6-6 and 260 pounds of him--is holding down the fort. And in fact Clarke has played very well the past few games, contributing several athletic pass receptions in addition to his always solid blocking.

But if you remove Sanders and Johnston from the equation, Clarke essentially is working without a proven backup. David Cavan started the year No. 1 ahead of Clarke, but after struggling to catch the ball in the Oklahoma game Cavan lost that status. Coach Franchione has a strict policy against talking about the details of injuries during the season, but no secrets are revealed by stating that Cavan did not play versus Southern Miss. And he's not on the traveling squad going to Arkansas this weekend.

Boone Stutz

Walk-on Teddy Gryska had shown some promise during fall camp, but he broke his ankle (before the prohibition on injury information went into effect) and has yet to suit up for a game.

Recently walk-on offensive tackle Boone Stutz (6-5, 290) has been staying after practice with the other tight ends and ‘Ws' to catch extra balls from the JUGGS machine. Stutz is also the back-up long snapper on special teams.

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