Left Tackle Will Have New Starter

When Sylvester Croom was head coach at Mississippi State, he was asked a question at Southeastern Conference Media Days about "left tackle, the most important position on the offensive line."

Sylvester Croom took a moment to question the premise before giving his answer. "I was a center my entire career," said the former Alabama star. "That's the most important position on the offensive line."

Nevertheless, left tackle does have lofty status in considering the offensive front. The left tackle is required to protect the blind side of a right-handed quarterback against the best pass rusher of the defense, and usually without aid of a tight end on the outside. The left tackle must be strong and agile in both mind and body.

The importance of left tackle particularly is true at Alabama this season as the Crimson Tide lost only one starter from the offensive front. James Carpenter spent two years at Bama, then was a first round NFL draft choice—as had been his predecessor, Andre Smith.

Is there another first round draft choice prepared to step in at left tackle for Bama in 2011?

The position was one of experimentation in the spring, which is not a great surprise. The offensive line has a new coach in Jeff Stoutland, who replaced highly-regarded Joe Pendry, who retired.

Alfred McCullough, a 6-2, 309-pound upcoming senior, has been the back-up at both left and right tackles the past two seasons. Nevertheless, Alabama Coach Nick Saban suggested McCullough's more natural position is probably guard.

Bama made an effort to fill the position with what Saban called "a short-term solution" in the person of junior college transfer Aaron Douglas. Douglas, 6-6, 290, started his college career at Tennessee, and was a starter at right tackle for the Vols as a freshman in 2009. He transferred to Arizona Western Community College, then entered Bama in January in order to participate in the off-season program and spring practice.

In the final week of spring practice, the number one left tackle was Barrett Jones, the Tide's all-star right guard the past two years. Jones, a 6-5, 301-pound junior, was selected as winner of the Dwight Stephenson Award as the most outstanding lineman in the A-Day Game.

(Croom would note that Stephenson was an All-America center at Alabama.)

A former Alabama coach said that Jones, a straight A student, is also brilliant on the football field, understanding the offensive concept at a level akin to that of a veteran quarterback. It is likely Bama coaches would have no hesitation to move Jones to left tackle, particularly since Anthony Steen, who was working behind Jones at right guard, had an outstanding spring.

Tyler Love came out of Mountain Brook High School as a can't miss offensive line star. To date, Love has not made a splash, perhaps owing to a rumored inability to gain weight. If he can be at the 300-pound level on his 6-6 frame, Love could be a factor in the tackle battle.

And, of course, it is possible that Bama is waiting the arrival of the next star left tackle. The premier signee in Alabama's 2011 recruiting class was Cyrus Kouandjio, the 6-5, 295-pound Scout five-star who was ranked the number one offensive lineman and number two overall prospect in the nation. Cyrus, whose brother Arie is a redshirt freshman right tackle candidate, is expected to vie for immediate playing time, and perhaps the starting job, at left tackle.

Although players will be in summer drills, the battle to replace Carpenter will begin with fall camp.

This is one of a series looking at Alabama football positions.

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