PREVIEWING THE SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide

After a breakout 2005 season that landed the Crimson Tide with an Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech, a No. 8 postseason ranking and head coach Mike Shula with a contract extension to 2012, the University of Alabama's football will have more than their share of holes to fill in the 2006 roster.

First and foremost on the agenda for Shula and the Tide will be filling the quarterback spot in the absence of Brodie Croyle, who broke nearly every Alabama passing record in the book during his career. Croyle threw for 2,499 yards and 14 touchdowns during his senior season, and compiled 6,382 yards for 41 touchdowns while playing for Alabama.

 

With Croyle gone, last year's understudy, J.P. Wilson (6-2, 207, So.), is in position to take the reigns of the offense, while Marc Guillon (6-3, 212, Sr.) and Jimmy Barnes (6-5, 225, Fr.) may also share time at the position. Wilson completed seven passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns as Croyle's back up in 2005.

 

Whoever takes the reigns it Brodie's absence will have plenty of help from their wide receivers, as the Tide is returning two of their SEC's premier wide outs in DJ Hall (6-2, 190, Jr.) and Keith Brown (6-3, 192, Jr.).

 

Hall led the team in receiving last year with 48 catches for 676 yards and five touchdowns, while Brown hauled in 34 catches for 642 yards and four scores last season.

Returning to lead the Tide's ground attack is running back Kenneth Darby (5-11, 205, Sr.), who led the team in rushing last year with 1,242 yards and three touchdowns. Also returning are full backs Le'Ron McClain (6-1, 256, Sr.) and Tim Castille (5-11, 236, Sr.). McClain has been used as primarily a blocking back in the past, but did manage to haul in two scoring receptions in 2005. Castille led the Tide last season in touchdowns, rushing for seven scores on 45 attempts.

 

At the tight end position, Travis McCall (6-2, 250, So.) looks to play a larger role for the Tide this season, slated to be the starter in the fall. McCall caught just three passes last season, and got his first collegiate start in the Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech.

 

The offensive line will be returning starters at four spots, including Chris Capps (6-6. 286, Jr.) at left tackle, Antoine Caldwell (6-3, 296, So.) at center, B.J. Stabler (6-4, 295, So.) at right guard and Kyle Tatum (6-8, 290, Sr.) at right tackle. The left guard position was filled in the spring by Justin Moon (6-5, 290, Jr.), who saw playing time in all 12 games last season.

 

Likely to play a large roll on the line next year will also be new-comer Andre Smith (6-4, 315) out of Birmingham. Smith was the nation's No. one recruit in the 2006 class, and chose the Tide over a top four that also included USC, LSU and Florida. 

 

Defensively, Alabama will be looking fill in several positions after losing seven starters from last years squad that allowed just 14 touchdowns 12 games, holding their opponents to 10.7 points per game.

 

Anchoring the Tide's defense this season will be line backer Juwan Simpson (6-3, 222, Sr.), who tallied 64 tackles in 2005, and last corner back Ramzee Robinson (5-10, 190, Sr.). The only other returning starters to the defense will be left end Wallace Gilberry (6-3, 254, Jr.) and left tackle Jeremy Clark (6-3, 305, Sr.).

 

Filling in on the right side of the defensive line this year will likely be Dominic Lee (6-2, 303, Sr.) at tackle and Bobby Greenwood (6-6, 245, So.) at end. Greenwood compiled 15 tackles and three sacks while coming in off the bench in all twelve games last season.

The defensive backfield holds the most question marks for Alabama, as they try and replace former SEC Defensive Players of the year in linebackers Freddie Roach and DeMeco Ryans. Ryans led the program in tackles last season, and was a 2005 first team All-American selection and the Lott Trophy Winner.

 

Potential starters to replace Roach and Ryans include Matt Collins (6-1, 241, Jr.) and Terrance Jones (6-1, 220, Sr.),  though incoming freshmen Charlie Kirschman (6-3, 255), LaBronski Hutchins (6-3, 190) and Charlie Higgenbotham (6-0, 210) could also play roles in the 2006 season.

 

The safety and corner back spots are even more wide open, with Alabama signing seven defensive backs during the off season to join the returning cast in the Crimson Tide pass defense.

 

On special teams, Jamie Christiensen (6-0, 178, Jr.) will be returning to the kicker position, while P.J. Fitzgerald (6-0, 190, Fr.) will be filling the role of punter.

