Now that the dust has cleared on another day, the current ranks have been thinned of two more players. This time it was B.J. Stabler and Cody Davis, both offensive linemen and both ending their football careers after very long battles with various injuries.
B.J. Stabler was one of the biggest signees out of the 2004 class. He was rated a four-star prospect, could have went to any of the SEC schools, and the consensus opinion was that he was one of the top players in the state that year. Originally he was a tackle prospect, and it looked like when he reported in the Fall of 2004 that he would play, and potentially start, as a true freshman. Evan Mathis had been the right tackle the previous three years, but we moved him over to left guard to team with Justin Britt (left tackle), and it looked like Stabler would get the starting job at right tackle. Unfortunately, a broken hand in practice required surgery, and he ended up missing the year.
After a redshirt season, the knee problems began. He had to have knee surgery the following Spring, and he was not healthy for the beginning of the 2005 season, either. The lack of mobility as a result of the lingering knee problems forced him to move inside to right guard. He missed the first two games of the season, but fought his way back and started in the final ten games on the way to being named a Freshman All-SEC. The following year, 2006, saw him starting again at right guard, but he missed almost all of the final five games of the year when the knee injuries flared back up. He dropped a good bit of weight this past off-season in an attempt to alleviate the knee issues, but he could not beat out Marlon Davis for the right guard spot. He only played when Davis was suspended for being one of the Textbook Five, and though he gave valiant efforts against both Tennessee and LSU, it was obvious after the game against the Bayou Bengals that his knees simply would not hold up, even when playing very limited snaps. He missed the ULM game, and only played sparingly against MSU and Auburn. He could not play against Colorado, either, despite a month off to rest, and it seemed then like the end of the road was near.
Cody Davis came out of nearby Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, and he was a bit of an odd story. The recruiting services thought nothing of him -- Rivals had him as a three star, Scout as a two star -- but the SEC coaches loved him. He had a massive frame at over 6'7, and had good lateral quickness to boot. Most of the SEC's top programs looked at him and saw a star in the making if he could fill out his frame. He was pursued hard by Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina, but ultimately chose to stay close to home and committed to Alabama.
He redshirted his first season, and the coaching staff hoped he would compete with Chris Capps for the starting job at left tackle in 2005. Unfortunately, hamstring injuries prevented that from happening, and shortly after the conclusion of the 2005 season his shoulder injuries were becoming a major problem. He missed Spring practice after shoulder surgery, and played only sparingly in 2006. Unfortunately, things didn't get better from there. The shoulder pains persisted, and he missed the entire 2007 season. Late in the 2007, when updating the medical status of some players, Coach Saban said that Davis would be out, "Indefinitely, maybe longer," and that was pretty much the writing on the wall for Davis' playing career.
It's hard to blame either Stabler or Davis for their decisions. Both were once very promising prospects, and both have fought through a lot of pain and surgeries for several years in an attempt to play at this level. And it may not be done just yet, either. Stabler himself said that he was going to require at least one more knee surgery, and without seeing any official clarification one way or the other, Davis may very well require another shoulder surgery as well. For them, it's just the best decision. Both are on track to graduate, and there was really no reason to continue to fight though the pain and the surgeries just to return for senior years in which neither of them was likely to be healthy enough to see any significant amount of meaningful playing time. You can hardly blame either one for not trying to fight more pain and more surgeries just to, perhaps, get a few snaps in garbage time in the blowout games. It just works out well for them, they can finish up their degrees on the university's dime, and can do it without all of the pain and suffering involved in trying to play another year.
Things also work out pretty well for Alabama, too. Aside from opening up a couple of more scholarships for players who may be able to contribute, it will help us develop the younger offensive linemen as well. Again, neither Stabler nor Davis would have likely been healthy enough to see any meaningful playing time this Fall, and their continued presence would have done little more than take away reps from young players we are trying to develop. Though you certainly hate to see them go, particularly with the manner in which they had to leave, it really works out best for both parties in the long-run.
In the short-term, i.e. for Spring practice, this does create a bit of a concern, though. We now only have ten scholarship players on the offensive line -- Andre Smith, Drew Davis, Evan Cardwell, David Ross, Antoine Caldwell, William Vlachos, Marlon Davis, Mike Johnson, Taylor Pharr, and Patrick Crump. Unfortunately, Crump may miss some of the work in Spring practice because he has apparently had his knee scoped, and that would put us down to nine offensive linemen. Even to do basic scrimmage work under that scenario, we will have to lean heavily on walk-ons. It is good for development purposes that nearly every offensive linemen we have on scholarship will see a very large amount of reps, but the lack of depth on the offensive line may make the offense bog down and look pretty bad at times, particularly in the passing game where we will be breaking in an entirely new wide receiving corps, as well. And, of course, it may very well make some of our defensive linemen look like All-Americans at times, too. Perhaps we should not read too much into either event if they come to fruition.
Finally, speaking of things coming to fruition, this recent news is a confirmation of essentially what we have been saying for over a couple of months now. We had several players on the roster who had major medical question marks, and at least some of them were destined to be heading to a medical scholarship in the near future. And even with the recent news on Stabler and Davis, more are likely to follow. We will get an update on Chris Lett in about three weeks, but the general consensus at the moment is leaning towards a medical scholarship. Moreover, though we desperately need a healthy Zeke Knight in 2008, sigh, he just might not be able to go. And there may be a guy or two out there that we are missing, too. One article I read mentioned Will Oakley as a potential possibility, and though I know nothing definite on him, the point remains that another guy or two may be on the horizon.
At the very least, this almost certainly won't be the last you hear of medical scholarships between now and kick-off of the 2008 season.