New Tight Ends Offer Promise

When is a tight end not a tight end? Perhaps when he's a fullback. Or an H-back. Alabama lost both its starting tight end and the man listed as starting fullback from last year's team. But the cupboard is not bare for spring practice preparation.

Alabama begins spring practice Friday. After The University's spring break, the second practice will be 10 days later, on March 22. The 15th and final practice day will be the A-Day Game at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 17, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. For the second consecutive year the game will be nationally telecast by ESPN.

Colin Peek was eligible for football only one season at Alabama, but the former Georgia Tech star–who transferred after Tech changed to a coach and an offense that didn't include a tight end–was outstanding. Good enough to make the cover of Sports Illustrated for a touchdown catch in Alabama's Southeastern Conference Championship Game victory over Florida.

Peek was the exception, a tight end who was both an outstanding blocker and a capable receiver. He caught 26 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in helping Bama to a 14-0 season and the national championship.

Alabama also lost Baron Huber, who was Bama's starting fullback the past two seasons. The Crimson Tide only infrequently has used a true fullback in its offense. Sometimes Bama used a package with nose tackle Terrence Cody in a fullback role. More often, a second tight end has been a part of the Alabama offense, usually working out of a backfield position.

This is the second consecutive year Bama has lost men who started at both tight end and H-Back. Travis McCall and Nick Walker were senior starters in 2008.

Here is another in our series examining Alabama football positions prior to the start of spring practice. This is a look at the tight end positions.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has said that he wants the tight end to be an integral part of the offense. He also thinks that tight end (and linebacker) types are valuable to have for special teams and to move to other positions if necessary. Bama signed two tight ends in February, but neither Harrison Jones nor Brian Vogler has entered The University.

It is a slight oversimplification to compartmentalize the duties of tight ends, but there are those who are primarily "extra tackle" blockers; those who are in H-Back blocking mode in short yardage situations; and those who are receivers. Ideally, a tight end will be accomplished in at least two of those traits.

Bama returns three men who had significant playing time in 2009. They are:

Upcoming sophomore Michael Williams (6-6, 266) has been more the traditional block-first type of tight end playing on the line of scrimmage. Last year he had three pass receptions for 39 yards. He is very athletic and probably can become a very good receiver.

Senior Preston Dial (6-3, 245), who was used primarily as that second tight end used as an H-Back blocker in short yardage situations. Though not as big as some who play that position, he delivers a lot of power in his blocks. Last year he caught three passes for 25 yards and in his career has five receptions for 54 yards.

Junior Brad Smelley 6-3, 233) often plays out of the slot, almost like an H-Back, but considered more of a receiving threat than other tight ends. Last year he had seven receptions for 50 yards and over the past two seasons has 14 catches for 148 yards. He has been working to add weight without losing speed.

Assistant Coach Bobby Williams will have some other candidates to work with this spring.

Junior Chris Underwood (6-3, 231) played in nine games last year, participating primarily on special teams.

Sophomore Undra Billingsley (6-2, 276), a former defensive end candidate, played very sparingly last season.

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