 

Christiensen made 16 of 25 field goal attempts, and 25 of 26 extra points last season.

Tyrone Prothro (5-8, 178, Sr.) and DJ Hall will be the Tide's leading kick returners this season, With Prothro claiming the lead role for the third consecutive year. In 2005, he averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 7.4 yards per punt.

 

 

QUICK FACTS: ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

 

All-Time Series: 21-43-5

 

Stadium: Bryant-Denny (92,138)

 

First Meeting: 1895, LSU 12, Alabama 6

 

Last Meeting: 2005, LSU 16, Alabama 13

 

Head Coach: Mike Shula, 20-18

          3 years at Alabama and Overall

 

2005 in Review: 10-2, 6-2 SEC

 

Final '05 Ranking: 8th AP and Coaches

 

Off. / Def. Systems: Multiple / 4-3

 

Returning Starters: 14; 9 offense, 4 defense

 

Last Bowl Appearance: 2006 Cotton Bowl

   Alabama 13, Texas Tech 10

 

Last Conference Championship: 1999

 

 

STAT BREAKDOWN

 

Total Offense: 358.9 (7th - SEC / 67th - NCAA)

 

Rushing Offense: 142.5 (6th - SEC / 65th - NCAA)

 

Passing Offense: 216.4 (6th - SEC / 69th - NCAA)

 

Scoring Offense: 21.9 (8th - SEC / 85th - NCAA)

 

Total Defense: 255.1 (1st - SEC / 2nd - NCAA)

 

Rushing Defense: 94.3 (3rd - SEC / 9th - NCAA)

 

Pass Defense: 160.8 (1st - SEC / 5th - NCAA)

 

Scoring Defense: 10.7 (1st - SEC / 1st - NCAA)

 

Turnover Margin: +8 (3rd - SEC / 22nd - NCAA)

 

 

RETURNING LEADERS

 

Rushing: Kenneth Darby – 239 carries, 1242 YARDS, 3 TD

 

Passing: J.P. Wilson – 11-7-0, 98 yards, 2 TD

 

Receiving: D.J. Hall – 48 catches, 676 yards, 5 TD

 

Tackles: Juwan Simpson – 64 TT (35 S, 12 A)

 

 

2006 SCHEDULE

 

Date                 Opponent                     '05 Result

 

S-2                  Hawaii                          ---

 

S-9                  Vanderbilt                     ---

 

S-16                Louisiana-Monroe           ---

 

S-23                at Arkansas                  W, 24-13

 

S-30                at Florida                     W, 31-3

 

O-7                  Duke                            ---

 

O-14                Ole Miss                       W, 13-10

 

O-21                at Tennessee                W, 6-3

 

O-28                Fla. International           ---

 

N-4                  Mississippi State            W, 17-0

 

N-11                at LSU                         L, 16-13

 

N-18                Auburn                         L, 28-18

 

 

View From the Other Side:

 

Alabama has had the best defense in the SEC and one of the best in the nation in recent years, but this season the Crimson Tide must replace seven defensive starters from the 2005 team that went 10-2 and finished eighth in the nation.

 

All seven of those 2006 defenders–headed up by Lott Award winner and SEC Defensive Player of the Year DeMeco Ryans–are now in NFL camps.

 

But Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines may have more big guns.

 

Two of the biggest surprises of spring training were on the defensive line. Junior Keith Saunders moved ahead of soph Bobby Greenwood (2005 back-up) to replace Mark Anderson. Senior Dominic Lee, who has been injured throughout his Tide career, is healthy and had an excellent spring at nose tackle, where he is replacing Rudy Griffin.

 

At strongside linebacker, Ryans will be replaced by senior Terrence Jones, who has been a solid backup for three years. Freddie Roach was Bama's middle linebacker, and his spot will be taken by either junior Matt Collins, last year's backup, or redshirt freshman Prince Hall, one of the Tide's best athletes.

 

Junior Simeon Castille, who has been a nickel back starter the past two years, will replace Anthony Madison at right cornerback. Senior Jeffrey Dukes, a very good backup the past two years, will replace Charlie Peprah at strong safety.

 

The only real concern is at safety, where Roman Harper was an all-star performer. Junior Marcus Carter has the physical ability, but Alabama could suffer from a lack of experience at this critical play-calling position.

 

- Kirk McNair, BamaMag.com

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