What Has Happened To Andre Smith?

If it wasn't for occasional comments from defensive players, one would hardly know that Andre Smith is still on the Alabama football team. Alabama Coach Nick Saban is like a lot of coaches, particularly in the Southeastern Conference, in not allowing reporters at practice.

That doesn't mean that Nick Saban isn't forthcoming when it comes to discussion of Alabama football. He is far better than some, particularly compared to his predecessor, Mike Shula, in providing information about the Crimson Tide when meeting with sportswriters following practice.

But if the question isn't asked, there is no reason for discussion. And reporters don't waste their questions on what they assume to be obvious. Among those obvious situations is that Alabama is probably in very good shape at left offensive tackle, where Andre Smith played at all-star caliber last year as a freshman.

The biggest interest in left tackle has been that Chris Capps, last year's starter at right tackle, is now Smith's back-ups. Michael Johnson has taken over at right tackle. And based on what could be seen of Alabama's scrimmage work in videotapes released by The University, Capps is now the swing tackle, the top back-up at both left and right tackle.

There are a number of positions—particularly on offense where so many starters return--where one might assume the situation.

But we all know what can happen when we assume.

But I assume that Antoine Caldwell is the number one center and that John Parker Wilson is the starting quarterback. (And, yes, I know that according to Saban there is no depth chart and won't be one until the first game and then it will be obsolete.) It's difficult to imagine anyone beating out Caldwell. There had been some speculation that he might shift to right tackle, and that would open up some questions. Evan Cardwell is thought to be the back-up center, but Cardwell is also working at guard. Is William Vlachos, who wasn't even scheduled to be on the team this fall, really in contention for playing time at center?

I also assume that D.J. Hall will be a starting wide receiver. A name that hasn't been heard much, though, is the other returning starter at wide receiver. Mike McCoy has been heard a lot and, lately, Matt Caddell and Nikita Stover. But it's hard to assume Keith Brown is still a number one.

Even though there have been a few names thrown out at tight end, returning starter Travis McCall is mentioned often enough to assume (I know, I know) is still number one.

There's no reason to think that anyone has beaten out Justin Britt at left guard or Marlon Davis at right guard. Offensive guard is a position that has been discussed not at all in post-practice briefings. There are rumors that David Ross and Patrick Crump are making progress as back-up guards.

The only place Alabama lost starters on offense are tailback and fullback. Terry Grant is mentioned first every time Saban discusses tailback play. And the coach frequently talks about the importance of finding a second tailback to go with Grant. Roy Upchurch has had just a few days of full contact practice. One might assume (!!!) Glen Coffee is the back-up, primarily because of the Saban revelation that Jimmy Johns is now working at fullback.

There is nothing to be gained by assuming that Alabama will line up with a fullback and one tight end and two wide receivers. It is quite possible that Bama's offense will frequently be some other configuration: a tailback, two tight ends and two wide receivers; or one tight end and three wide receivers; or something else.

Figuring the defense is even more difficult. Since Saban arrived at Alabama only two practices have been open to view by reporters: the A-Day Game and a non-scrimmage Fan Day. In both cases the defense was usually standard. Even taking into account that Saban bills his defense as a 3-4, as often as not in what has been shown in the two open practices the look was 4-3.

Additionally, in a post-practice briefing in which Saban explained his role in practice as helping with the secondry, the head coach noted that Alabama will often be in a defense with five or six defensive backs.

But just for the sake of argument, assume (again!) that Alabama's base defense is two ends, a nose tackle, four linebackers and four defensive backs.

Alabama provides players for interviews on a regular basis, and two of the regulars are defensive ends Wallace Gilberry and Bobby Greenwood. It's not unreasonable to consider them number one at the end spots.

Brian Motley finished spring practice as the number one nose tackle, according to Saban, but he has been out for a few days with a hand injury. Saban has said that he will be able to play. In his absence, Lorenzo Washington seems to have moved up (perhaps temporarily) from number two. And Saban mentioned that freshman Josh Chapman had been moved to number two with the injury to Motley.

There are a lot of interesting things about linebacker. Two former defensive linemen are at one of the outside spots, Jack. Keith Saunders, who was a starting defensive end last year, is believed to be ahead of Brandon Fanney at that spot.

Players have very good things to say about Ezekial Knight at the other outside linebacker position, strongside linebacker.

Darren Mustin, a former back-up at Middle Tennessee State, would seem to be an unlikely starter, but he earned a scholarship and it is believed he is number one, ahead of Eryk Anders, at weakside linebacker, one of the inside linebacker spots.

Most would assume that Prince Hall is the number one man at middle linebacker, as he was in last year's 4-3 defense. But freshman Rolando McClain's name keeps popping up, including following last Saturday's scrimmage. It would be a huge surprise (at least to those not privy to practice viewing) if Prince Hall was not in the starting line-up when Bama opens the season.

That season-opener is less than two weeks away. Alabama hosts Western Carolina at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday, September 1, in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

All sorts of reports indicate that the biggest change in Alabama football this year will be in the play of the secondary. Not to take anything away from Secondary Coach Kirby Smart, almost everyone would assume the improvement is because Saban takes such a hands-on interest in the play of the cornerbacks.

Until this week's police report was announced, it was assumed that Alabama had one sure starter in the secondary. Simeon Castille is a pre-season all-star cornerback. Additionally, when Alabama is in a nickel package, Castille is believed to be the man who moves to the position called "Money," the nickel spot.

Castille would ordinarily be listed as a left cornerback. A handful of players—Lionel Mitchell, Eric Gray, Marquis Johnson, Kareem Jackson—could be assumed to be in the mix at cornerback.

No one will be surprised if the starting safeties are Rashad Johnson and Marcus Carter. Javier Arenas had been thought to be a cornerback, but in the defense in which he returned an interception for a touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage he seemed to be a back-up safety. Sam Burnthall is a player whose name comes up when discussion turns to safety play.

The specialists returning are sophomore punter P.J. Fitzgerald and senior placekicker Jamie Christensen. Christensen has what has been described as a slight injury, but a leg injury for a kicker is not goo. In his absence, Leigh Tiffin has earned some platitudes. Bama should have good return men, headed by Arenas, Bama should have good return men. Brian Selman is believed to be the snapper.

But this is all assumption.

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