2003 Alabama Season Outlook
Alabama enters a new era under first-year head coach Mike Shula
As he did in his last-second drive to defeat Georgia in 1985, new head coach Mike Shula realizes there is much work to do in a short amount of time as he bids for his place in Alabama football history. Shula, 38, is the youngest Alabama coach hired since Frank Thomas in 1931. In his first head coaching position, Shula brings 15 years of National Football League experience back to the team he led from 1984-86.
The outlook for the 2003 campaign is blurry at best, though the squad returns six starters on offense and seven on defense from a 10-win season in 2002. Two-year starting offensive linemen Wesley Britt, Justin Smiley and Evan Mathis have become mainstays in the Bama offense and will aim to drive the Tide's attack. Greg McLain will be a returning starter at fullback along with Shaud Williams, a returning starter at the tailback position. A twelve game starter in 2002, Sam Collins will have to be replaced at wide-out. Triandos Luke is the most experienced receiver returning from the '02 squad, while senior Antonio Carter returns from a medical redshirt season.
Defensively, Nautyn McKay-Loescher and Antwan Odom return as starters on the line, though much was lost in this area with the departure of Jarret Johnson, Kenny King and Kindal Moorehead to the NFL. A deep linebacking corps led by Freddie Roach and Cornelius Wortham will direct the defense. Charlie Peprah (corner) and Charles Jones (free safety) return as starters in the backfield and will likely be joined by Roman Harper (strong safety) and Anthony Madison (corner), who garnered significance experience in 2002.
Amidst the many changes that have taken place at the University of Alabama this off-season there is one key factor that cannot be overlooked: The Crimson Tide returns most of its starters from a squad that finished second in the Southeastern Conference in total offense and first in total defense in 2002. On the other side of the coin, the Tide faces what is often cited as the nation's toughest schedule. Bama faces three legitimate top-ten teams in Georgia, Auburn and Oklahoma. Other top-25 competition comes from Tennessee and LSU, while potential conference champions Northern Illinois (MAC), Southern Miss (Conference USA) and Hawaii (WAC) dot the schedule as well.
With Tyler Watts' departure, the Crimson Tide will have to replace the team's veteran signal-caller as well as one third of the total offense output in 2002. Sophomore quarterback Brodie Croyle
will fill the role as the Crimson Tide's on-the-field leader in 2003. While Watts got the job done in large part using his rushing ability and conservative passes, Croyle will look to stay in the pocket longer to deliver a knockout punch. Croyle earned valuable experience last season, playing in 12 of 13 games, including starts against Arkansas and Georgia. Croyle's strong arm required defenses to cover more acreage than normal on pass plays, and fans, as well as opponents, quickly learned of Brodie's affinity for throwing the deep ball. He threw for 285 yards against the Hogs in his first career start, and Croyle completed 60-of-123 passes (.489) for 1,046 yards in 2002, including five touchdowns and five interceptions.
By all accounts Croyle has fully accepted the challenge of a new coach and yet another offensive system, spending the summer on campus working out and preparing for the upcoming season. He was the clear leader throughout the spring and summer, garnering MVP honors in the annual A-Day game.
Sophomore Spencer Pennington is the only other Crimson Tide quarterback with any collegiate quarterbacking experience. Pennington, who appeared in six games last season, completed one pass against Vanderbilt, his only attempt. The Fayette, Alabama native went 7-for-15 with two interceptions at the 2003 spring A-Day game.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Avalos will also be looking for a chance to take some snaps from under center this season. Avalos, a local product of Tuscaloosa's Hillcrest High, showed elusive speed in spring practice but was listed third on the depth chart exiting spring drills. At 6-6, 230 pounds, true freshman Michael Machen will use his size and strength to compete for playing time. Machen joined the Tide for spring practice following a three-year career playing minor league baseball.
