Tide Still Must Have Right Guard

Early analysis of the 2011 Alabama football team was not expended greatly on the right guard position. After all, the Crimson Tide had an All-America returning for his third year as a starter at the position.

But a funny thing happened late in Alabama spring practice. Coach Nick Saban and his staff elected to experiment with returning right guard Barrett Jones at left tackle.

Along with center, left tackle is considered the most important offensive line position. In truth, every offensive line position is important. A quarterback sack is as damaging coming from the opposing left side as it is the right, from the middle as well as the outside.

With James Carpenter completing his eligibility and moving on to the National Football League, Bama looked at a handful of candidates at left tackle in the spring, the most prominent being Jones, a 6-5, 301-pound upcoming junior.

Various dynamics are at work. "We always want to try to play our five best players on the offensive line," Saban said. "It has to fit."

Saban is not in a rush. As he pointed out, "I'm not in the prediction business. We've got a summer and 29 practices before we play a game, and a couple games, probably to sort it out, too, and see how we play."

Alabama returns starters William Vlachos (6-1, 289, senior) at center, Chance Warmack (6-3, 310, junior) at left guard, and D.J. Fluker 6-6, 330, sophomore) at right tackle.

If one of the other options at left tackle works out, Jones will be back at right guard. There's no doubt about Jones's ability at that position. The Memphis native was a Freshman All-America in 2009 as he started every game in Bama's undefeated national championship season. Last year he was first team All-Southeastern Conference and third team All-America. He is considered a pre-season All-America this year.

though he had barely a week of practice at left tackle in the spring, Jones would have to be considered a leader for that position. Then what for right guard?

Top candidate is Anthony Steen, a 6-3, 292-pound sophomore. In the spring, Saban said Steen "has done a really god job of pressing the guys at guard."

Steen, who played at Lee Academy in Lambert, Miss., took over for Jones in the first half of the Mississippi State game when Jones suffered a severe ankle sprain. Steen, one of the strongest players on the team, then started three games at the end of the 2011 season–Georgia State, Auburn, and the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State.

John Michael Boswell has a lot of offensive line experience. The 6-5, 300-pound senior from Northport, has been a regular reserve the past three years, playing primarily at tackle positions. He was Freshman All-SEC in 2008. Boswell has seen action in 28 games in his Crimson Tide career.

Senior Alfred McCullough (6-2, 309), a back-up tackle the past two years, may be better suited to guard, Saban has said. Saban said, "We haven't had the opportunity yet to play him inside much, but we certainly could."

Saban is also looking for back-ups. "I think the depth of the offensive line is a little better, a little more experienced, than it was a year ago," he said. "We shouldn't get in the situation next year where we have three redshirt freshmen playing in the game."

This is one in a series looking at each position for the upcoming Alabama football season.

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