Watkins, Kouandjio Injuries No Small Matter

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide watches a review by Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

While some may dismiss the injuries to Alex Watkins and Cyrus Kouandjio as relatively harmless given their status as back-ups, both had roles on this team and their absence creates cause for concern. First off, the gritty injury details, per Izzy Gould:

"Alex Watkins broke his arm so he's gonna be out for (two to three weeks)," Saban said. "Cyrus got a pretty significant knee injury that's gonna require surgery. He's probably gonna be out for the remainder of the season.

"Even though those two guys aren't starters they're guys that have made a lot of contribution especially to the depth of our team."
The knee injury to Kouandjio comes as the biggest surprise. He limped off the field one or two plays after suffering some sort of lower leg injury, but he didn't go to the locker room and was moving without restriction and seemingly in good spirits during the postgame. Most had assumed that he suffered a minor sprain, but clearly that is not the case. Nick Saban did not detail the specifics of the injury, but given the quick surgical diagnosis and the season-ending classification given within 48 hours, the torn ACL murmur is probably legitimate.

A torn ACL in and of itself causes a great deal of concern long-term about Kouandjio's status and his availability for the 2012 season, but there is a short-term concern as well. With both Kouandjio brothers having gone down with season-ending knee injuries in recent weeks, 'Bama is now without both of its back-up tackles and an injury to either Barrett Jones or D.J. Fluker at this point would likely lead to major issues on the offensive line. Tyler Love stepped in for Kouandjio on Saturday night against the Vols, but in his press conference earlier today Saban indicated that fifth-year senior Alfred McCullough would get the call at tackle if one of the starters were to go down. The journeyman McCullough has long been a favorite of the coaching staff and has played nearly every position on the line during his time at Alabama, but clearly he is not the ideal option to have outside against a top opponent.

Fortunately, the injury news on Alex Watkins is somewhat better. The broken arm sounds painful, but Saban indicated earlier today that he would probably be out roughly two or three weeks. It seems relatively clear that he will miss the LSU game but if all goes well he should be back for Auburn. Watkins, too, isn't a starter, but he's an every-down contributor in the Rabbit package and plays on special teams as well. He brings great athleticism as an edge rusher and he's not easily replaced. It's encouraging that he likely should be back for Auburn and the bowl game, but he's not the type of player you want dressed in street clothes when LSU comes to town.

On the whole, while neither Watkins and Kouandjio were starters, both were meaningful contributors that had clear roles on this team. The absence of Kouandjio leaves the Tide razor thin at tackle in terms of depth, and the loss of Watkins takes away from the Tide one its best pass rushers right before the biggest game of the season. Neither loss figures to be fatal, but their absence makes the road to victory against LSU that much tougher.

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