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August 28, 2012TUSCALOOSA | Kelly Johnson played in nine games for the University of Alabama last season as a special teams player, but he'll be making a much more visible introduction to Alabama fans Saturday in Dallas against Michigan.
The walk-on from Bluffton, S.C., was listed as the team's starter at H-back Tuesday when Alabama coach Nick Saban released the Crimson Tide's official depth chart. UA is working several players at the position, including running back Jalston Fowler. But if UA opens the game on offense in a two-tight end set, look for a not-so-familiar No. 31 to take the field for the opening play.
"He's a kid who works really hard and he's a great guy," said offensive lineman Barrett Jones. "He gives it up for his teammates. I think we all are very happy for him because we've seen the way he's worked over the last few years. Not many guys who are walk-ons make it to that level."
Johnson was unavailable for comment. Saban has mentioned Johnson's strong preseason practice performance twice since practice began a month ago.
"Kelly Johnson has done a good job because he's tough and he's a good athlete," Saban said last week when asked about the position.
Johnson wasn't the only name that may have taken fans by surprise on the official depth chart. Although the first-team units were listed as expected, several second-team players clearly made a strong impression on the coaching staff to earn a place on the two-deep chart.
True freshman defenders Denzel Devall, Reggie Ragland, Landon Collins and Geno Smith all were listed as backups at various positions. Devall, a linebacker from Bastrop, La., was named the second-team Jack linebacker behind Xzavier Dickson, while linebacker Reggie Ragland was listed as a backup middle linebacker. Smith and Collins were listed as backups in the secondary at cornerback and safety, respectively. Smith has also worked some at the Star position in the preseason, which is used in Alabama's nickel defense.
"He's urging himself, he talks to himself, he comes to me when he needs help," cornerback Dee Milliner said of Smith. "I try to help him out all the time, as much as I can. He's trying to learn everything he's supposed to.
I help him all the time at the Star position, because that's different from corner."
Redshirt freshman Phillip Ely is listed as the backup quarterback behind AJ McCarron, while true freshman T.J. Yeldon and junior Jalston Fowler were listed as co-No.2 running backs.
Mini-helmets aid cause
Alabama fans can help the Make-A-Wish Foundation by purchasing a miniature Alabama helmet, with the #14 on the side signifying the team's 14 national championships, from Nikco Sports. The helmets, manufactued by Schutt, come in a display case and sell for $99. Only 2,012 of them will be made.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation, now in its 32nd year, fulfills wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Helmets can be ordered at 1-800-345-2868 or at www.nikcosports.com.
"I saw Chance one time take down a whole Mugshot burger. I was just miserable. Why would you ever want to do that? Not a Mugshot burger, THE Mugshot. The big one." - Jones on the appetite of guard Chance Warmack, referring to a challenge meal at a local Tuscaloosa restaurant.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper, after recovering from a minor foot injury, has been cleared for contact since Monday. Cooper is listed behind third-year sophomore DeAndrew White on the depth chart at one of three receiver positions. ... UA will practice in full pads Wednesday for the last time before Saturday's game against Michigan.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.