Forward Fullback Thinking
There's six years of college playing experience at the fullback position with Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille, but both will expire their eligibility after the 2006 season. With that in mind, Shula has brought in transfer Max Martin from Michigan, who will have two years of eligibility beginning in 2007, and moved Baron Huber to fullback from Defense.
On moving Huber, Shula said, "We talked about it a little bit during the season and we had a couple of practices there where we put him through some drills and he looked good enough to give him an opportunity to do that."
McClain had arthroscopic knee surgery and will be limited for the early portion of spring practice, so there will be plenty of repetitions to go around.
A Letter's Difference
Antoine Caldwell is listed at center, with Evan Cardwell as the back-up going into spring. That's not a surprise since Caldwell started the Cotton Bowl at center all his previous games at left guard, but Shula made some interesting comments leaving the door open for the redshirt freshman Cardwell to create some other options.
"The one guy we want to take a good look at is Evan Cardwell," Shula said, "having him as a center and seeing where he's at with his ability to possibly get on the field next year. If that happened that might create -- Antoine is one of those guys we could play at center, guard or tackle, but right now he's going to start where he left off."
Shula said it wasn't that tough of a decision to leave Caldwell at center, for now. "We debated it. It's not quite as hard because it's spring ball right now. If it were fall it would be a hard decision."
Sparky Fought Best
Jimmy Johns isn't swapping positions. Running backs coach Sparky Woods put up the best fight to keep him, Shula said. "You watch him from his first time carrying the football till the bowl game, even though he only had a couple of carries, but he's gotten a lot better with the bowl practices. I know there weren't very many guys on our defenses that wanted to tackle him in some of the scrimmages we had in December."
It's not a drastic shift, but there's a real difference from playing left guard an right guard. Sophomore Marlon Davis has moved from the right side to the left side for the spring, but Shula said he expects Davis to know both. B.J. Stabler maintains the starting right guard spot.
"One of the guys that looked a lot better at the end of December was Marlon Davis," Shula said. "He's just as good an athlete as B.J. Stabler."
"I think with Marlon, it will be an adjustment, but maybe not as much as we think. He made some strides over the course of our December practices and was working both sides that way. It's going to be an issue where we feel like Marlon should know both positions. That's why we're starting him over there right now."
At the Cotton Bowl BamaMag.com reported that Roy Upchurch expected to miss spring practice, and he will be out for at least the first portion of practice. His prognosis has improved as of late, however, and Shula is hopeful to see him on non-contact situations by the end of spring.
"He's still not 100 percent right now," Shula said. "He's working to get himself 100 percent and he's working to get himself in shape right now. That being said, he's probably actually further along than what we would have thought way back when he had the surgery. Take the contact out, by the end of the spring he ought to feel a lot more comfortable with what he's doing that he is now."
Occasionally last spring and fall, when another Tennessee or other SEC player would find himself in off-the-field trouble, Mike Shula would be asked the secret to his guys keeping his guys' noses clean. Shula never took the bait of indicating his team was infallible, or above any of those issues.
With the DUI arrests of John Parker Wilson and Travis Sikes, the ill-fated comeback attempt of Curtis Dawson and Chris Keys getting his leg broken in a fight with Ali Sharrief, Shula was asked about dealing with off-the-field problems.
"It's every day and all of our players," he said. "These guys, as we all can go back and remember when we were ages 18-22, there's a lot of things that go on in your life where all the sudden you're making decisions on your own away from home for the first time.
"We try to hit our guys all the time with doing things right, treating other people the way you want to be treated, being in the right place at the right time, doing and saying the right things. Guys make mistakes. For us as coaches you don't ever want any of your guys to make mistakes or mess up or make poor decisions, let alone ones that affect you, your family, your university and end up in the media.
"However, we all realize that happens. We feel like the best thing we can do is coaches is install our discipline policies and yet not discipline them necessarily through the media. And make sure they learn from it. There's consequences when you don't do things right, and yet we also understand you want to give guys the opportunity to make amends for that and show that they've matured."
How's This for a lineup?
Okay, it's not going to happen, but the most confusingly named set of offensive linemen in school history is possible. That line would include Davis [Drew], Davis [Cody], Davis [Marlon], Caldwell and Cardwell – and you could toss in Caddell at split end for fun. Of course, it's not like a basketball lineup where each is constantly touching the ball.