Croyle should have a good shot for success with three starters returning on the offensive line, including tackles Wesley Britt
and Evan Mathis
and guard Justin Smiley
, all rising juniors. Britt and Smiley each garnered multiple preseason honors. San Antonio, Tex., native J.B. Closner
should take over the snapping duties in 2003. Closner saw limited duty backing up Alonzo Ephraim last season but was No. 1 on the depth chart following spring drills. Smiley will occupy the left-guard slot; Britt the left-tackle position and Mathis will be the right tackle. Senior Dennis Alexander
will occupy the right-guard position. Alexander saw action in every game in 2002, taking 115 snaps but saw most of his experience in his freshman season before being hampered by a knee injury. He was named a freshman All-America by The Sporting News and freshman All-SEC by the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The Britt, Mathis, Smiley trio has now started 72 combined games. Daphne, Alabama native Atlas Herrion
will likely see significant playing time as well. Also looking to break into the rotation will be Danny Martz
and Mark Sanders
at guard; Matt Lomax
and Cody Grammer
at center and Von Ewing
The loss of quarterback Tyler Watts will not only affect the Tide's passing attack as Watts was the squad's third-leading ball-carrier in 2002. The absence of his potent rushing ability will put more onus on the running backs to lead a ground game that ranked second in rushing in the SEC last year.
Shaud Williams will enter his senior campaign as the starting tailback after leading the 2002 squad with 921 rushing yards. Williams had four 100-yard games, including a season-high 160 yards against Hawaii in the 2002 season finale. The Andrews, Texas native transferred to The University after two seasons at Texas Tech. Williams will be backed up by junior Ray Hudson. The Bonifay, Fla., native rushed for 306 yards last season. Hudson is one of the strongest and fastest members of the team and will be called upon to provide significant playing time in 2003.
Redshirt freshman Kenneth Darby spent last season getting stronger and faster for his 2003 debut. The 5-11, 186 pounder rushed for over 4,500 yards during his prep career, including 1,591 his senior season for Huntsville's Butler High.
Greg McLain returns to the fullback position after spending spring football at tight end. "Moose" was one of only two true freshmen to see the field last year, starting six games for the Tide and rushing for 81 yards. The 6-2, 246 pound Lineville native was instrumental in opening holes for other ball carriers. Nathan Cox, a junior from UMS-Wright high school will likely back up McLain at fullback.
Nic Luke and Josh Smith will also be vying for playing time. Luke is a redshirt freshman from Phenix City and is the brother of senior wide receiver Triandos Luke. This stable of running backs will try to compensate for the loss of Santonio Beard, who was the second-leading rusher last season, and Ahmaad Galloway, who rushed for 257 yards before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.
At tight end, the Crimson Tide must replace Theo Sanders, who started six games in 2002, but there is plenty of experience available. Clint Johnston played in every game last season, starting five as a redshirt freshman. Johnston is considered more of a blocking tight end, but the Wetumpka native hauled in 10 receptions last season for 99 yards. Donald Clarke also started five games in 2002, adding seven receptions for 153 yards, an average of 21.9 per catch. David Cavan, from Tuscaloosa's American Christian Academy, started two games as a sophomore in 2002 and will also have a shot at playing time.
Several Southeastern Conference veterans return at receiver and they will look to use their wisdom to get open for Brodie Croyle in 2003. Triandos Luke
is a three-year letterman for the Crimson Tide and a returning starter for his senior campaign. Luke had 482 yards receiving last year starting 12 of 13 games in 2002. The Phenix City product had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and led the team with 41 receptions.
Dre Fulgham is the top returner in receiving yardage. The Montevallo native caught 30 passes for 505 yards (16.8/rec.) in 2002. Fulgham is one of the strongest receivers ever to play at the Capstone, holding the record for bench press (455 pounds) and incline (405 pounds).
Antonio Carter is returning for his senior season after missing last year with a leg injury. Carter had a stellar 2001 campaign as the Tide's second-leading receiver and punt returner. A.C. was a vocal leader even during his injury, and will provide an emotional boost in his comeback season.
Zach Fletcher fast became a favorite target of Brodie Croyle last season. The Lawrence County product played in all 13 games and had seven catches for 193 yards (27.6/rec), including a long of 56 yards in a 33-14 routing of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Mt. Vernon's Lance Taylor played 112 snaps last season and will push for playing time again in 2003. Although he will be looking for playing time at receiver, Taylor is remembered best by Alabama fans for his eight-yard touchdown against Oklahoma in 2002 off a Leslie Williams' blocked punt. Taylor also blocked a punt of his own in that game. Along with Taylor, Rainbow City native Brandon Greer, who played in all 13 games last season and caught his first pass against Vanderbilt will compete for playing time in 2003.
