Ironmen Eleven Team Led By Defenders

Each summer I think about a mental exercise that began while watching Alabama football practices in the early 1970s. My good friend, Sang Lyda, was a Crimson Tide trainer and I was in the sports information office. We would pick a team of Bama players we thought would be capable of playing both offense and defense.

In those days we were in the wishbone offense and a 5-2 defense. We were also in a period when Coach Paul Bryant had recruited and developed a large number of outstanding football players for Alabama, and the primary difficulty of our theoretical selection came in eliminating incredibly gifted players from our Ironmen Eleven.

Sang and I were both familiar with previous NCAA regulations of one platoon football, when players had to go both ways. Don't kid yourself. Those players were good, but there was no way they could be as good as players who are offensive and defensive specialists as had been the case for the past 40-plus years.

Lee Roy Jordan, the all-time great Alabama linebacker of the early 1960s, was also an excellent center. It may be that the most enduring memory of Jordan comes from a play when he was on offense. Alabama was playing Georgia Tech and Bama suffered an interception. The Yellow Jackets defender was returning the pick down the sidelines when Jordan, who had been playing center, began bearing down on him. The Tech player jettisoned the ball, and the legend was born that he would rather give up the ball than take a smack from Lee Roy.

We previously selected Earl Alexander to be the quarterback of our 11-man team. Today we put Alexander on defense and also name the remaining members of our squad. (We didn't pick kicking teams specialists.)

Every offensive and defensive style presents problems for picking a one-platoon team. In the days of true one platoon, T-formation football, most teams had two wide receivers, a fullback and running back, quarterback, tight end and five offensive linemen on offense, a five-man line, two linebackers, and four defensive backs on defense. This year's Alabama team is likely to have five offensive linemen and a tight end, quarterback, halfback and three wide receivers. On defense, Bama has three or four linemen and three or four linebackers and four or five defensive backs. (Unlimited substitution makes combinations limitless.)

My team has what I expect to be the Alabama offense of five linemen, a tight end, quarterback, halfback and three wide receivers. The defense will have four defensive linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs.

We mentioned that not having Jimmy Johns available hurts this fantasy team because he is one we could see as both an offensive and defensive player. This squad does not have a fullback, which eliminated Baron Huber, a former fullback and now linebacker. That decision also eliminated Prince Hall, an outstanding prep fullback who has been a starting linebacker. But like Johns (though certainly not to the same extent), Hall's actions have made him questionable for the 2008 team, and excluded him from this one.

We'll begin with the previously announced Earl Alexander, who is our quarterback. Alexander, a 6-5, 210-pound wide receiver from Phenix City, will be a safety when the Tide goes on defense.

In both the offensive and defensive backfields, Alexander is joined by Kareem Jackson. The 5-11, 185-pound soph was a freshman starter at cornerback last year, and as a prep star in Macon, Georgia rushed for over 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior season. We considered Ali Sharrief, who has been a running back and defensive back at Bama, and thought about the biggest current Tide tailback, Glen Coffee.

One of the first players selected was the smallest. Javier Arenas (5-9, 193). Best known for his kick return prowess, he had an excellent spring as a cornerback. We believe he would also be more than adequate as a wide receiver, too.

The other wide receivers are Justin Woodall, a 6-2, 224-pound junior who many believe is about to live up to his billing as among the best athletes on the Tide squad, and Nikita Stover, the 6-0, 207-pound senior. Woodall is listed as a starting strong safety for Nick Saban's version of the Crimson Tide, but we're moving him to linebacker. Stover is one of our cornerbacks, selected for two-way play because of his fearlessness in going across the middle to catch passes.

There are two players we knew were going to be on this squad. One is a linebacker, Rolando McClain, the other an offensive tackle, Andre Smith. McClain, a 6-4, 255-pound soph, will be the tight end on offense. When Bama is on defense, Smith, the 6-5, 340-pound junior All-America, will be a defensive tackle.

One of the most important positions is center, and we're picking Bama's all-star center, Antoine Caldwell. The 6-3, 292-pounder will be a linebacker on defense.

The rest of the offensive and defensive lines will be made up of men who are defenders. The two-way linemen are Alfred McCullough, a 6-2, 217-pound redshirt freshman; Lorenzo Washington, a 6-4, 283-pound junior; and Josh Chapman, a 6-1, 300-pound sophomore. As a rule, defensive linemen are a bit more athletic than offensive linemen, which gave the defenders the edge in making this team.

This team used a few more defensive players (seven) than offensive players. Although there are tight ends on Alabama's football team who are very athletic, we found it best to use linebacker Rolando McClain at tight end and guys like Travis McCall and Nick Walker didn't make this special eleven.

Back to that Lee Roy Jordan-Georgia Tech story: I once mentioned it to Coach Paul Bryant and he said, "I think the Tech boy just dropped the ball. He wasn't scared." Every party needs a pooper.

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