Who Is That Tide Mystery Starter?

There are Alabama football fans who can name the starting line-up of Crimson Tide teams going back years, or even decades. Even the best fans, though, will miss a few. It's sort of a trick question anyway, particularly in modern football where a team might start with four wide receivers, or maybe just one. Two tight ends, or maybe none. And so on.

Ask someone to name the normal starting lineup of the 2009 Alabama national championship team, and you'd expect most Crimson Tide fans to nail it pretty close. Thus, it should be easy to name the eight men listed by Bama as returning starters on offense.

Okay, here's a hint. Seven of them are quarterback Greg McElroy, wide receivers Julio Jones and Marquis Maze, tailback Mark Ingram, center William Vlachos, guard Barrett Jones, and tackle James Carpenter.


Did you get it?

Of course you did.

H-back Preston Dial.

Dial, 6-3, 237, started eight of Alabama's games in a 14-0 season, including the Southeastern Conference Championship Game win over Florida, but not the BCS National Championship win over Texas.

Dial came to Alabama from UMS-Wright in Mobile, where he helped his team to the state 4A championship and was Alabama's 4A Lineman of the Year. After redshirting in 2006, Dial has played in 36 Crimson Tide games, with 10 starts through his first three seasons. Although he is listed as a tight end and sometimes plays on the line, most of his action comes as an H-back, a combination tight end and fullback. And far more of his action involves blocking than anything else.

In his career, the eligible pass receiver has five receptions for 54 yards.

Dial was in the news this week for instigating a post-practice players meeting following Monday morning's practice. Who can say what the long-term results will be, but Alabama Coach Nick Saban took note of the leadership exhibited by the meeting, and also said that Monday night and Tuesday practices were much better than had been last Saturday's scrimmage and the Monday morning workout.

Dial said later that his message to the team was on the theme of "keeping the tempo up to Coach Saban's standards, up to championship standards. If you want to play like a champion, you have to keep your tempo and play hard every play. There's no taking any plays off."

McElroy took note of Dial's leadership. "Preston's a great leader," McElroy said. "He's a really high-energy guy. I wouldn't call him a cut-up, but he's funny guy, he's a guy people like to be around, and people really respect what he has to say."

Dial was a bit surprised by the events of last Saturday when the offense had almost 700 yards passing against the Tide defense. He said the offense started fast and "we had a pretty good day."

Most practices, he said, "It's the way it should be, kind of back and forth. Every once in a while the offense will give the defense their lickings, and the defense will whip the offense some days. It goes back and forth. We've got a very good offense and we've got a very good defense."

This week, Dial had an opportunity to talk about two new members of the tight end corps, one a player making a move, the other an incoming freshman.

Michael Bowman, the biggest of Bama's wide receivers at 6-4, 225, is getting a look at tight end, though as in all of Saban's experiments, it is not yet permanent. One of the top incoming freshmen is tight end Brian Vogler.

Dial said Bowman wanted to make the move. "He's accepting it and embracing it," Dial said. "It's different for him, obviously, coming from being an X, a split guy, to come in there and bang around. He's got the frame to do it. Once he gets a little more experience and bulks up and gains a little more weight, he's going to be good. He's got the aggressive mentality. He'll be fine. I'm excited about his future."

Dial said the 6-7, 242-pound Vogler "is a lot smarter than me. He's a smart kid, a real smart kid. The good thing is, what I like, is a lot of young guys are scared to bug the older guys like myself and say, ‘Hey, what did you do there? Why did you do this?' He's not scared to ask questions. I'm happy to tell him.

"His future is so bright. You look at him, he looks just like Mike Williams. Same type build. It's scary how tall they are now and how quick they are for as tall as they are. He just needs to keep learning and pushing forward. As long as he stays positive, expect big things from him. I'll be an old man, done and gone, and he'll probably still be here turning heads."

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