21 June 2010
At this point last season, the tight end spot was a big question mark for the Tide. Both Nick Walker and Travis McCall had moved on, and while Colin Peek was the obvious choice to replace Walker, Bama seemingly had no one set to replace McCall. It wasn't that McCall was a big pass catcher. In fact, he was more like a Howard Cross style road grading "extra lineman". The guys behind him on the depth chart lacked the size and tenacity that McCall had, and it looked like Bama might have to adjust their offensive scheme. It took until the second week of the season, but our next senior took a firm grasp of the role, and heads into the 2010 season as a strength on the team.
Preston Dial - #85 - 6-3 - 233 - Mobile, AL - UMS-Wright
First thing's first... that 233 lbs. is nowhere close to being right. I would guess that Preston is up close to 250 at this point, if not beyond that. He has managed to maintain his athleticism and speed despite putting on the extra weight, and you have to think that the confidence that he gained in 2009 should benefit him well heading in to 2010.
If you'll think back to the opener in 2009, and recall Bama's first offensive play, there were two very important things that happened on that play. The most obvious was the fact that Mark Ingram took the snap, with Bama debuting the wildcat formation that they used much more prominantly than most people thought. The second important thing is that the play went for just three yards, mainly because of a missed block by the Tide's starting H-back Brad Smelley.
Smelley was coming off of a surprisingly succesfull 2008, and most folks (myself included) expected that he would lock down the H-back role for the entirety of the season, giving Bama two receiving threats at the tight end position. While that one missed block certainly wasn't the reason that he saw reduced play in '09, it was a sign of things to come. It looked heading in to the season that the coaching staff would be willing to give up a little in blocking in order to get Smelley's pass-catching ability on to the field.
By the second week of the season we started to see a change in that philosophy, with Bama shifting Dial into the H-back spot. Dial only caught three passes during the entirety of the 2010 season, which should tell you all that you need to know about how he was used.
Dial ended up playing the H-back role very similar to how McCall played it in 2008. The difference is that Dial is much quicker than McCall, and was able to pull outside far more often. McCall was used, at times, like an additional tackle, sealing of the edge of the line. Dial was used in this role some, but was typically further from the end of the line, out where you might see a pulling guard.What he lacks in size, he makes up for in technique, which was demonstrated by the fact that he didn't receive a holding penalty one time during the 2009 season.
Look for the staff to continue to use Preston in the H-back role, but for that role to expand. With Peek gone to the NFL, Dial will likely become much more involved in the passing game. He has just five receptions in his career, and I expect him to blow by that number by the mid point of the season. With Michael Williams looking to be the front runner to start at the other tight end spot, Dial will have to take on more of the pass-catching.
Williams is a solid player, and a great blocker, but he isn't an experienced pass catcher yet. He has shown a propensity for dropping passes in his young career, which should open the door for Dial to get more of the check-down looks.
Having said that, with the right tackle spot still in flux, look for Preston to be used as an extra blocker a lot during the early season. I would expect we'll see him come in motion from the left, and either settle just behind the right tackle, or settle into the fullback spot to assist in stopping the speed rushes from the quarterback's right. If someone can step forward and take control of the right tackle spot, look for Preston to be freed up to run more downfield passing routes.
Until that time, most of his passing routes will likely be short ones. We'll probably see him begin a lot of plays in a pass blocking role, before releasing into the flat as a safety valve for the quarterback. Look for him to also be used a lot as a lead blocker when Bama goes to the screen pass to the running backs.
It's doubtful that Preston will see his way into the early rounds of the NFL Draft, but if he continues to catch everything thrown his way, he could easily find himself a middle to late round draft pick.
Up next is a guy that it's tough to believe is actually a senior. A solid junior season set him up to have a great senior year - Darius Hanks.
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