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April 12, 2008

A-Day notebook: Tight ends emerging

With three wide receivers in the base offense for the Alabama football team last fall, there wasn't often more than one Crimson Tide tight end on the field at a time in 2007. With three receivers graduating, however, the two-tight end look that was more common Saturday at the A-Day scrimmage may be far more frequent this fall.

Alabama returns experienced seniors Travis McCall and Nick Walker at the position, while youngsters Preston Dial and Chris Underwood are pressing for playing time of their own.

"Last year we played a lot of four wide outs but the strength on our team were the wide outs so we wanted to utilize their talents," said UA coach Nick Saban. "This spring we didn't have the numbers or experience at that position, so we utilized the tight ends."

Walker pulled in eight passes in last week's scrimmage and followed that performance with five more A-Day catches. McCall - primarily a blocker but reliable when thrown to - made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for 21 yards Saturday despite a strong hit from safety Rashad Johnson.

"Nick Walker had a pretty good spring, and Travis has always been a really hard worker, and done a good job of practicing and improving," Saban said.

What makes tight end an area of even greater depth for the Crimson Tide - at least for the moment - is the addition of transfer Colin Peek.

Peek caught 25 passes at Georgia Tech last season, and is appealing his eligibility to the NCAA in order to play this fall. NCAA rules require that players who transfer from one Division I-A school to another must sit out a season. If Peek's appeal fails, he will have to sit out 2008 and play his final collegiate season in 2009.

It's clear, however, that Peek's uncertain status for the fall did not cost him a chance to prove himself in the spring. He pulled in five passes in last week's closed scrimmage, and had another reception for 26 yards in the A-Day game.

"I don't know what the situation with Peek will be," Saban added. "I know he dropped one today but he's a really good pass receiver, and a good blocker, and would help us, and some of the younger guys are athletic."

Altogether, Alabama tight ends caught 11 passes Saturday for 164 yards.

JOHNSON ROAMS SECONDARY - Team captain and starting safety Rashad Johnson may have to eat beans instead of steak as a member of the losing A-Day side but none can say the All-SEC senior from Sulligent, Ala., didn't do his part for the White squad.

Johnson came up with a pair of interceptions totaling 47 return yards on Saturday, one each off throws from John Parker Wilson and Nick Fanuzzi. Although he wasn't credited for it in the official statistics released by UA, Johnson also forced a fumble by Jeramie Griffin on a crushing hit in run support, though the Crimson team recovered.

"They happened to run the ball my way and I just stuck my head right on the ball and it popped out," said Johnson.

SABAN EVADES PRESSURE - Coach Nick Saban watched the A-Day scrimmage from behind the offense rather than the sideline, and was nearly knocked off his feet when a John Parker Wilson scramble put him directly in the line of pursuit of defensive end Brandon Fanney. The 265-pound junior pulled up just in time.

"I think that was John Parker's fault," Saban joked. "I think he was running a pick off of me. I will wear a black shirt next year so there's no contact on the coach, but the athleticism to get out of his way shows you that it's still there. I've still got it - quick enough feet not to get run over."

HOUSE NOT QUITE FULL - Hopes of Bryant-Denny Stadium being full for the second consecutive A-Day were short-lived on Saturday, as the lower bowl of the stadium was not declared full until about 20 minutes prior to kickoff. The upper bowl areas were less than half occupied, and the announced crowd estimate was 78,200.

ETC, - Rashad Johnson on walk-on QB Thomas Darrah, who had the best completion percentage of all four A-Day passers at 57 percent: "We all know he has a great arm. Once he learns everything, he may have a shot to get in the rotation a little more. A tremendous arm and a good player for us and he's just building every day." ... John Parker Wilson had a slow start to his day, missing on his first three attempts to open the game with a Crimson punt, and connecting on just one of his first seven. The senior-to-be warmed up, however, and finished with completions on 16 of his last 27 attempts, including three touchdowns. ... Spring awards handed out following the game: Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award (Rolando McClain), Jerry Duncan "I like to practice" Award (Javier Arenas), Billy Neighbors Defensive lineman Award (Lorenzo Washington), Bobby Johns Defensive back Award (Kareem Jackson), Paul Crane Offensive lineman Award (Andre Smith and Mike Johnson), Ray Perkins Receiver Award (Mike McCoy), Johnny Musso Offensive back Award (John Parker Wilson), Woodrow Lowe Linebacker Award (Jimmy Johns), Ozzie Newsome Most improved freshman Award (Josh Chapman and Darius Hanks), Bear Bryant Outstanding non-scholarship player Award (Leigh Tiffin and Tyrone King), Derrick Thomas Community service Award (Glen Coffee), Mal Moore Leadership Award (Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Johnson), Bart Starr Most improved player Award (Drew Davis and Justin Woodall), Sylvester Croom Commitment to excellence Award (Marlon Davis and Bobby Greenwood). ... For A-Day statistics, check the bottom of BOL's A-Day game story here.



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