17 August 2008
| Travis McCall- #83 - SR - 6-2 - 261 lbs. - 3 Varsity Letters
Nick Walker - #88 - SR - 6-5 - 248 lbs. - 3 Varsity Letters
Colin Peek - #84 - JR - 6-6 - 247 lbs. - Transfer from Georgia Tech
Preston Dial - #85 - SO - 6-3 - 245 lbs. - 1 Varsity Letter
Chris Underwood - #87 - FR - 6-3 - 224 lbs. - Redshirt
Brad Smelley - #17 - FR - 6-3 - 217 lbs. - True Freshman
Who is the expected starter?
This could depend on both the formation and play call, so it is the safe route to say that Walker
Who is the primary backup?
Right now it's likely to be Underwood
There is no position on the Tide roster that is deeper or more experienced than Tight End. Having Walker
at the top of things, with 6 varsity letters and 52 combined receptions makes this an immediate strength for Alabama.
It's possible that transfer Peek
is the most complete tight end in the group. Walker
is an excellent receiver and McCall
a fantastic blocker, but Peek
excels at both. At the moment he is not eligible to play, as he sits out a year after transferring. His initial appeal with the NCAA for immediate playing time was denied, but his family is continuing to pursue another appeal.
The younger guys are not exactly chopped liver, either. Dial
is the only one of the 3 with playing experience, but Underwood
has surged into the #3 spot. Smelley
is likely the biggest surprise among the freshman class, as he reported to fall camp in impressive shape, showing extreme athleticism for the position.
Before getting to deep into this discussion it needs to be mentioned that the tight ends also serve as pseudo fullbacks in Jim McElwain's
offense. The Tide does have 2 scholarship players listed at fullback:
Baron Huber - #40 - JR - 6-3 - 249 lbs. - 2 Varsity Letters
Jeramie Griffin - #34 - FR - 6-0 - 228 lbs. - Redshirt
In the first 2 weeks of fall camp neither of these guys has seen a tremendous amount of reps. It's not that they've been passed on the depth chart, it is that the formations that Bama has spent the most time in do not require a true fullback. In the short yardage situations, if the Tide does go with a fullback, Huber
is the most likely candidate, but those situations won't be frequent.
It would not be accurate to say that the Tide has done away with the fullback position. It is likely that one or both of the fullbacks will see action at some point during each game. The Ole Miss game in 2007 was the only game that saw Bama really feature an I-formation, power running game with a fullback. Otherwise the snaps for Huber
came in goal line and short yardage situation. That will likely be the case again in 2008.
More times than not the Tide will go with an H-Back, a hybrid position that attempts to create match-up problems. Both Huber
could end up seeing some time here, but McCall
have been getting the majority of reps in that position.
The H-back will, at times, look almost identical to a fullback. You will see a tight end motion into the backfield and settle in at a normal fullback position. You will also see a tight end line up alongside the quarterback in a shotgun formation, with a running back on the other side.
All of these situations take place with one goal in mind - match-ups. And they aren't the only situations that you will see that try to create mismatch problems for opposing defenses.
loves to use his tight ends split out from the tackle, or "flexed" out from the tackle box. He loves to have a tight end, or two, on the field in 4-wide shotgun situations. Put a linebacker on the tight end and you're facing a problem in pass coverage. Slide a defensive back over to him and you've created a problem if a running play is called.
And in what could be music to the ears of Bama fans who have heard the annual "we're going to involve the tight ends more", McElwain
loves to throw the ball to the tight end. How much so? Last season at Fresno State the Bulldogs' 2nd leading receiver was a tight end - and in all the tight ends caught 49 passes.
Ultimately the total involvement of the tight end as a passing threat could be determined by the success of the offensive line, and specifically the right tackle. With Andre Smith
on the left side, things should be ok there. The right side has been problematic for the past 4 seasons, and those problems have required that a tight end remain in as an extra blocker.
If Drew Davis
is able to solidify the right tackle it will free up the tight ends to become a serious part of the passing attack. Even if that doesn't happen, McElwain's
love of using 2 and 3 tight end sets will make it a certainty that the TEs will be involved.
At this point the only 2 questions remaining for this position are over Peek
. With Peek
it is whether or not he will be cleared by the NCAA, and with Smelley
it is whether or not he will redshirt. And the two could be related. If Peek
gets cleared, then Smelley
likely won't play, as the idea of 6 tight ends seeing action is a bit much.
But with the way that McElwain
loves to use tight ends in combination with H-backs, it is a possibility. Dial
has already become a guy that is more likely to see snaps out of the H-back than the true tight end, and McCall
is clearly the first option at H-Back. That could open opportunities for more guys to see snaps up on the line of scrimmage, though I still don't see 6 guys playing.
Either way the Tide is experienced, talented and deep at this position, and that's a great thing to hear. The tight end can be a major part of the offense, and having the players at the position to make that happen can make your offense considerably more dynamic.
Expect to see the tight ends get somewhere near that 50 number that McElwain's
TEs hit last year in Fresno. That should help John Parker Wilson's
completion percentage, and it should help Bama's red zone numbers. And those are 2 fantastic things.
glen55's quick takes
There are certain phrases that are traditionally said seasonally around Tuscaloosa. For example, folks say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" a lot in December, a week later they say "Happy New Year," and around July 4th they usually say something like "God Bless America."
And then in August they say "This is the year we're going to get the tight end more involved in the passing attack." However, when they say that, they're always wrong, well except maybe for back in the late 80s when Gary Hollingsworth was slinging it to the 205-pound Lamonde Russell.
My guess? They'll be wrong this year, too. Nick Walker and Travis McCall each have 50 pounds or so on old Lamonde. They're built to block, not to catch, but with their experience advantage it doesn't seem likely that either will be passed by someone with more of a receiver's physique, like Dial or Underwood. Neither Walker nor McCall figures to be flexing or splitting wide so frequently, nor to pose any particularly insoluble problem for most SEC outside backers when they do.
Also take into account that we've got approximately 36 impressive wideouts we want to get the ball to, plus our top three running backs are all at least pretty good as recivers, and well . . . . Next year
figures to be the year we're going to get the tight end more involved in the passing attack.
That calculus could change a bit if Peek gets his eligibility. I believe it was back in July that we heard the NCAA had denied Peek, who planned to challenge in court.
If Peek applied for a temporary injunction, we either would have heard back by now or we should hear real soon. No other kind of civil proceeding could happen quickly enough to do Peek any good, so we should know his status before long. On this front, no news soon is bad news.
Tight end is one position that has been close to ignored by Saban in recruiting. Either he doesn't really have tremendous plans for tight end down the road, or guys like Jeremy Griffin and Mike Marrow could be due for a conversion.
With two senior tight ends this year, it's a bit of a surprise that we're not really recruiting any.
I had figured on Devonta Bolton as a tight end, but he is off to juco. Once a guy goes down the juco road, I generally cancel the assumption that he is going to be a Tider eventually. Maybe, maybe not.