Alabama Coach Mike Shula has noted the importance of competition and the need to have every position contested. It is good news that overall Crimson Tide quality is on the rise, which leads to greater competition for starting jobs and playing time.
However, the rub at Bama is that much of the depth (and resulting competition) continues to be very young.
Here is the first in a series as we look at the competition for jobs on Alabama's 2006 squad Today we are looking at the center position. Later we will examine other offensive positions, defensive spots, and special teams.
Last fall when center J.B. Closner went down with an injury in the ninth game of the season, the Crimson Tide offensive line went into near meltdown. That wasn't entirely the fault of the back-up center, Taylor Britt, but it was indicative of the drop-off from number one to number two. After back-to-back losses to end regular season play, Alabama "fixed" that particular problem by moving starting left guard Antoine Caldwell to center for the Cotton Bowl.
In the spring, Caldwell, an upcoming sophomore from Montgomery, stayed at center. And with redshirt freshman Evan Cardwell of Killen also at center, that was one of the most competitive offensive line spots. And so from a makeshift situation at the end of 2005, Bama goes into 2006 with two competent center prospects.
Still, everything is relative. Caldwell (6-3, 296) is quite far ahead of Cardwell (6-3, 290).
The center is the most important offensive line position. He handles the ball on every play (including spread/shotgun formation snaps, which Caldwell mastered in the spring) and he also makes the critical offensive line blocking assignments prior to the snap.
One advantage for Caldwell (which also will be a factor at other positions) is experience. Although Caldwell was a center for only one game, he has been in the Alabama offensive system for a year plus a spring. Even though he was not always calling the line blocking, he was learning the calls. Cardwell spent last fall on the scout team, not involved in Alabama's offense.
It's not realistic to figure him into the mix, but Morgan Garner, a 6-2, 258-pound sophomore walk-on from Stanhope Elmore, got some practice time with the second and third units in the spring.
David Ross, 6-4, 295, of Homewood seems to be the most linely of the incoming freshmen offensive linemen who could get a look at center.