Weighty Discussion From Tide's Caldwell

Following last season, Antoine Caldwell had a decision to make and he had only about a week to consider it. That decision was whether to make himself eligible for the NFL draft or return to a football team that had just finished a 7-6 record.

Antoine Caldwell had all sorts of pluses and minuses to examine last January a few weeks after Alabama had ended a four-game losing streak with an Independence Bowl victory over Colorado.

Caldwell was considered a likely NFL draftee. He already had his degree. His junior season had included a suspension due to what he called a lack of judgment involving improper receipt of textbooks. He had been elected a team captain in his junior season. He hadn't reached all the goals he wanted.

After weighing it all, he decided to return for a fifth year, his final season at The Capstone.

"You couldn't have drawn it up any better," said Caldwell, a 6-3, 305-pound four-year starter from Montgomery. "I have felt good with my decision."

He was pleased that Alabama was able to regain some of the lost luster with its 12-0 regular season and he looks forward to representing the Southeastern Conference and The University of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on January 2.

Later he will play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile. He said he and his family have gone to the Senior Bowl for the past six years and that it will mean a lot to all of them for him to participate in that game.

Caldwell said he is also pleased that he returned because the nine scholarshipped seniors on the 2008 Crimson Tide had a "special bond. I've been playing football a long time and I've never been around a tighter group," he said.

Additionally, Caldwell earned All-America recognition as a senior. "That was a blessing," he said, "an incredible honor to be recognized with the other guys."

Caldwell, tackle Andre Smith, nose tackle Terrence Cody and safety Rashad Johnson were other Alabama players making first team All-America in 2008.

Last Saturday Caldwell received his second degree from The University.

Tide players have been away from practice since falling to Florida in the SEC Championship Game on December 6. They were to return to the practice field Thursday in preparation for the Sugar Bowl against Utah on January 2 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Alabama is 12-1 and ranked fourth in the nation and Utah is 12-0 and ranked sixth in the nation. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. CST with national television coverage by Fox.

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"It was good to get away, to be able to go home and spend a few days with the family," Caldwell said before practice Thursday. "I may have eaten too much, though, and I may pay for that at practice."

Caldwell said that the Sugar Bowl is the next game in the season. "We have to continue," he said. "We need to win the next game. That starts today. I think everyone is focused."

He said he agrees with Coach Nick Saban that the result of the Sugar Bowl will be the legacy of the 2008 team. "It's important for all of us, not just the seniors," he said.

Caldwell knows that his teammate, Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith, has the opportunity to be distracted by the possibility of choosing the NFL draft over returning for his final season the way Caldwell did.

"Andre has a business decision to make," Caldwell said. "His situation is different than mine was. He's an incredibly smart guy." Caldwell said that he relied on his family and on conversations with Saban. He said Smith will have to "pray a lot," and get advice from the same sources. He noted that Saban "is the best, a true professional" in explaining the situation.

Meanwhile, Caldwell and Smith and their offensive line teammates are looking at a Utah defensive line that is not very big.

"I've watched some film," Caldwell said. "They're not too big, but they are quick and explosive. Sometimes those are the toughest guys to try to block. They do a good job up front. Their guys play well together."

The Utah starting defensive line includes Koa Misi (6-3, 263 junior) and Paul Kruger (6-5, 265 sophomore) at ends, Greg Newman (6-4, 260 senior) at tackle, and Derrick Shelby (6-3, 245 freshman) at nose tackle. That averages out to a shade under 6-4, 260.

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