With the latest news on the physical issues currently plaguing Kerry Murphy and Kendall Kelly, it's easy to envision the endgame scenario here. Kendall Kelly was not healthy as a senior in high school, was not healthy as a true freshman at 'Bama, and encountered "heat issues" -- whatever exactly that entailed -- last year, and Kerry Murphy couldn't really finish the season a year ago due to a knee injury. Now we have word that neither have been able to participate in the offseason strength and conditioning program, nor will they be able to participate in spring practice. While obviously we hope for full recoveries from both, the truth of the matter is that there is little apparent reason to be optimistic at this point.
To be sure, in his press conference yesterday Nick Saban never said they had been placed on medical scholarship to date, but having said that a determination like that is really unnecessary before August, and in any event he really said little that would give much hope moving forward:
"All these guys have physical issues that have not allowed them to participate in the offseason program, and will not allow them to participate in the spring, and most certainly could affect their future ability to contribute here," Saban said.
Asked about the possibility of medical hardship status for the players, Saban said: "There is a process for everything, and it's not good to comment on things until it's gone through the process."
Hope for the best, of course, but I fully expect both Kelly and Murphy to be placed on medical scholarships in early August. Having either of them healthy enough to participate this Fall would be constitute a major surprise at this point.
In terms of impact on the 2011 season, the absence of Kelly probably won't be a huge loss considering that this has been somewhat expected for some time now, and for the simple reason that he has been a player without a position for the past year. His future at wide receiver ended a year ago when he was moved to the defensive backfield, and with depth looking to be very strong at safety this season, he wasn't likely to see much playing time there. I've speculated that he could have made the move to Sam linebacker, but that would be a long-term move that would take time to pay off, and frankly it's not like the Sam linebacker plays a great deal anyway.
The loss of Kerry Murphy, however, figures to be much more ominous, and creates a serious depth concern at nose guard. With the expected absence of Murphy, that leaves Josh Chapman as the only returning nose guard who could legitimately be an every-down player, and thus puts significant pressure on Jesse Williams and Brandon Ivory to step in immediately and be quality contributors. That's a scary thought because, in addition to being a very raw prospect, Williams has knees issues of his own, and when Ivory was signed in the 2010 recruiting class he was expected to be a long-term developmental project. Nick Gentry will be able to contribute snaps in passing situations, but he's simply not big enough to hold the nose at the point of attack on running downs, so without Murphy we are basically left hoping that Chapman finally takes off and / or that the young, inexperienced guys can contribute immediately.
In any event, I did find the news on Kelly and Murphy particularly intriguing regarding the outcry surrounding oversigning and the alleged abuses of the medical scholarship process. When it's some lightly-recruited no-name player going this route the critics scream bloody murder, yet when the offseason attrition involves very talented players at need positions -- as is often the case -- you never hear the first word uttered. Likewise, when you have a situation like we now have with Glenn Harbin, who was not a meaningful contributor and who will now count against football scholarship limits while playing baseball, you again hear nothing but silence. In essence, at least as it relates to Alabama, I think that nicely sums up the outrage regarding oversigning and medical scholarships: You assume a sinister scheme from the outset, you cherry pick the developments as they come, publicize the hell out of developments you find supportive of your basic argument, and you simply ignore everything else that doesn't support your theory.