Now that we have a bit more information on Brian Motley and his injury...
How is he hurt and how bad is he hurt?
According to Coach Saban, it is a broken ankle, and he will be out from six-to-eight weeks. That's not good news obviously, but it could certainly be much, much worse. Some broken ankles can take up to four months in a hard cast, and that certainly doesn't seem to be the case here. A worst case scenario would be him not getting healthy until late in the season, and thus sitting the rest of the year out and taking a medical redshirt. In doing so, he would be completely healthy and ready to go for the off-season work, Spring practice, and the 2008 season. Again, it could be much worse.
So... six-to-eight weeks. Where does that put him in terms of a potential return?
Six weeks from now is the Houston game, and seven weeks from now is the Ole Miss game. After that, eight weeks is the Tennessee game, and nine weeks is the off week. Ten weeks is the LSU game. So, you would imagine that he'll probably be back somewhere between the Houston game and the Tennessee game. But you never know how the recovery will go, and you never know how long it is going to take him to get back into the form that he was in just prior to the injury. By that measure, he may be able to play against Tennessee, but not really 100 per cent until the bowl or perhaps next season. We'll just have to see how he progresses in his recovery over the next several weeks.
What to do now at defensive tackle that Motley is gone?
Lorenzo Washington is going to take over the starting job, obviously. And honestly, that's not a particularly bad thing. Some people left Washington for dead this Spring, but he has had a very nice camp, and is seemingly a very comparable player to Motley, in terms of both skill sets and physical specs. The drop-off from Motley to Washington, while existent, is probably relatively negligible.
The problem is after Washington. Right now, literally, the only two bodies we have are Alfred McCullough and Josh Chapman. McCullough has looked pretty good for a true freshman thus far in Fall camp, but he's nevertheless a true freshman and it's still a very bad situation for us if he plays. Chapman, too, could contribute some, but you can bet the farm that he's not going to play until the Hoover academic investigation gets wrapped up, and rightly so. The truth is, though that's all probably nothing, we should not take any chances with the NCAA, not even in the slightest way.
Basically you only have two bodies at nose tackle now: Washington and McCullough. Bottom line: we need another player to give us a legitimate three-man rotation.
I personally hope that (as Todd and I discussed last night) we move Justin Britt from left guard to nose tackle. Britt has the size and more experience as a tackle than any other player on the roster right now, and just to be honest, he would probably beat out Washington after a couple of weeks to knock off the rust. It's not like it would really hurt us any on the offensive line, honestly. B.J. Stabler needs a place to play, and he has a lot of starts at guard. Just move him over to left guard and let Britt go back to the defensive side of the ball. Granted, I don't know if we'll do that, mind you, but I think we should do something to that effect. Somewhere, we've got to add another body somewhere. Something has got to give.
The only way I could see us getting around a position move at some point would be if Brandon Deaderick really stepped up and played well. And to be quite frank, I'm not sure if that is feasible.
The way it sounds, we aren't going to make any moves to compensate for the Motley injury at this point. That's probably a good thing, considering how late it is in the week; truth is, we're just a bit over two days until kick-off for the Western Carolina game. Considering we'll win that with ease, no need for that much upheaval right now. After the Western Carolina game, it seems that Saban is hinting at the fact that there are going to be some position moves. I don't know exactly who -- and honestly the staff itself probably doesn't even know at this point -- but it seems at this point that someone will be moving somewhere.
How will this hurt us in terms of the schedule?
Initially, the schedule works out pretty well for the injury. Western Carolina makes your generic Sisters of the Poor look like powerhouses, and they lose their 1,000 yard rusher from a year ago (Darius Fudge). Vanderbilt, too, is a pretty poor team in terms of running the football. Cassen Jackson-Garrison is a pretty good back, but as I've written about before, he just doesn't get very many carries, and that will probably be the case again this year. Stopping Vanderbilt will be about shutting down Chris Nickson's passing and his running outside the pocket; struggling up front along the interior defensive line won't really hurt us there.
All told, that's good news for us. It gives us a couple of games for our interior defensive linemen to get acclimated. And honestly, even the third game isn't particularly bad. Sure, McFadden is the best thing since slided bread, but the Hogs are highly unlikely to be able to throw the ball effectively, so the deficiencies of the interior defensive line can be masked by other players, particularly the the linebackers and safeties who could largely neglect their pass responsibilities with little or no offsetting negative impact.
By the time Georgia and Florida State come around, however, that's a different story. Unlike Arkansas, those two teams will have good running games but should also be able to throw the ball relatively well against us, particularly with the playaction pass. Things could get very hairy in those two games.
So... just how bad is it at nose tackle?
Ah, this is the hard part, honestly. Like I said earlier, the drop-off from Motley to Washington probably wasn't that big, and if we get someone like Britt to move over, it probably won't hurt us all of that bad compared to the production that we would have gotten had Motley stayed healthy.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the harsh truth of the matter is that we are not going to be very good along the interior defensive line this year. No one wants to hear that, but it's nevertheless the truth. And that is going to be true with or without Motley. The fact is that we have not recruited an interior defensive lineman that actually turned out to do something since the 1999 recruiting class, and production might not get much better until that changes.
The truth is, this core group looks pretty good in the future, especially if Kerry Murphy qualifies out of Hargrave next year. That will give us a core group of Lorenzo Washington, Alfred McCullough, Brian Motley, Josh Chapman, and Kerry Murphy, plus any guys we sign this year. In time, that group should develop quite nicely and do well. But at the time being, they are -- even if eligible, healthy, and ready to play, which three of those five aren't -- young, undersized, and wholly inexperienced. That's not good, and there is no way to spin it otherwise.
Truthfully, though, we have had poor interior line play ever since the end of the 2002 season. It helps that we probably have the two biggest inside linebackers in the conference lined up right behind the nose tackle, and it helps that the linebacker corps as a whole is rather large. We can do well defensively even if we struggle at nose tackle, but the rest of the defense as a whole really has to step up and get the job done.
At the moment, all we can do is hope for the best.