Alabama Preview 2006 - Offense
Alabama Crimson Tide
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Alabama Crimson Tide Preview 2006 - Tide Offense

What you need to know ... The ground game was solid, the passing game put up decent numbers, and all the skill players had good seasons, so why was it like pulling teeth to get into the end zone? The offensive line. More developed depth is needed up front, but the starting five, which had so many problems with injuries and inexperience last year, has the potential to grow into something special. QB John Parker Wilson has to quickly develop into a productive passer, but everything else is in place from a tremendous stable of running backs to a good, unheralded receiving corps.

Returning Leaders
Passing: J.P. Wilson
7-11, 98 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Ken Darby
239 carries, 1,242 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: D.J. Hall
48 catches, 676 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Ken Darby
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB John Parker Wilson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Nick Walker
Best pro prospect: Sophomore C Antoine Caldwell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Darby, 2) Caldwell, 3) OG B.J. Stabler
Strength of the offense: Running backs
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line depth

There are two schools of thought on the Alabama quarterback situation. Some think the quarterback is along for the ride in the run oriented offense, while others point out how the offense went into the tank in 2004 when Brodie Croyle went down. The Tide quarterbacks don't have to put up 300 yards per game, but they do have to be efficient and they can't make mistakes. There are three good passers in the mix with Marc Guillon and Jimmy Barnes jockeying for position behind John Parker Wilson. All have live arms, but they're not going to scare anyone with their feet. The goal is for 60% completion percentage and no major mistakes, but for the Tide to take the next step in the SEC race, more production on third downs and more big plays will be needed. They need to be much, much more consistent than they were this spring.
The key to the unit: Accuracy, consistency and keeping the defenses from loading up against the run.
Quarterback Rating: 7

Projected Starter
- John Parker Wilson, Soph. - 7-11, 98 yds, 2 TD
One of the most prolific quarterbacks in Alabama state high school history, Wilson appears to be the heir apparent to Brodie Croyle after being the backup all last year. He has a solid arm and more mobility than Croyle, but he needs to prove he can be as consistent as the former star. Accuracy shouldn't be a problem from short to medium range, so his success, at least right away, will be in how he is with the deep ball and how good he is at keeping the offense moving. Third down conversions were a problem last year.

Top Backups
- Marc Guillon, Sr. - 0-1
The team's most experienced quarterback, the former Miami transfer wasn't able to hold down the number two spot last season after spending a little time in the starting mix in 2004. He's a great practice player and looks the part of a big-time passer getting every shot to win the starting job. However, Wilson is the future of the program and it appears the coaching staff is going to develop their young star.
- Jimmy Barnes, RFr. - The 6-5, 225-pounder appears destined for the number two job ... someday. He's a fantastic pure passing prospect with a live arm and a great high school résumé throwing for over 4,800 yards and 57 touchdowns at Los Alamitos High School in California. He's not going to provide much mobility.

Running Backs
This is a tremendous backfield with depth and plenty of power, but there's not a home-run hitter in the bunch. Ken Darby, Jimmy Johns and Glen Coffee are are big backs with little to no flash whatsoever, but they'll always crank out yards and they'll always be productive. They're also great at not putting the ball on the turf considering the workload they have to carry. Expect more production this year with a fabulous fullback tandem of Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille to run behind and a more settled offensive line situation. Castille is an automatic goal line and short yardage runner.
The key to the unit: Averaging closer to 4.5 yards per carry after averaging 3.7 yards last year. Breaking off more big runs would be nice.
Running Back Rating: 9

Projected Starters
- Ken Darby, Sr. - 239 carries, 1,242 yds, 5.2 ypc, 3 TD, 29 catches, 132 yds
All fears of a hernia problem last off-season quickly dissipated as Darby ripped off 145 yards in the SEC opener against South Carolina and wasn't held below 81 yards the rest of the season. Considering all the great Alabama running backs, Darby could set an impressive mark by being the first to run for three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons after tearing off 1,062 in 2004. He's not a special back when it comes to moves, speed or flash, but he's as rock-solid as they come and always seems to be coming up with productive carries cranking out over five yards per carry last year when everyone was focused on stopping him. While he has nice hands as a receiver, he only averaged 4.6 yards per catch.

