Both Anthony Bryant and Ahmad Childress played well in Saturday's scrimmage, clearly establishing themselves as the probable starters next season. The only real questions associated with either are "Can they slim down to the 310-pound range?" which the Tide coaches think will be essential to their effectiveness and "Can they get in good enough shape to handle the increased snaps per game?"
Behind Bryant and Childress, redshirt freshmen Jeremy Clark and Kyle Tatum have bulked up and added strength since arriving on campus. They'll both need seasoning, but each should definitely contribute next season. The question is "Who will step up to take that fifth (and maybe even sixth) spot in the playing rotation?"
Knowledgeable fans know about sophomore Taylor Britt (6-4, 279) and redshirt freshman J.P. Adams (6-3, 261). After transferring from UAB, Britt (the younger brother of starting left tackle Wesley Britt) was placed on scholarship. And Northport native Adams is the son of James Princeton "Ike" Adams, Jr., the Dean of Alabama's School of Social Work.
Also hoping to make an impact this spring are senior John Bevel (6-0, 289), junior Garrett Gordon (6-4, 270) and freshman Beau Tate (6-0, 266). A veteran walk-on on the squad, Bevel has played several positions, including middle linebacker, on the Tide scout team. Gordon is a transfer, who played high school football for UMS Wright in Mobile.
What's with the funky footballs?
Careful practice observers have wondered about the odd-looking footballs that the Tide quarterbacks use during certain drills. From a distance they resemble the red and black nerf footballs that children use, but they're actually something very different.
Tide Head Coach Mike Price explained that they do use standard nerf footballs for some line drills, to make certain no one sprains an ankle by stepping on a stray ball. But in this case what appears to be a child's toy is in fact a regulation football covered with a bright red sleeve, intentionally designed to be slippery.
"They're the dickens to hold on to," Price explained. The Tide coaches use them in ball handling drills, forcing the running backs and quarterbacks alike to concentrate on ball security or risk a fumble.
When Antonio Carter recovers from his leg injury, the elusive senior will certainly be added to the mix. But right now the Tide coaches are looking at several athletes for the key punt return role.
Sophomore cornerback Charlie Peprah, sophomore wideout Brandon Brooks, redshirt freshman cornerback Ramzee Robinson, senior cornerback Roberto McBride, junior cornerback Anthony Madison and senior tailback Shaud Williams are working at the position in practice.
First team ‘O'
For the most part the coaches are utilizing last season's depth chart for now, but during Friday's scrimmage the starting offense appeared to include Brodie Croyle (QB); J.B. Closner (Center); Justin Smiley and Dennis Alexander (guards); Evan Mathis and Wesley Britt (tackles) and Shaud Williams (tailback). Donald Clarke, Clint Johnston and Greg McLain are all getting snaps with the first unit at tight end.
Quarterback Spencer Pennington is probably slightly ahead, but Brandon Avalos also gets reps with the second unit. The second O-Line includes Atlas Herrion and Von Ewing (tackles); Mark Sanders and Danny Martz (guards) and Matt Lomax (center). David Cavan works at tight end (though that position's depth chart is not solid); tailback Kenneth Darby is getting reps with the 1s and 2s and Ray Hudson works mainly with the 2s. Several receivers would also now be listed in the playing rotation, but a good guess at a second unit would include Marcus McKnight, Brandon Greer, Scoop McDowell and Brandon Brooks.
Lining them up on ‘D'
No surprise to anyone, Bama's starting defensive line would include Anthony Bryant and Ahmad Childress at tackle and Antwan Odom and Nautyn McKay-Loescher at end. The linebacking corps would start Brooks Daniels (weakside), Cornelius Wortham (strongside) and Freddie Roach (middle). Charles Jones and Roman Harper are running first string at the safety spots, with Charlie Peprah and Anthony Madison getting most first-unit snaps at cornerback.
The Tide's second unit is hardly less talented and includes tackles Jeremy Clark and Kyle Tatum, ends Todd Bates and Leslie Williams, linebackers Derrick Pope, Demeco Ryans and Juwan Garth, safeties Chris James and Carlos Andrews and cornerbacks David Scott and Thurman Ward. Ramzee Robinson deserves to be included in the second unit at cornerback, as does Mark Anderson at outside linebacker and Chris Harris at defensive end.
Former minor league pitcher Michael Machen, who joined the team in January as a walk-on quarterback, says his last name is pronounced "Match-en".
If a solid punter doesn't emerge during the spring, expect the Tide coaches to scour the JUCO ranks and possibly sign a punter to a scholarship before fall camp.
More than a few people close to the team were skeptical when Thurman Ward changed positions yet again, this time from wide receiver back to cornerback. But Ward may indeed know what's best for his career, as the former option QB continues to show big-play potential in the secondary. Ward had one of two interceptions in Friday's scrimmage.