News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Walker sees improvement as tight end

By Josh Cooper 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — So you're a tight end and your coaches tell you to lower your weight from 280 pounds to 240 during the offseason. Supposedly, if you do this, you'll gain speed and catch more passes.

And after making five catches for 40 yards and a touchdown Saturday against Western Carolina, you might think your coach would laud your improved pass-catching ability.

But if you're Alabama's Nick Walker and your coach is Nick Saban, you would be wrong. Blocking — that's Saban's primary concern about his tight ends.

"I think he's improved his blocking in terms of toughness and aggressiveness," Saban said. "This is what he's improved on since we've been here, and we're pleased with his progress."

Walker said he and tight ends coach Ron Middleton have worked on staying low to the ground when blocking.

"The low man is going to win," Walker said.

Middleton also taught Walker, a junior, how to use his hands and his hips to fend off players.

"If you're ever going to be able to run the ball effectively, you've got to have a tight end that can block," Saban said. "That certainly helps."

However, Saban doesn't ignore the tight end as part of the passing attack.

Walker dropped the weight to prepare for a larger role as a pass catcher in Saban's offense, and he often found himself the target of John Parker Wilson's throws Saturday.

Walker bested his 2006 total of three catches by the third quarter.

He showed his mobility
by making an athletic,
leaping 1-yard touchdown reception.

Fellow tight end Travis McCall — who slimmed down to 250 pounds from 270 last year — also got into the act with one reception for 8 yards.

Former coach Mike Shula's passing attack featured receivers DJ Hall and Keith Brown, but Saban wants Wilson throwing to as many targets as possible, and the tight ends are a big part of that.

"The more guys you throw to, the better," Wilson said. "If you throw to Terry (Grant) out of the backfield, or if we throw to the tight end, it opens it up for the receivers. So, it helps our whole offense that we have more guys we can get it to."

The increased responsibility has boosted Walker's motivation.

He is no longer a decoy and realizes that he has a real chance to be a part of the offense as a playmaker, not just a blocker.

"Knowing that you possibly can get the ball and not just running routes as a decoy, it makes your level of play go higher," Walker said.

"It makes you enjoy playing a game."

On Saturday, at Vanderbilt, something else will boost Walker's motivation — three buses traveling from his hometown of Brundidge in Southeast Alabama to Nashville.

Vanderbilt's quarterback, Chris Nickson is Walker's cousin and a Brundidge native as well.

Bragging rights will be on
the line between the two relatives.

The three vehicles will
carry family members and friends.

According to Walker, most of the people in those buses will be rooting for Nickson.

After all, he is the quarterback.

But unlike last season's Vanderbilt-Alabama game, when Walker didn't have a catch, those who make the trip might see both family members make important plays.

"Hopefully, I can break a big one," Walker said. "I want to break a big one."

Vanderbilt at Alabama

11:30 a.m.

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