Dial Was Pleasant A-Day Surprise

Although Alabama lost both starting tight ends from 2008, and despite the fact that Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban frequently uses two or three tight ends at a time, there didn't seem to be much concern about the position among those following Bama's spring practice this year.

Alabama ended spring training with the A-Day Game last Saturday, and at least one tight end candidate appeared to have helped himself. Preston Dial, a 6-3, 250-pound upcoming junior from Mobile, was one of the top receivers in the game.

Last season Alabama often started two tight ends, Nick Walker and Travis McCall. In addition to sometimes using two tight ends on the line of scrimmage, the Tide customarily uses a regular tight end ("Y") and a slot-type ("H"). During the spring, Alabama Coach Nick Saban noted that Baron Huber (a fullback last year) and Brad Smelley (who lettered last year as a freshman) were working almost exclusively at "H" and that Dial, Colin Peek, Chris Underwood, and Michael Williams were being used at "Y."

Most have expected Peek, an upcoming senior who played at Georgia Tech for two years before transferring to Alabama, to be the starting tight end. He had a nice A-Day in 2008. While sitting out last fall, both Saban and Tide players frequently mentioned the play of Peek.

Smelley did not play in Bama's first six games of 2008 and was expected to be redshirted as a freshman, but he played in the final eight games and had seven pass receptions for 98 yards.

Underwood saw limited action as a freshman last season. Williams was held out as a freshman last year and was converted from a defensive end to a tight end.

Dial was only the White team in the A-Day Game, an indication that he was the second team "Y" to Peek, who was on the Crimson team. The White team was first defense and second offense, the Crimson first offense and second defense. The Crimson was a 14-7 winner.

Dial tied teammate Marquis Maze for most receptions in the game with five. He picked up 58 yards on his receptions, including a 20-yard grab from quarterback Thomas Darrah that led to the only touchdown by the White team.

Following the game, Dial said, "My number one goal was effort--to make sure I gave 110 per cent every play--and that I was consistent with my productivity. I think I've made vast improvements. I think I've grown up a lot since this past football season. I have a better understanding (of offense). My main thing was consistency. I think I'm on my way. I'm getting better and better each week."

Dial was a freshman in 2006 after having been named 4A Lineman of the Year by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. He led his UMS-Wright High School team to the 2005 state championship. He was redshirted as a freshman. In 2007 he played in 10 games and started against Vanderbilt as Bama opened the game with three tight ends. He also started one game as a sophomore last year, against LSU. He played in 12 games last season. He missed the Georgia and Kentucky games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

Dial said that this spring his position coach, Bobby Wilson, emphasized drive blocking. "Some people will tag me as a smaller down tight end but I'm confident in my abilities," Dial said. "Personally I wanted to improve my confidence in the passing game. I'm not near where I need to be but I'm getting there."

Dial said communication on the offensive front is key. "That was one of the points of focus this spring," he said. "As long as we're on the same page and working together, I think the blocking will be improved from last year."

He said, "We're getting better and better. We were a little shaky at the beginning of spring. We weren't communicating very well. We're all very capable. And our tackles are all very capable. But it's all about communication. We're progressing and getting better and better. I think we're going to be all right."

Alabama will also have a new quarterback in 2009. Dial expressed satisfaction with defensive recognition and being on the same page as the quarterbacks. "There is a lot that goes into a quarterback having a good day or a bad day," Dial said. " It's not always on their shoulders even though sometimes it gets penned that way. We just have to keep working to get on the same page. The more reps, the better we'll get so we're excited."

"There are a couple of plays I left out there," Dial said following the A-Day Game. "There's one block I could have made that I think we could have sprung something if I had made it. But I think I've done a better job of being consistent this spring."

Dial said he was known primarily as a blocker when he arrived at Alabama. "But I have a lot of confidence in my pass-catching ability," he said. "I definitely have some improvement to make. I just need to put in the work, catch a few more balls every day. I will continue to work on it through the summer and hope to get more comfortable."

Alabama players will work on their own through the summer, then gather again for fall camp in the first week of August. Alabama opens the season in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta on Sept. 5 against Virginia Tech.

Dial doesn't know who will line up at tight end for the first play of that game, nor does he seem concerned about it.

"Whoever it is, we'll be happy with," Dial said. "There's plenty of competition. No one is going to have the job given to him."

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