- Fullback Le'Ron McClain, Sr. - 8 carries, 39 yds, 18 catches, 140 yds, 2 TD
McClain will combine with Tim Castille to form one of the nation's best fullback tandems. He's not much of a power runner considering he's 256 pounds, but he's a nice receiver and a tremendous run blocker. 23 pounds heavier than Castille, he's used a bit more for his size as a pure fullback while Castille is used more for his running.

Top Backups
- Glen Coffee, Soph. - 48 carries, 179 yds, 3.7 ypc, 8 catches, 91 yds, 1 TD
Coffee got a little work last year as the main backup behind Ken Darby, and he should play a more prominent role this season. He saw his workload diminish in all the tight SEC battles, but he tore off 75 yards on 15 carries in the win over South Carolina. He's a little bigger than Darby, but has yet to be used in key short-yardage situations and got hurt this spring with a pelvis injury.
- Jimmy Johns, Soph. - 38 carries, 202 yds, 5.3 ypc
At 6-2 and 220 pounds, Johns is the biggest back in the tailback rotation. He's a productive power runner finishing second on the team in yards and first in yards per carry (among those with more than eight attempts). He was a top high school quarterback who should be more of a pure runner this year now that he has a year of experience.
- Fullback Tim Castille, Sr. - 45 carries, 124 yards, 7 touchdowns, 10 carries, 56 yards
Castille came back from a devastating knee injury in 2004 to become the Tide's star short-yardage runner with a team-high seven touchdowns. He's not a bad blocker, but he's not as strong as starter Le'Ron McClain and isn't quite as good a receiver. However, he's a good runner who always gets the tough yards when needed.

The wide receivers had a solid season considering the offense sputtered as much as it did. The loss of speedy Tyrone Prothro to a leg injury hurt the deep game, but D.J. Hall and Keith Brown picked up the slack and should provide one of the SEC's better 1-2 punches. There might not be any All-Americans here, but this is a fast group that'll stretch the field and could be used more when the offense decides to open it up. The tight end situation is excellent with three good prospect in a deep, deep group. Travis McCall is the blocker, while Nick Walker and speedy Charles Hoke provide good safety valves.
The key to the unit: Getting the ball more and making more plays on third downs. The corps is too experienced and too good not be even better and add even more this year.
Receiver Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- Keith Brown, Jr. - 34 catches, 642 yds, 18.9 ypc, 4 TD
The team's home-run hitter once Ty Prothro went out, the 6-3, 192-pound junior averaged a whopping 18.9 yards per catch and came through with his biggest game in the Cotton Bowl catching five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. He's too big for most corners and has enough speed to get by the slower ones. Expect him to be even more of a factor this year starting at flanker.

- D.J. Hall, Jr. - 48 catches, 676 yds,14.1 ypc, 5 TD
Hall stepped his play up big-time after Ty Prothro went down catching 10 passes for 139 yards in the win over Tennessee and 11 for 157 yards and a touchdown the following week against Utah State. He led the team in receptions and touchdown catches as Brodie Croyle's go-to guy, and even showed off a little deep speed. While he's not the playmaker Keith Brown is, he's more reliable.

- Tight end Travis McCall, Soph. - 3 catches, 22 yds
McCall will rotate with Nick Walker and Charles Hoke, but he'll be the opening day starter after taking over the job for the Cotton Bowl. He's the heaviest of the bunch at 250 and is used more as a blocker than a receiver, and that's not likely to change much. He's the most consistent run blocker of the three.

