Offense Update

Roy Upchurch has been pleasant spring surprise

One nice thing about looking at Alabama's spring practice roster is that all quarterbacks are healthy. At other positions, there are some injured players whose value is known, some injured who are missing valuable work that could cost them playing time and which diminishes the Alabama depth chart. Here is a brief look at offensive developments. We'll look at the defense tomorrow.

Alabama will begin its second week of full gear work Tuesday. The Tide will continue with contact spring training drills Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week, then Tuesday and Thursday next week before spring break. Drills resume March 28. The A-Day Game is set for 1:30 p.m. CST Saturday, April 1, at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Here's a brief look at the offensive depth chart, including notes on some who have been impressive and some who have been absent because of injuries.

Although freshman Jimmy Barnes had the play of the day in a Saturday period of scrimmage work–a 66-yard pass to Jonathan Lowe, a transfer from Mississippi State and the son of former Tider Eddie Lowe–talk of quarterback from Coach Mike Shula is limited to soph John Parker Wilson and senior Marc Guillon. Wilson continues to be the leader, but Guillon seemed to gain ground last week.

Shula said that the quarterback work through the remainder of the spring would be divided by Wilson and Guillon. That means Barnes, who ran the scout team last fall, will have to get his "experience" running Bama's offense primarily through observation.

What a difference a little recruiting makes at halfback. Even though All-America candidate Kenneth Darby and last year's number two halfback Glen Coffee are sitting out with injuries, this has been an impressive position in the spring. Jimmy Johns has been as effective as might have been expected based on some brief flurries in his freshman year and Roy Upchurch has been a major spring surprise with his running after having missed all fall recuperating from ankle surgery. And Ali Sharrief has looked good, too.

Think about halfback when Darby and Coffee return and signees Mike Ford and Terry Grant arrive. And that doesn't include transfer Max Martin, who won't be eligible until 2007.

Fullback is also deep, but the proven depth doesn't go beyond seniors. Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille are getting ready for their final seasons, and they are proven commodities. Castille, who was injured last year and probably hampered to some extent last season with his 2004 knee injury, looks to be much quicker.

Behind them are a couple of young players. Baron Huber, who came to Alabama with the expectation he would be a linebacker or defensive end, was moved to fullback and it seems to be a very good move for him and for Bama. Patrick Hanrahan, the son of former Tider Gary Hanrahan, had been rumored to be joining the Tide squad last fall, but arrived in the spring and shows potential.

Another deep position is tight end…so deep that there has already been one move from there. Nick Walker started most of last year, but lost his job late in the season to Travis McCall. McCall and Walker continue to be one-two, but Charles Hoke is making some noise at the position. The good news is all are sophomores.

One sophomore tight end has changed jersey numbers so he could step to the left about a yard. Trent Davidson has shifted from tight end to right tackle, where he's joined Drew Davis in backing up Kyle Tatum.

Left tackle is one of the most important positions on the football field. Chris Capps is back at the starter, but Tide coaches had hoped Cody Davis would push him this spring. Not happening. Cody Davis is recovering from shoulder surgery. That means that redshirt freshman Mike Johnson–a man for whom the staff has very high expectations–has moved from right tackle to left tackle.

Alabama had to do some offensive line patchwork late in the 2005 season when J.B. Closner suffered a season-ending injury. The move for the Cotton Bowl was to switch freshman starting left guard Antoine Caldwell to the spot, and he has been very good. It was noticed in the Cotton Bowl that Alabama did not use the spread (shotgun) formation, and a couple of errant snaps in practice this spring show that Caldwell needs work there. This position could be pretty strong with Caldwell backed by redshirt freshman Evan Cardwell.

To fill Caldwell's left guard position, Bama moved Marlon Davis from back-up right guard. Davis is being pushed by Justin Moon, but the real push could come later. Justin Britt, a co-starter at defensive tackle last year, is getting a look at offensive guard. However, Britt–whose brothers Wesley and Taylor were Bama offensive linemen–isn't getting any real work this spring because he's recovering from shoulder surgery.

B.J. Stabler is back at right guard and he's backed by freshman Scott Deaton.

Obviously, there's not much depth in the offensive line, but help is on the way in the form of six freshman offensive line signees. A couple of them, Andre Smith and Taylor Pharr, have been at practices, checking out the competition. That hasn't gone unnoticed by current Bama offensive linemen.

One spot where the injury bug could play a role in depth and development is at wide receiver. The unknown status of recovering senior wide receiver Tyrone Prothro makes those injuries more pronounced.

The top two men the first week have been the returning starters from late last season, Keith Brown and D.J. Hall. Matt Caddell has shown some game. And Aaron McDaniel has probably found a home in the wide receiver corps after shifting from the secondary.

But missing work since Day One is the oft-injured sophomore Will Oakley, who strained a hamstring. Nikita Stover showed in early drills that he could be a real play-maker for the Tide, but he's missing important learning time after transferring from junior college and having not played last fall. Stover has a groin pull.

It's hard to tell much about the kicking game since so little has been done in team work, but returning placekicker Jamie Christensen (now getting snaps from Luke Spaulding and holds from punter P.J. Fitzgerald) did make some pressure-packed field goals Saturday. With hundreds of prospects watching and Christensen knowing that the number of post-practice windsprints to be run by his teammates depended on his accuracy, the junior banged them home.

To the unpracticed eye, the best punt return men appear to be (in order) D.J. Hall, Matt Caddell, and cornerback Simeon Castille.

NEXT: The Defense

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