April 21, 2008

Spring review: Offensive line

BamaOnLine.com reviews Alabama's spring football practice position by position this week, continuing Saturday with the tight ends.

Leading candidates
NameYearSize2007 season
Travis McCallSr.6-2, 2616 rec., 45 yards, made eight starts
Nick WalkerSr.6-5, 25523 rec., 204 yds., 2 TDs led all UA TEs
Preston DialSoph.6-3, 2231 rec., 21 yards, played in 10 games
Chris UnderwoodRFr.6-4, 226Redshirted
Colin PeekJr.6-6, 241Caught 25 passes at Georgia Tech; transferred in January

Good to see: Alabama pretty much knows what it has at the top of the depth chart at tight end - two experienced, legitimate SEC starters in McCall and Walker who complement each other's skill sets nicely. McCall is a bull of a blocker who showed improved hands in practice, and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch on A-Day. As the more athletic of the two, Walker can get open more easily and remains the primary pass target. Early in their careers, the presence of one or the other in the huddle was something of a run/pass tip for the opposing defense. McCall's improvement as a receiver and Walker's as a blocker has now minimized that problem.

Reserves Dial and Underwood both benefitted from additional practice reps.

Peek was especially impressive in the spring, making five catches in the April 5 scrimmage, and earned plenty of reps despite the fact that his eligibility remains in question. He is appealing to the NCAA for a waiver on the transfer rule that would force him to sit out the season. Such appeals are rarely granted, however, so the likelihood is that Peek will make his UA debut in 2009. Nick Saban was highly complementary of Peek's game in his post-A-Day remarks. Fans who questioned the need for Peek's transfer in January will, at a minimum, get their answer next year when the 6-foot-6 athlete steps in to lead Dial and Underwood.

Need to see more of: The role of the tight end itself in the offense, under new coordinator Jim McElwain will be an interesting early-season development. As for individual players, the third tight end is anyone's guess. If Peek sits out the season, Dial and Underwood will compete for what will probably be a very limited amount of game action. Dial picked up a bit of game experience last season while Underwood redshirted, and even gave fans a glimpse as an H-back on A-Day. Underwood appears to have added a little weight since last season, but he'll no doubt be looking to add more as playing time becomes more of a reality.

Overall: If Alabama can't rely on its tight ends in both the running and passing game with this group, it may never. While neither McCall nor Walker can claim to be the best tight end in the league, any team in the league would be hard-pressed to come up with a better tandem. With Baron Huber's move from fullback to linebacker and Jeramie Griffin's A-Day reps coming at running back, it appears Alabama's depth at tight end has made the fullback position something of a dinosaur (at least for the time being). Given that and the inexperience at wide receiver, the two-tight end set may be a more common look for the UA offense this fall than it was in 2007. As for the future, Dial and Underwood have the look of a complementary duo similar to McCall and Walker, with Dial being the more reliable blocker and Underwood more the pass catcher. And the disappearance of the fullback spot suggests the two understudies may be closer to being Saturday-ready than most realize.

2008 Signees
Michael Williams6-4, 240Reform Pickens Co.

What's in store: Although Williams is listed as a defensive end by Rivals.com, the likelihood is that at least one of UA's signees will start his college career at tight end. Based on comments he made to BOL last December, Williams is the best bet. If he does open his career on offense, a redshirt is a virtual given due to the presence of two experienced senior tight ends (Travis McCall, Nick Walker) on the UA roster. While there has been some speculation that others, possibly Devonta Bolton, might also start out at tight end, UA's depth shortage on defense doesn't make it advisable.

Also see BOL spring reviews on...


Running backs

Wide receivers

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