Western Carolina should provide fans an opportunity to have some of those questions answered. There really couldn't be a better opponent for the Tide to face in Week One, as they kick off their 2007 campaign. The Western Carolina Catamounts have a long and extensive record against BCS teams, 0-36 to be exact, and they hope Saturday doesn't kick that up to 37.
The one recurring problem for the Catamounts is a lack of depth. James Singletary (6-2, 270 lbs.), a redshirted junior from Kernersville, N.C., is expected to be utilized on both sides of the ball. While Singletary has been named the starting left tackle, he is also looking to factor in Coach Kent Briggs' defensive scheme. As a sophomore last year, Singletary took snaps as a tight end, defensive lineman, offensive lineman and guard. Expect to see a lot of Singletary this Saturday, as he looks to make an impact on both sides of the ball, and disrupt the Tide's flow.
There is only one returning starter on the Catamounts' offensive line, and that's at left guard. Canton, North Carolina's Josh Deaver (6-3, 300 lbs.) returns as a junior to an offensive line desperately in need of experience. He was one of only eight Catamounts and two linemen to start every game last year, and he figures to try and anchor the vulnerable left side. Deaver was named Western Carolina's Most Valuable Player in 2006 following their rout of Chowan College.
At the center position, the Catamounts will start Charlotte junior Kevin Wiggins (6-5, 265 lbs.). Wiggins played in only three games last year, all against Division II teams. The Tide will provide a good test for the junior center. With close to 93,000 fans going in Bryant-Denny Stadium this Saturday, it will be a tough test to see if Wiggins can match up to the atmosphere and the Tide defenders.
Catamounts Coach Briggs said in a teleconference call on Tuesday, "One of the things we are concerned about is how we match-up up front."
Starting at left guard is Swanoanoa, North Carolina's Ben Davies (6-4, 290 lbs.) who is a feel good story after missing the entire 2006 season with a knee injury. The injury was sustained during spring drills last year. Davies redshirted the entire 2005 season also, so he is taking his first game snaps on Saturday. He needs to have a solid impact on the game because senior Chris Huffman (6-1, 300 lbs.) wants his starting left guard spot back. Expect Huffman to see some action Saturday.
Sophomore Bobby Furmage (6-6, 300 lbs.) will have the starting left tackle position. Furmage redshirted in 2005 and 2006, and only played in last year's season opener against Chowan.
All in all, the Western Carolina Catamounts are very inexperienced on the offensive line and have very few reserves. Look for some of these linemen to play defense at some point, especially Singletary.
On the other side of the ball, the Crimson Tide are having to adjust their defensive line after senior nose guard Brian Motley (6-2, 280 lbs.) sustained a broken ankle during practice on Tuesday.
Coach Saban said on Wednesday, "Sophomore Lorenzo Washington (6-4, 283 lbs.) will start at nose guard Saturday night against Western Carolina and will be backed up by freshmen."
When asked about which players would fill the void, Saban replied, "We're obviously going to have to use some of our freshman players; we'll see who the guys that we feel are most ready to play right now."
Redshirted sophomore Lorenzo Washington makes his first start for the Tide at nose guard. Washington was redshirted two years ago, and only appeared in 29 snaps in 2006. With the sudden injury to Motley earlier this week, Alabama was forced to give Washington the start. As a prep player in Georgia, Washington racked up 60 tackles his senior year and was in Top-20 lists nationally at the defensive line all year. True freshman Alfred McCullough (6-2, 317 lbs.) should also figure into the mix if Saban decides to rest Washington at some point.
A key returning player for the Tide is senior defensive end Wallace Gilberry (6-3, 267 lbs.). He was one of the leaders in 2006 and had his best performance of the year against Auburn. He sacked quarterback Brandon Cox two times in that contest. Gilberry has compiled 104 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks so far in his career, and he doesn't look like he's stopping anytime soon.
Bobby Greenwood (6-5, 267 lbs.), from Prattville, is set out to anchor the defensive line at right end. The junior has seen action in all of Alabama's games the past two years. Last year, however, he finished with 22 tackles overall, trailing only Gilberry as the leading tackler on the team. Greenwood said, "I feel like a freshman" when hit with all the new plays Coach Saban threw at him in the spring.
Then there's redshirt sophomore Brandon Deaderick (6-4, 286 lbs.), who will be asked upon to fill in the void if Gilberry or Greenwood have to come out of the game.
Alabama's superior talent on the defensive line will undoubtedly create trouble for the Catamount offensive line. With Gilberry, Greenwood, and possibly Deaderick playing at some point, the Alabama defensive ends hope to have their way against a Western Carolina line with little experience or depth.
While it isn't the defensive line Coach Saban had first envisioned, it will probably be more than enough to shut down the Catamounts' attack and make the loyal majority of those 93,000 screaming fans happy by game's end.
Kickoff between Alabama and Western Carolina is slated for 6:07 p.m. Saturday night.