Also available will be Brandon Brooks, Tarry Givens and Marcus McKnight. Arturo "Scoop" McDowell, who joined the Tide in the spring following a stint in professional baseball, will likely be redshirted.
Upperclassmen Nautyn McKay-Loescher
and Antwan Odom
will lead a defensive line left depleted by the departure of Kenny King, Kindal Moorehead and Jarret Johnson, all of whom were taken in the NFL draft. Odom was a dominant force on the end of the D-line last season, recording 42 tackles on the season. He led the team with 10 sacks, and added four tackles for loss. McKay-Loescher has played in every game for the Crimson Tide since 2000, and last season, the defensive end had 25 tackles, including two TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Sophomore Mark Anderson
moved from linebacker to defensive end in the spring, and showed promising speed and strength at the position. Anderson should be a solid player for the Bama defense this season.
Ahmad Childress and Anthony Bryant will provide a massive roadblock at the tackle positions, but there is not much experienced defensive talent behind them. Childress averaged 20 snaps per game in '02, while Bryant averaged 26. Senior Leslie Williams and sophomore Will Hardy could allow work into the rotation at one end, while redshirt freshman Chris Harris, junior Jonathan Brunson and sophomore Kyle Dyer provide depth at the other end position. Looking to earn playing time on the defensive line will be redshirt freshmen Jeremy Clark, Taylor Britt, Kyle Tatum and J.P. Adams. Dominic Lee might have the best shot for playing time of any in the incoming freshmen class. Lee, a 6-2 280-pounder, was one of the top defensive tackles in the nation in high school.
The 2003 linebacking corps is deep and talented. Freddie Roach is the prototypical middle linebacker. In 2002, the 6-2, 237-pound redshirt freshman made an immediate impact in his first collegiate contest. His 41-yard interception return for touchdown in the season-opener helped seal the Tide victory and introduced Roach to thousands of `Bama fans.
Strong-side backer Cornelius Wortham rounds out the trio of returning starters at linebacker. Wortham was the second-leading tackler in 2002 with 95 stops, and is looking to get his hands on more opposing running backs this season. He now has 165 career tackles in 35 games.
Decatur's Juwan Garth (6-2, 193 pounds) can't wait to see his first collegiate action after redshirting in 2002. Garth might surprise some SEC opponents with his ability this season, but the defensive staff expects Garth to provide an immediate presence on the field. He will likely back up Daniels on the weak side.
DeMeco Ryans was one of only two freshmen to see action in 2002 (the other was fullback Greg McLain) and earned a start against Hawaii. The sophomore from Jess Lanier High in Bessemer played a total of 312 snaps in 2002 and is listed behind Wortham at the strong-side backer slot. Senior middle linebacker Derrick Pope makes up another piece of this talented group. Pope finished last season with 65 tackles. He had one sack on the year and returned an interception 61 yards against Arkansas.
Sophomores Juke King and King Galdney, junior Brandon Dean and freshman Kyle Bennett will provide depth.
The 2002 secondary answered all questions and helped `Bama finish the year second in the SEC in scoring defense (15.4 pts/game) and first in total defense (257.3 yds/game). Gone are Gerald Dixon, Hirchel Bolden, and Waine Bacon, and with them goes the production of eight interceptions and 18 pass breakups. The Tide does have some experienced returners, however.
Charlie Peprah became known as a playmaker with clutch interceptions against Georgia and a game clinching pick in Knoxville. Manning the other corner will be Anthony Madison, who had a productive freshman season, seeing action in all 13 games, including one start. The Crimson Tide is deep at corner with capable and experienced backups. Lakeland, Fla. native Roberto McBride had extensive time at corner in 2001. Thurman Ward is back on defense and actually scored more touchdowns as a corner (interception return versus Arkansas in 2001) than he did as a wide receiver. Early reports on redshirt freshman Ramzee Robinson, from Huntsville's Butler High have been glowing and he may see the field sooner rather than later.
Charles Jones returns at free safety and brings his 85 tackles, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions back with him. At strong safety and maybe the most improved player on the team in the spring is sophomore Roman Harper. Tallahassee, Fla. native Carlos Andrews turned in an impressive showing at A-Day, accounting for nine tackles and an interception.
