How Many Tight Ends Will Start?

The rules of football generally have it than an offensive team has to have seven men on the line of scrimmage and four in the backfield. Moreover, five of those players are not eligible to catch passes. But no one requires any team to call those players by any particular position name.

Alabama will have a center, two guards, and a center on virtually every play. Beyond that, there are all sorts of possibilities.

When Nick Saban became head coach at Alabama, one of his first informal discussions with sportswriters touched on recruiting, and how he traditionally signed a lot of "tight end types" because (a.) the tight end is an important part of his offense and (b.) tight ends are usually large, athletic guys who can run, and they can be used at other positions and on special teams.

Alabama's offense under Saban almost always has a tight end in the game. It frequently has two, one of them as the traditional tight end, the other as either a second tight end or as an H-back/fullback. And sometimes there are three in the game together.

For convenience sake, in today's continuing series on the position battles for the start of Bama fall camp, we'll consider the tight end as two positions, tight end and H-back. And while the candidates usually are capable of playing either on the line or in the backfield, we'll look at those candidates best suited for one or the other.

First, tight end.

Gone from the Tide is a most engaging player in Colin Peek. He was a Crimson Tide player for only one year, but an outstanding tight end for the undefeated national championship squad.

Michael Williams came out of spring practice as the man most likely to take Peek's place. Williams, a 6-6, 270-pound sophomore, has starting experience. He started three games in 2009. Although best known as a blocker, he caught three passes for 29 yards last season. Williams is an outstanding athlete who came to Alabama as a defensive end, but made the switch to offense as a redshirt in 2008.

Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy commented on Williams during spring practice. McElroy said, "I'm sure he has some type of basketball past because you can tell that in the way he sheds defenders and boxes them out. He uses his long arms to catch the ball away from defenders. It's something you can't teach; it's just a natural instinct."

The leading candidate at the H-back position, which is nearly a fullback spot in Alabama's offense, is Preston Dial, a 6-3, 237-pound senior who started seven games last year. He also caught three passes.

The man most likely to see action at both traditional tight end and H-back is Brad Smelley (6-3, 233, junior). He has caught 14 passes for 148 yards in his first two seasons and has built up his strength as a blocker.

Chris Underwood (6-4, 238, junior) is in the traditional tight end mold, while redshirt freshman Mike Marrow (6-2, 235) is usually working at H-back. Underwood has seen playing time in 18 games, primarily on special teams. Marrow is more of a traditional fullback, but the son of former NFL tight end Vince Marrow, who played for Saban at Toledo.

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