09 June 2010
It's time to start taking a look at Bama's football players again. As has been the case in past years, I'll start with the seniors, and gradually make my way down through the classes. That will culminate with a look at the incoming guys after they've had a practice or two at the Capstone.
Up first in the senior class:
Earl Alexander - WR - 6-4 - 212 - Phenix City, AL - Central High School
Earl's career at Alabama should be the cautionary tale for every Bama fan that wants to see a backup quarterback change positions. Before Star Jackson headed to Georgia State, it was a routine thing to see folks talking about moving him to wide receiver or safety, as though it was a simple thing for a kid to change positions.
Earl never played quarterback at Alabama, but he spent his entire prep career at the position, and his transition to wide receiver has simply never materialized in the way that everyone would have liked. Injuries have played a major part in that, but it also took him nearly two seasons to simply learn the position.
Earl is a good kid who never wavered on his decision to come to Alabama, despite being offered the chance to play quarterback at some other places. But the bottom line is that in 39 career games he has just 16 receptions for 113 yards. He's never scored a touchdown.
He has developed into a really nice downfield blocker, which is something that the entire Tide receiving corps can boast. Lots of Bama fans have had critical things to say about receivers coach Curt Cignetti, but they seem to forget that he's teaching that aspect of the game, as well. Earl is a constant on third and short plays for the Tide, though, and his blocking is the primary reason for that.
You really can't discuss Earl's career without discussing injuries, either. He's never had a major injury, but simply can't seem stay healthy enough to practice daily. Whether it's a sprained ankle or a strained muscle, Earl is frequently practicing in a black no contact jersey. It was going to be a difficult transition to the receiver position to begin with, but a bunch of days of practicing without contact has made it even more difficult.
It's clear that Earl is a good athlete. The fact that he signed with the Tide as a QB and has made an on-field contribution at another position is a testament to that. The bottom line, though, is that he isn't an elite athlete, and it has reached a point where that's a requirement for success at the position in the SEC.
The hope is that Earl can have a Matt Caddell like senior season where he triples his career numbers in one year. The fear is that he'll have a year more like Mike McCoy, where we simply get more of the same.
He's going to play, and he's probably going to play a good bit, simply because of his blocking ability. Bama is going to have to a play a lot more people in 2010 than it did in 2009, simply because of the way the schedule plays out - in case you haven't heard, Bama plays six opponents who will be coming off of a bye week.
That's going to make it even more important that Bama's second tier players be ready to contribute when they are called upon. Earl has the experience necessary to go three weeks without seeing a pass, and then be expected to catch a critical third down. You might not be able to expect that from a freshman, but a senior who has 40 games under his belt should be able to accomplish that.
Earl's problem has never been hands, but more the ability to consistently get open. The time he's missed in practice due to injuries has certainly been a major part of that, and it will be critical for him to be as healthy as possible.
If he is healthy when fall camp opens, look for him to run second string behind Julio Jones at the X position. He's still considerably ahead of younger guys like Michael Bowman and Kevin Norwood, but if he's still having injury problems, that gap will close quickly. If he is able to remain in that #2 spot, then he should easily surpass his 2009 reception total (4).
If he's unable to remain healthy over the summer... well, there might be a medical hardship in his future. I'm not expecting it, but it also wouldn't totally surprise me. Bama only has 11 seniors, so the coaches will likely try to hang on to as many as possible.
Which brings me to the other aspect of Earl's 2010 season - leadership. As a former quarterback, Earl has leadership experience. And while he's not made a huge statistical contribution in his career, Earl has been a solid leader for the Tide. When guys that get a lot of playing time, but not a lot of highlight opportunities continue to work hard in practice, it sends a clear message to the younger guys.
In throwing out all of the "ifs", look for Earl to open fall camp behind Julio at the X, and get a lot of playing time during the middle part of the schedule when the Tide is dealing with several consecutive opponents who are coming off of bye weeks. Also look for the staff to try to get him involved in the San Jose State game. A nice first game could help him build the type of confidence that could propel him to a Caddell-like senior season.
Up next - Bama's starting left tackle James Carpenter.
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