If the Crimson Tide can develop a shut down corner to complement Peprah, and the safety rotation of Jones, Harper, and Andrews is able to effectively stop the passing game along with providing help against the run, then this unit possibly could be better than the 2002 unit.
Senior David Scott and junior Chris James will also work into the secondary rotation.
Placekicking and punting duties will be up for grabs heading into fall practice. Brian Bostick
and left-footed Kyle Robinson
appeared to be the strongest candidates for placekicking duties in spring, but Mike McLaughlin
, Gabe Gardina
and Alex Fox
all might challenge for the spot. Bostick also handled kickoff duties for much of last season and will look to retain that job this fall.
After a senior season as one of the most beloved and active special teams players to don the crimson jersey, Lane Bearden must be replaced. Bearden served as the Tide's punter (half of the year with a torn ACL) and kickoff man, making several tackles in that capacity. He was also the holder on PAT's and field goals, where he ran for a touchdown against Oklahoma on a fake-field goal, and completed a two-point conversion pass on a botched kick attempt against Middle Tennessee. His efforts earned him at least one Heisman vote last season.
Eutaw's Bo Freeland will be the leading candidate to earn punting duties. The 6-5, 230 pound Warrior Academy standout was slightly ahead of Jeff Aul exiting spring drills. Aul, a freshman from Daleville, was an honorable mention All-State selection as a prep senior. Junior Chris James and senior David Scott will likely once again lineup at the gunner positions, racing downfield to cover punts. Both performed well in that capacity last season.
There are several qualified candidates for punt and kickoff return. A.C. Carter was standout returner in 2001, while Shaud Williams handled that duty for a majority of last season. Triandos Luke, Brandon Brooks, Ray Hudson and 2003 signees Tyrone Prothro or Matt Caddell could all get looks as punt or kickoff returners. Caddell tied the state and national record with 12 career punt returns for touchdown at McAdory High.
Alabama Preseason Honors
- 1st Team All-America (Street & Smith's)
- 2nd Team All-America (The Sporting News)
- 1st Team All-SEC (Athlon, Lindy's, The Sporting News, Street & Smith's)
- 2nd Team All-SEC (Birmingham News)
- Nation's 3rd Best Offensive Tackle (The Sporting News)
- Nation's 9th Best Offensive Tackle (Lindy's)
- 1st Team All-SEC (The Sporting News)
- Nation's 12th Best Defensive Tackle (The Sporting News)
- 2nd Team All-SEC (Athlon)
- 3rd Team All-SEC (Street & Smith's)
- 1st Team All-SEC (Athlon, Lindy's, Street & Smith's, Birmingham News)
- 2nd Team All-SEC (The Sporting News)
- Nation's 8th Best Defensive End (Lindy's)
- Nation's 18th Best Defensive End (The Sporting News)
- 2nd Team All-SEC (Athlon, The Sporting News)
- Nation's 15th Best Inside Linebacker
- Nation's 19th Best Inside Linebacker
- 1st Team All-America (collegefootball news)
- 2nd Team All-America (Street & Smith's)
- 1st Team All-SEC (Lindy's, collegefootball news, Street & Smith's, Birmingham News)
- 2nd Team All-SEC (Athlon, The Sporting News)
- Nation's Best Offensive Guard (collegefootballnews)
- Nation's 5th Best Offensive Guard (The Sporting News)
- 1st Team All-SEC (Athlon, Street & Smith's)
- 2nd Team All-SEC (Lindy's, The Sporting News, Birmingham News)
- Nation's 25th Best Running Back (Lindy's)
- 2nd Team All-SEC (Lindy's, Street & Smith's)
- Nation's 18th Best Outside Linebacker (Lindy's)
2003 LETTERMAN ANALYSIS
Lettermen Returning: 42
Lettermen Lost: 28
Offensive Starters Returning: 6
Offensive Starters Lost: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Defensive Starters Lost: 5
Specialists Returning: 3
Specialists Lost: 1
Lettermen Returning - 19
Lettermen Lost - 11
Lettermen Returning - 20
Lettermen Lost - 16
Lettermen Returning - 3
Lettermen Lost - 2
2002 Starters are in Bold
*Injured and did not play in 2001