Tide offense hoping for healthy season

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HOOVER, Ala. -- Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle figures he and the Crimson Tide are due for a healthy season.
"It's going to be fun to be all put back together," Croyle said Friday on the final day of SEC Media Days. "I'm kind of running out of things to hurt."
Croyle says he is 100 percent after tearing knee ligaments in the third game last season. In 2003, he played the entire season with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. He missed his senior season of high school with another ACL injury.
But Croyle is not the only one Alabama coach Mike Shula will be happy to have back on the field this fall. Tailback Ken Darby is also returning from a serious sports hernia injury, and fullback Tim Castille is also battling back from torn knee ligaments.
"Darby is probably ahead of schedule," Shula said. "He looks to be 100 percent, but we need to monitor him. He needs as many reps as he can get, but we can't give him too much. Don't tell him this, but we probably won't give him as many as the last couple years.
"Tim Castille has worked as hard as anybody. It's hard to say if he is 100 percent, but we'll give him as much as he can take. If during two-a-days he needs to practice just once a day, we'll do that."
But Croyle is the key. He threw for 2,303 yards and tied a team record with 16 touchdown passes in 2003. Before getting hurt in the third game a year go, Croyle comleted 44 of 66 passes for 534 yards and six scores without being intercepted. Despite the injury, Shula is looking for him to pick up where he left off.
"Brodie is pretty much out of rehab mode and into increasing strength," Shula said. "He has looked as good as he has ever looked. He is at full go from day one. He needs to make up for the time he lost in the spring, the scrimmage reps. He had had plenty of 7-on-7 passing reps. We have got to probably increase (the scrimmage) reps, and yet not do it too much."
Last season, Alabama had to rely on the running game and the nation's No. 2-ranked defense after Croyle went down. The Tide averaged 185 yards per game on the ground last season, and Darby rushed for 1,062 yards despite just starting five games. But assuming Croyle stays healthy, Alabama will look much different on offense this season.
"You don't like to use injuries as an excuse, but when your starting QB goes down it is tough," Shula said. "Basically we are going to continue the things we've done. But we haven't run our offense or called the game the way we want to with Brodie not in there. I think we will see some different things, but it will be within the same framework.
"When you have two true freshman receivers and your second- and third-string quarterbacks out there, you do things differently in order to win games, especially when you have a good defense and special teams."
Junior speedster Tyrone Prothro led the Tide last season with just 25 catches, while sophomores Matt Caddell, D.J. Hall and Keith Brown all caught 17 passes. They aren't impressive numbers on paper, but Croyle can't wait to get back on the field with the young receivers after playing just two games with them a year ago.
"Those guys are night and day compared to the last time I played with them," Croyle said. "They're bigger, they've stronger … they obviously know more about college football and about our offense. They've worked extremely hard all summer, and haven't missed a single workout. They're even calling me to come back up and watch film with them, and I've never had that happen. I'm glad to see it is coming from a group that has so much talent, and they're still working that hard."
That attitude, along with Darby's return and the SEC's best defense on his side, has Croyle setting lofty goals for his senior season.
"Our goal is to win an SEC championship," he said. "I'm sure a lot of teams, that isn't their goal after a season where they went 6-6. But with everything that went wrong last year with injuries, our whole group feels like, Auburn did it, why not us?"
Shula is not making any predictions, but he feels good about having Croyle lead his team into the season.
"He's a guy that can do some great things for us," Shula said. "He has tremendous arm strength and good touch, but the best thing about him is his mentality and personality. The bigger the situation gets, the slower his pulse gets, and that's the kind of guy you want as your leader."
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