There have been a few two-way players in modern football, such as Deion Sanders at FSU, Charles Woodson at Michigan and Champ Bailey at Georgia. But one-platoon football was phased out over 40 years ago. The game, of course, is much better with players specializing in only offense or defense and also getting to rest about half the game.
Former Alabama player and coach Paul Bryant, who knew something about evaluating football players, said that left halfback Dixie Howell (in the Notre Dame box, so Howell was the team's primary passer as well as a runner), end Don Hutson,and tackle Bill Lee could have played in any era. They played in the early 1930s, and they played both ways.
Lee Roy Jordan earned fame (and fortune in professional football) as a linebacker, but he was also Bama's center. And he probably made his most famous play as a center, after a Georgia Tech player intercepted a pass. Lee Roy was running down the Yellow Jacket, who appeared to discard the ball rather than risk being tackled by Jordan. That led to Bryant saying on his weekly television show, "If they stay in bounds, ol' Lee Roy will get ‘em."
From time-to-time a player will start out on one side of the ball in college, then switch to the other. Kyle Tatum, who played sparingly as a defensive lineman as a freshman, made the switch to starting offensive tackle last year.
It is not at all uncommon for players who earn college football scholarships to have played both ways in high school. Nor is it rare for a player who was on offense in high school to end up on defense in college, or vice versa. Alabama's football team includes a number of both former two-way players and players who have changed sides of the ball since arriving at The Capstone.
So which 11 players would make up Alabama's best team if the players had to play both offense and defense?
Coaches talk about getting the "best 11 players on the field." But what if all 11 were quarterbacks? The rules require that seven men be on the line of scrimmage on offense, which means five linemen should be chosen. (A tight end and split end, or two split ends make up the other two on the line of scrimmage). And careful consideration needs to be made to having a center.
In the real world of one-platoon, there would be some give-and-take. A coach could choose to have a 6-1-4 defense if he had to. Or he might have a 3-3-5.
This is not a new exercise for me. Starting back in the early 1970s, former Alabama Trainer Sang Lyda and I would pick our one platoon team each year. It's pretty easy starting off, but gets a little tough to pick some players.
I elected to make my one-platoon team for the 2005 squad based on a "base" of a offense with two wide receivers, a tight end, quarterback, fullback, and running back and five linemen. And on defense they would have to play in a 4-3.
A handful of outstanding athletes are first to be chosen–Tim Castille and Simeon Castille, Juwan Simpson (formerly Juwan Garth), Freddie Roach, Zeke Knight, Justin Britt.
Simeon Castille and Juwan Simpson will be wide receivers and cornerbacks, Tim Castille fullback and strong safety, Freddie Roach halfback and linebacker, Zeke Knight tight end and linebacker. Justin Britt is the third linebacker, and also an offensive guard.
JB Closner was a defensive lineman until getting to Alabama, and was recruited as a defensive end by some schools. He'll be the center and a defensive end.
Kyle Tatum started his Alabama career as a defensive tackle and is now starting right tackle on offense, and he'll have those spots on our fantasy one-platoon team. Also on the offensive and defensive lines will be Antoine Caldwell at guard and defensive end and Jeremy Clark as a two-way tackle.
And I'd take Brodie Croyle as my quarterback, and put him at safety with instructions to not try to make a tackle.
There are some attractive alternates.
Tim Castille could move to halfback with Roach out and LéRon McClain playing fullback and linebacker. Or Kenneth Darby, an outstanding prep linebacker, could replace Roach at halfback and linebacker. Some might might want to work strong safety Charlie Peprah, a fine prep running back, into the mix.
Mark Anderson was an outstanding tight end in high school, and he could probably play outside linebacker as well as the defensive end spot he mans. Word is that incoming freshman Travis McCall is coveted by offensive coaches as a tight end, by defensive coaches as a defensive end. Bama has several players with a history of both defensive end and tight end, including Wallace Gilberry and Keith Saunders. Greg McLain has been a starting fullback and tight end, but when he first came to Alabama he looked like a future star at either linebacker or defensive end.
If you didn't want Croyle on defense, starting defensive backs Roman Harper and Ramzee Robinson were high school quarterbacks.
As might be expected, skill position players are more likely to be able to go both ways. The Tide roster is full of guys listed as defensive backs who were also running backs or wide receivers or quarterbacks. They include the likes of Tyrone Prothro, Matt Caddell, Eric Gray, and Aaron McDaniel.
And most top linemen probably saw duty on both sides, so people like Dominic Lee, Rudy Griffin and B.J. Stabler might be outstanding.
Who would kick? Years ago it was suggested to former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings that he had over 100 players on the practice field and it would seem that one of them could kick off into the end zone. Stallings didn't address that He said, "You'd think I'd have one that could play left tackle." But I'd take a chance that in my 11 there would be men who could kick off, kick extra points and field goals, punt, snap, and hold.
What would be your team with 11 players?