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August 7, 2006

Happy Camper

Weddings. Holidays. Billy Joel's next car crash.

You name it, and somewhere on the web there's a countdown clock for it.

We've all seen them. Those annoying clocks that remind us that 23 days, 12 hours, 32 minutes and 26 seconds remain before Tom from Texarkana gets the oil in his '79 Impala changed.

The clock knows no boundaries, as evidenced by its killer crossover move into the sports world. Hell, we've even clocked football prospects here on BOL. How could one possibly forget the now infamous Tebow Timex?

With another college football season on the horizon, the countdown clock tells us we're T-minus 26 days until Hawaii visits Bryant-Denny Stadium. Thanks, but go ahead and fret away the next three-plus weeks without me. For my money, the best part of the season will be taking place within the same timeframe.

There's no other way to say it: I love fall camp. It has nothing to do with the "smell of fresh cut grass that signals the start of another football season" garbage, either. To me, the beauty of the preseason comes in the form of competition. It's not so much the position battles that fire me up, although there will be far more jobs up for grabs this year compared to last. Instead, it's the one-on-one matchups that blow my hair back.

Defensive backs locking up on wide receivers in one-on-one drills. Offensive tackles all by their lonesome while taking on defensive ends in pass rush drills. Offensive guards going head up against defensive tackles in Oklahoma drills.

If you pay attention, those drills -- more so than schemes -- will clue you into what a team is capable of accomplishing.

But those aren't the only things I'll be dialed in to. I've got a list of items -- some obvious, others not so much -- that I'll be looking for, including:

*If it takes defensive tackle-turned-offensive guard Justin Britt instigating a brawl to set the tone for the offensive line for the upcoming season, so be it. While I'm not advocating behavior mirroring that of the 1977 Oakland Raiders, these guys need to make it known from the outset that they're no longer interested in taking the first punch.

*It will be interesting to see if Bobby Greenwood has undergone any physical changes since the end of spring drills. Up from 240 pounds to 265, he seemed to struggle with the additional weight during the spring. Keith Saunders took full advantage, moving past Greenwood and into the top spot at right defensive end. And how will Ezekial Knight factor into things at this spot? The former wide receiver has beefed up to 238 pounds since April 1, and he brings needed speed and athleticism to the edge.

*Tide special teams coordinator Dave Ungerer will take a long look at a couple of newcomers -- Javier Arenas and Terry Grant -- on punt and kickoff returns. Fielding kickoffs shouldn't be a problem for either but punts are a different animal altogether.

*There has been a lot of talk about John Parker Wilson's mobility and how Mike Shula will go about using it. Moving Wilson around should prove helpful from a pass protection standpoint, but a well-conceived screen package -- something we've yet to see from this offense -- would also help.

*Speaking of Wilson, the sophomore needs to pickup where he left off at the end of spring drills. He pressed a little bit early in the spring, but that shouldn't be an issue heading into fall camp. Seeing as how he's not being pushed for the starting job, Wilson should be able to relax and focus on running the offense efficiently.

*Back to the one-on-one stuff: I'm anxious to see freshman offensive tackle Andre Smith take on defensive end Wallace Gilberry in pass rush drills. Ditto for a David Ross-Jeremy Clark matchup in Oklahoma drills. While these are the kind of showdowns that often serve as official "welcome to the SEC" moments for first-year players, Smith and Ross aren't your typical rookies.

*I'm beginning to wonder if anyone is interested in nailing down spots in the wide receiver rotation behind Keith Brown and DJ Hall. Yes, Matt Caddell is experienced, but the door is wide open for sophomores Will Oakley and Nikita Stover and newcomers Earl Alexander and Mike McCoy to make runs up the depth chart.

*How will the safety position opposite Jeffrey Dukes shake out? Marcus Carter is listed as the starter at the other spot, but you get the feeling that Rashad Johnson and Cory Reamer will give him a strong run for the job. Talented freshmen Justin Woodall and Andy Davis will only add to the competition.

*Also in the secondary, competition at right cornerback, where junior Eric Gray went wire-to-wire as the starter during spring practice, will be worth keeping an eye on. Can Gray hold on or will Simeon Castille blow past him? Taking it a step further, the defense might be better served by Gray starting and Castille continuing on in his role of rotating regularly between both corner spots and the nickel back position.

All of this in 20 practices over 15 straight days. Sounds like a long run, but in no time Shula will be shooing us out of workouts (this generally takes place around the start of fall classes, which this year means Aug. 23). Oh well, there's always next spring to look forward to.

According to my trusty 2007 spring practice countdown clock, it's only 197 days, 11 hours, 12 minutes and 49 seconds away.

Fall camp gets underway at Alabama on Tuesday and BOL will be there to provide its subscribers with unsurpassed coverage. What are you waiting on? GIVE BOL A TRY. Click here to take advantage of BOL's 7-Day Free Trial and get all the INSIDE SCOOP from fall camp, including practice updates, video highlights and photo galleries!


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