February 15, 2007

Five offensive players to track in the off-season

On paper, there is reason for optimism when looking at the offensive talent inherited by the new coaching staff at the University of Alabama. Nine starters are slated to return, including the quarterback-wide receiver connection of John Parker Wilson and DJ Hall.

In 2006, Wilson and Hall hooked up 62 times for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns. Protecting Wilson's blindside a season ago was Andre Smith, who was honored by Rivals.com as one of the nation's top freshmen after starting all 13 games at left tackle as a rookie.

There are questions to answer in the backfield, where halfback Kenneth Darby and fullbacks Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille must be replaced. And while Smith and Antoine Caldwell would have to be considered locks to start, the three other line spots will be up for grabs when spring drills commence next month.

The biggest concern isn't difficult to identify. It's all about point production, plain and simple. Major Applewhite, Joe Pendry and the rest of the offensive staff have been assigned the task of souping up an offense that all too often last season mistook the red zone for a stop sign.

It's impossible to predict how the new brain trust will view some of the returning personnel. After all, a running back in one offense might very well be a receiver in another. But did that keep us from putting together a list of five players who we expect to come to the forefront in the near future? Of course not.

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Five to the Forefront: Offense

Terry Grant

Game-breaking speed. It's the one attribute Terry Grant has over the other tailback candidates. As a true freshman, Grant was beginning to make his way up the depth chart before shoulder surgery shut him down after the third game of the 2006 season. While working mostly against the Tide's first-team defense during a fall camp scrimmage last August, Grant carried 13 times for 148 yards, including touchdown runs of 50 and 46 yards. Despite being somewhat on the smallish side, Grant doesn't mind working between the tackles. He's also a threat on kickoff returns.