Vlachos Nervous As Kent State Nears

Not many Alabama football fans are nervous about the first game of the season. The Crimson Tide, expected to be one of the nation's top teams, opens against a team from the Mid-American Conference (MAC), which would be considered a step down from the Southeastern Conference.

But Alabama center William Vlachos is nervous about Kent State. Bama hosts the Golden Flashes at 11:21 a.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The SEC Network will televise the game regionally.

Vlachos, the pre-season All-SEC center and a Rimington Award candidate as the nation's best center, will be starting for the third year when Bama opens the 2011 season. He has played in college football games at the highest level. So what's to be nervous about?

"It's kind of weird," said the 6-1, 294-pound senior from Mountain Brook. "I'm really not in my comfort zone unless I'm nervous – as weird as that sounds. Yeah, I always get pretty nervous. But we've played at a lot of places and played against a lot of people. That's comforting. I've always got to compete the same. Whoever you're playing you've got to bring your best."

There are a number of new players on Alabama's offense this year, though the offensive line returns relatively intact. The offensive line has a new coach, though, in Jeff Stoutland. Stoutland replaced the veteran Joe Pendry, who retired following last season.

"He's similar to Coach Pendry," Vlachos said of Stoutland. "He's a younger guy, so he's going to yell more than Coach Pendry yelled. But as far as their understanding of Xs and Os and how to coach a player, they're very similar. They expect you to know what to do all the time, no matter what comes out. And they want your best effort every time. He doesn't accept you taking a play off, no matter if it's a bootleg or something. You're never taking a play off with him. He's always on you about it. That's what we need – a guy that expects us to bring our best effort every time and to know what we're doing every time.

Four of the five starting offensive linemen from last season are back in 2011. The one loss is left tackle James Carpenter, who went to the NFL. The offense will be missing some other key players, including former Heisman Trophy winning tailback Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones, and quarterback Greg McElroy.

"It's hard to replace a Heisman Trophy winner," Vlachos said. "Luckily we got another guy back there that's pretty good. You notice their absence. We lost great players. But we recruited so well the last couple years that we have good players that maybe haven't played as much that are looking forward to stepping up and playing good football for us."

Vlachos said that Alabama will want to show its identity in the first game. "We're here to run the ball," he said. "That's what we always shoot for – a power-running team that wins on the line of scrimmage and a quarterback who can make all the plays. I think we need to come out early and set the tone up front. That's help everyone else do his job."

Vlachos doesn't underestimate the abilities of running backs like Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, but says the job has to be done by the offensive line for it all to work. For the past two years Vlachos has had all-star Barrett Jones beside him at right guard. When Bama begins play Saturday, it is likely that Jones will be at left tackle. Chance Warmack is back at left guard and Anthony Steen has moved into Jones's right guard spot.

"I miss him, but we've got two really talented guards that are absolute road graders," Vlachos said. "Barrett's been playing guard some, too. But I think the inside three, the chemistry has continued to improve. We're doing well. We just need to keep doing what we're doing and get a couple games under our belt and see what happens."

The center ordinarily plays a key role for the offense in that he identifies the defensive front for the blocking scheme. Earlier this year, Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain said that the ability of Vlachos to make those calls is a help to young quarterbacks, A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims.

Vlachos said, "What's helped me the most is not only the games I've started but going against our defense for so long. They have everything in their blitz packages. I think it's just my experience that's allowed me to do that."

That work starts Saturday against Kent State.

"They're really good," said Vlachos. "They're top 10 nationally in defense last year – might be top five in a couple categories. They're a talented team. So we're prepared for that. We're ready. It's always – I think we had the same situation last year – it's always kind of iffy going into a game when you're not sure what they're going to do, based on new coaches being over there.

"But that also puts an emphasis on us, understanding all the concepts of the game plan no matter what they come out with. It's got its pros and cons. It's helped us up front knowing exactly what we've got to do no matter what they come out in."

That doesn't sound like a man who is nervous.

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