Top Backups
- Matt Caddell, Jr. - 13 catches, 179 yds
A productive backup over the last two years with 30 catches for 510 yards and a touchdown, he wasn't able to build on a strong end of the 2004 season struggling to be a part of the passing game until the Cotton Bowl when he caught three passes for 63 yards. He's tremendously talented and has excellent deep speed, but now he has to be used more playing behind Keith Brown at flanker.
- Will Oakley, Soph.
He didn't see much action last year and didn't catch any passes, but he's quick and should play a role as a midrange receiver behind D.J. Hall. If Ty Prothro comes back, Oakley, who has hamstring problems, will likely be squeezed out of the rotation.
- Ty Prothro, Sr. - 17 catches, 325 yds, 19.1 ypc, 3 TD
On his way to a huge season before suffering a horrific leg injury against Florida, Prothro was the field stretcher who opened things up for the ground game. It's no coincidence that the offense's scoring output went south after he went out. He had successful off-season surgery and has said he wants to come back this year, but it likely won't be until midseason, if at all.
- Tight end Nick Walker, Soph. - 9 catches, 120 yds, 13.3 ypc
He's the prototype at 6-5 and 245 pounds. He's the best returning receiver of the three top tight end options with good speed and athleticism, and he's not a bad blocker. However, run blocking is what Travis McCall is for.
- Tight end Charles Hoke, Soph.

Considered the third man in the tight end mix, the 6-6, 240-pound sophomore was used just as a blocker last year despite his decent speed. His hands are way too good not to end up being used more in the passing game.

Offensive Linemen
Injuries and inexperience were a problem over the second half of last season, but things appeared to come together in time for the Cotton Bowl. The starting five should be rock solid and shouldn't have any problems paving the way for ton of rushing production, but there's little to no developed depth. The hope is for star recruit Andre Smith to live up to the hype and play a big role right away, while sophomores Marlon Davis, Antoine Caldwell and B.J. Stabler have to progress as expected from promising young blockers to All-SEC caliber blockers on the inside.
The key to the unit: Better pass protection after allowing 37 sacks last year. The depth needs to develop in a hurry.
Offensive Line Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- OT Chris Capps, Jr.
One of the few steady players on the line last year, the 286-pound junior will take back his spot on the left side if he doesn't get pushed out by Mike Johnson. He had the side to be a better pass blocker and has the experience to grow into a rock for the running game.
- OG Marlon Davis, Soph.
Davis was thrown into the fire as a true freshman and wasn't too bad at right guard. Now he'll move over to the other side. At 315 pounds, he's the team's biggest blocker and should make the left side as strong as the right should be with great strength and tremendous upside.
- C Antoine Caldwell, Soph.
A part-time guard and part-time center, Caldwell started in the middle in the Cotton Bowl and should now be a fixture for the next three years. The 296-pounder is considered to be the line's best prospect with All-SEC and All-America potential once he gets the subtleties of playing center full-time.
- OG B.J. Stabler, Soph.
Stabler was all set to be a starter as a true freshman before suffering a finger injury. He stepped into the starting lineup in the third game of last year and won't give up the spot until he's off to the NFL. He's growing into a dominant run blocker with the feet and athleticism to play tackle if needed.
- OT Kyle Tatum, Sr.
The 6-8, 290-pound Tatum uses his long arms and big frame as one of the SEC's better pass protectors. He's the top veteran on the line with 26 starts earning honorable mention All-SEC honors last year. The former defensive tackle knows what he's doing now and should be the anchor of the line.

Top Backups
- OL Andre Smith, Fr.
The nation's top recruit, the 315-pound Smith might find a spot right away somewhere on the line when he hits campus this fall. Some recruiting experts think he'll be the team's best lineman from day one.
- OT Mike Johnson, RFr.
The 6-6, 290-pound redshirt freshman will at least be a big part of the rotation if he doesn't take over a starting spot. He had a tremendous spring and will push Chris Capps for the right tackle job.
- OT Cody Davis, Soph.
He was all set to start last year, but never got out of a backup role at left tackle behind Chris Capps. At 6-7 and 280 pounds, he's a huge pass blocker who'll be a key part of the rotation once he returns this summer from arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
- C Evan Cardwell, RFr.
A strong player in the weightroom, Cardwell is expected to be a big factor behind Antoine Caldwell at center this year. If Cardwell progresses as expected, there's a chance Caldwell could move to guard.
- OG Justin Moon, Jr.
A backup all of last year seeing time in every game, the 290-pound Moon is one of the team's most experienced reserves. He'll start out on the left side behind Marlon Davis, but he could end up playing some on the right side.

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