Dial Wants To Earn Role As Tight End

Preston Dial has begun to fill one role of last year's graduated Alabama tight end corps. Dial is one of the more vocal players on the Crimson Tide football team. "Nick had a big mouth," Dial said. "Someone had to pick up where he left off."

No one questions the importance of leadership in a football team. Many leaders are vocal, so Preston Dial may be on to something. He certainly says the right things.

Dial, a 6-3, 245-pound junior from Mobile, is in a crowded field, even though the two main tight ends from last season are gone. Nick Walker and Travis McCall were last year's Bama tight ends, frequently in the game at the same time.

McCall was the thunder, best known for his punishing blocks, Walker the lightning, second only to Julio Jones in receiving for the Crimson Tide.

(And Walker, of course, is the "Nick" of the big mouth, not some other random Nick connected to Alabama football.)

Dial, on the other hand, was the "last-leading" receiver for the 2008 Crimson Tide. Although he has played in 24 games over the past two years, last season he had one reception for eight yards. Quite a comedown from his 2007 production when he had one catch for 21 yards.

Dial isn't looking back, though. Alabama has to have a handful of tight ends for the Nick Saban (NOT the Nick with a big mouth Dial was referring to) offense. In addition to Dial, the candidates include:

Brad Smelley, a sophomore who had a lot of playing time last season; Colin Peek, a senior who transferred from Georgia Tech, where he was the starting tight end; Baron Huber, a senior who has been a starting fullback and who has also competed at defensive end and linebacker; Chris Underwood, a sophomore who played primarily on special teams last year; and Michael Williams, a redshirt freshman who started his career as a defensive end candidate last fall.

Alabama has completed six of 15 spring practice days. The Tide will have its first scrimmage (closed to the public) Wednesday. Spring training continues through the A-Day Game on Saturday, April 18.

Dial has a reputation as a "good hands" man, but has also been on the short yardage units, an indication of blocking ability. He's had two starts in his career (Vanderbilt 2007 and LSU 2008) when Bama opened in a three-tight end set. He's also played on special teams. Dial missed the Kentucky and Georgia games last year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

A four-year letterman at UMS-Wright High School, Dial was redshirted as a true freshman at Alabama in 2006. He was Alabama Sports Writers Association 4A Lineman of the Year as a prep senior. He was on state championship teams as a freshman in 2002 and a senior in 2005.

Following Alabama's Monday afternoon practice, Dial said work "is going real well. We've had some good days, but we've got to keep working. The competition is good for us."

Dial gives credit to the departed Walker and McCall. "They were good leaders," he said. "They helped me a lot. They came to work every day. And that's the way it has to be. You have to bring your A Game every day. Every day is a new day."

Dial said that he hopes the tight ends will continue to be an important part of the offense. "We're all working hard and trying to give Coach Mac (Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain) something to use. It depends on what he's looking for. We definitely need to improve to help the running game and the passing game."

Dial said that McElwain does a good job with the offense. The tight end is also impressed with the work of quarterbacks Greg McElroy and Star Jackson. "They have improved a lot," Dial said. "Their knowledge of the game has improved. Back in January and February when we weren't practicing, they were watching film. They are on their game, getting better every day."

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