It is no secret that Alabama's football team was badly crippled by extraordinarily harsh NCAA penalties. The loss of initial scholarships over the past few years will take its toll for a few years to come, even though beginning this year Bama will be able to bring in the full complement of 25 new players.
There are a few positions where Alabama is in good shape from a depth standpoint, including young players. Wide receiver is an obvious spot. The Tide has four sophomores–Matt Caddell, Ezekial Knight, Keith Brown, and D.J. Hall–and a junior–Tyrone Prothro–with proven game experience. There is also a redshirt freshman in Will Oakley and at least one signee in Nick Kyles, with Travis Sikes another incoming freshman who could be a wide receiver.
At the other extreme is center. Alabama has a three-year starter in senior J.B. Closner. That's the good news. The bad news is the only other Tider with any experience at all at the position is Taylor Britt, who had a few snaps at center last year after moving from the defensive line. But that's only the start of the bad news. Britt is a senior, so he'll be leaving after this season, too.
The man being groomed to replace Closner in 2006 would have been a fourth-year junior. Unfortunately, after being the back-up as a redshirt freshman last year and getting about 65 snaps on the season, Travis West had to give up football because of injuries.
When Alabama signed Antoine Caldwell in 2004, the thought was that he would be a center. But in the spring, it was necessary to put Caldwell at guard, where he is projected as the starter, replacing the graduated Evan Mathis. There's not a lot of wiggle room with offensive linemen after the Tide had three starters–Mathis, Wesley Britt, and Danny Martz–graduate.
What's a Bobby Connelly to do?
It will be Connelly's responsibility to take care of the critical center position this year and in 2006 and beyond. He is the Crimson Tide assistant coach in charge of all offensive line positions.
It is not inconceivable that Caldwell will be moving back to the center position for which he was recruited. In fact, that might be considered a likely scenario in 2006.
And a couple of incoming freshmen have been listed by Scout.com as "possible centers." They are Evan Cardwell and Cole Harvey.
Indeed, when the freshmen get in it is possible that one of them could either move into the center position or strengthen another position, such as left guard, that would enable Caldwell to get back to snapping.
Less likely, but possible, is that Alabama will add a player in the upcoming signing class who is good enough to come in an start at the difficult-to-play center position next year.
Center is not the only position that will need serious rebuilding and recruiting attention for 2006, but it may be the most worrisome.