TUSCALOOSA _ There was no buildup and very little warning, but when University of Alabama senior tight end Colin Peek sustained a sprained knee while warming up for Tennessee, no one was more alarmed than the person who had to replace him, redshirt freshman Michael Williams.
"To tell you the God's honest truth, when I saw it, just my eyes lit up, scared, I didn't know what to do," Williams said Wednesday. "I had to buckle down and just get my game mind ready."
Williams ended up making his first collegiate reception against Volunteers, which wasn't anywhere near as big of an emotional deal, and after practicing with the starters for a week had two against LSU.
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"I thought he played really well last week against LSU," Coach Nick Saban said.
However, going from being primarily used as a run-blocker to every-down tight end has been one of the easiest things Williams has done of late. When he arrived on the Capstone, he appeared destined to be a defensive end.
"It was a lot easier transition than playing defense because the plays are a little easier on offense than defense," said Williams, who at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds played both positions at a small high school.
"Football is football, but the biggest thing to me is the speed of the game," he said. "You come from 2A Pickens County, I won't downplay it but it's not the SEC."
Peek remains day-to-day with a sprained knee, but even so Williams' development has been a pleasant development just in time for the stretch run.
"He's definitely stepped up tremendously for us," senior linebacker Cory Reamer said. "He's got such long arms, it's really hard to get your hands on him. He has a real advantage o getting distance on you and not letting you get your hands on him. He can them control you any way he wants to.
"We also saw last week he has good hands when he catches the ball."
True freshman quarterback A.J. McCarron has been promoted off the scout team.
"He's one of the three quarterbacks that takes reps every week to get ready and prepare for the game," Saban said.
The only quarterback other than Greg McElroy to see game action this season has been redshirt freshman Star Jackson. McCarron will redshirt if he doesn't play this season.
"He's done a good job and I think he's got a steep learning curve right now especially in game plan, changing a little bit and doing different things," Saban said.
"He's very, very committed to wanting to be a good player and I think he puts a lot into it, it's important to him. That's a great starting point. The fact the he was on the scout team for a while this year probably really enhanced his maturity and his leadership ability, because he did a really good job in that regard. He sort of learned from the bottom and worked his way up and it shows in his personality, his performance and his leadership."
McClain named Lott semifinalist
Junior linebacker Rolando McClain was named one of eight semifinalists for the Lott Impact Trophy on Wednesday. The award goes to the player who best demonstrates "Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity."
Former Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans won the award in 2006.
The other semifinalists are Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Southern California safety Taylor Mays, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndaumkong Suh, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Texas defensive end Sam Acho, TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes and South Carolina defensive end Eric Norwood.
Meanwhile, Alabama has started promoting players up for individual awards with a series posters/fliers that have the word "Candidate" across the front with the "A" logo in place of the second "a." The first two to go out Wednesday were for McClain and senior cornerback Javier Arenas.
The update list of awards candidates can be found below.
Former All-American center Antoine Caldwell dropped by Wednesday's practice as the Houston Texans are enjoying their bye week.
"I see the intensity hasn't slowed down at all around here," the NFL rookie joked to reporters.
Although Caldwell started 48 games at Alabama, including 34 at center, twelve at left offensive guard, one at right guard and one at right tackle, and was a team captain for two seasons, he's been impressed with the way this year's offensive line has performed.
"I had no doubt in my mind about the talent they had here," he said. "With what Coach (Joe) Pendry brings to the table I knew they would come together. That's what they did, they've been dominating all year and I felt like there wouldn't be much of a drop-off at all from the guys we had.
"I'm just proud of the way our guys are playing."
Even though Alabama had to replace three starting linemen, including Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith at left tackle, the Tide has more rushing yards this season and yielded fewer sacks.
"The main thing is they've been finishing every game and I think they're going to be able to carry that on," Caldwell said.
Caldwell has stayed in touch with his replacement, sophomore William Vlachos, throughout the season, along with other linemen like Mike Johnson and Brian Motley.
Living in Texas, a potential meeting between the Longhorns and Tide is in the back of his mind, which could almost only happen in the BSC national championship.
"Maybe just a little bit, but more importantly I know they have a lot before Atlanta," Caldwell said. "I would like nothing more than to see them go down there and take care of what we couldn't take care of last year."
Caldwell said that Ryans, the 2006 Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro-Bowl selection last season, took him under his wing after being drafted by the Houston Texans. "When I got there I was deer in the headlights for about a month and a half," he said. "He was able to really calm me down, show me the ropes a little bit." Caldwell is backing up Chris White at right guard this season, but doesn't get to face his former Alabama teammate in practice too often. "He's a veteran, they don't want to get banged up," he said with a laugh.
The team practiced outside Wednesday. Freshman Chance Warmack returned from the flu. Junior running back Terry Grant (muscle pull) is questionable for Saturday's game against Mississippi State, and Saban said Peek is practicing more. "I think when you reach this point in the season, it's kind of ending one season and starting another, it's all about what you want to accomplish and how committed are you to it and what does it mean to you so you can continue to do the things you need to do, both individually and collectively as a team," Saban said. "The things you can do better individually as a player to help your unit and the team, as well as things we need to do as a team to continue to improve and get better, so we can play better football in this last quarter of the season or whatever you want to call it."
LSU coach Les Miles was asked during the SEC Conference call about unveiling a no-huddle offense against Alabama last week: "We enjoy that we can change the tempos so we can go faster or slower. Our guys use the 40 seconds how we would like. I think it benefits our quarterbacks." He added, "There's certainly some pressure on the opponent to get the calls made and get their defense on the field."
Arenas was one of the players Alabama evaluated to estimate where he might go in the draft last year had he come out early. He wasn't a first-round draft pick, but he was a high pick," Saban said. "I think he's probably enhanced his position in the draft." ESPN's Mel Kiper has Arenas rated as the fourth-best senior cornerback.
Saban took time to give a verbal salute to member of the military Wednesday: "I know it is Veterans Day today. I'd like to send out a special thanks to all the people out there who have done so much, men and women, serving our country and protecting our freedom. We have a wonderful place to live and I can't thank them enough and they don't know how much we appreciate that, more than they know."
Heisman Trophy: Finalists announced Dec. 9.
Maxwell Award (outstanding player): Mark Ingram, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.
Walter Camp Award (Player of the year): Semifinalists announced Nov. 17.
Butkus Award (linebacker): Rolando McClain, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 19.
Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Terrence Cody and Mike Johnson on watch list. Finalists announced Nov. 23.
Bednarik Award (defensive player): Cody and McClain, semifinalists. Finalists announced Nov. 23.
Davey O'Brien Award (quarterback): No semifinalists.
Unitas Golden Arm (senior quarterback): Alabama has one who qualifies.
Doak Walker Award (running back): Semifinalists announced Thursday. Ingram on watch list.
Fred Biletnikoff Award (wide receiver): No semifinalists. Julio Jones was on the watch list.
Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back): Javier Arenas, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.
John Mackey Award (tight end): Semifinalists announced Nov. 16.
Lou Groza Award (kicker): Leigh Tiffin, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.
Bronki Nagusrki Award (defensive player): Finalists announced Nov. 19. Arenas, Cody and McClain are all on the watch list.
Ray Guy Award (punter): Semifinalists announced Nov. 13.
Rotary Lombard Award (lineman): Cody finalist. Winner announced Dec. 9.
Ted Hendricks Awards (defensive end): Midseason watch list announced in mid-November. No Alabama players were on the preseason watch list.
Lott Trophy (defensive impact player): McClain semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 24.
Rimington Trophy (center): Finalists announced Nov. 23.
Eddie Robinson Award (coach): Finalists announced Dec. 9.
George Munger Award (coach): Nick Saban, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.
Broyles Award (assistant coach): Finalists announced Nov. 30.
Walter Campbell Trophy (scholar-athlete, formerly known as the Draddy Trophy): No finalists. Colin Peek was a semifinalist.