The Tide's frontline players, including the five starters and two key reserves, are both talented and experienced--easily among the best in the conference.
But unfortunately, depth is at a premium.
Three starters from last year's excellent unit return. Juniors Wesley Britt, Justin Smiley and Evan Mathis have started alongside each other in virtually every game they've played at Alabama. Britt and Smiley were both Freshman All Americans two years ago, and following last season the two line mates made several All-SEC squads. Heading into this season both athletes can claim pre-season All America honors.
Compared to his two teammates, Mathis does not receive his share of credit. Two stress fractures in two seasons, first to one leg and then the other hampered his production. But the nephew of former Tide great Bob Baumhower is a quality athlete in his own right. A former heavyweight state champion in wrestling, Mathis is one of the top all-around athletes on the squad.
Right guard and center will sport new starters this year, but both slots appear in good hands. Former starter Dennis Alexander grabbed the guard spot early last spring and hasn't let go. A mammoth player, Alexander has been on a mission to lose weight and so far is accomplishing his goal. "Big D" is determined to make his final college season his best.
At center, sophomore J.B. Closner promises to be very good. Smart and athletic, he backed up All-SEC center Alonzo Ephraim last season and has so far managed to hold off senior Matt Lomax for first-string. Closner is fiercely competitive. His teammates report that he plays with a mean streak, which is very much a good thing for an offensive lineman.
Besides Lomax (who could also play guard with no problem), fifth-year senior Atlas Herrion will probably be Bama's "sixth man" next season. Athletic enough to play on the defensive line, Bobby Connelly (the Tide's offensive line coach) isn't about to give Herrion up to defense. Herrion redshirted last season so he would be available this year, and now that appears to have been a brilliant decision. Herrion will be the principal backup at both offensive tackle and guard.
Behind those seven players, injuries and inexperience plague Alabama's remaining offensive linemen.
Guard Danny Martz had a solid spring, but knee surgery has sidelined him since. His rehab is progressing well, but until he actually returns to the playing field full speed Martz will remain a question mark. When healthy, Martz's strength is as a run blocker.
Redshirt sophomores, Mark Sanders (6-6, 320) and Von Ewing (6-4, 312) still need to make significant progress in the weight room. Both look the part of collegiate linemen, but it takes more than a big frame to compete successfully along the line of scrimmage in the SEC. Sanders and Ewing both finished spring at guard. If he develops, Sanders could be moved to offensive tackle.
The recent news that Grant Dickey and Boone Stutz are likely to transfer drained even further an already shallow O-Line depth chart. Walk-ons Cody Grammer (6-3, 268) and Andy Harrison (6-1, 275) suddenly become even more valuable. Both are best suited to play on the inside. Grammer finished spring at center with Harrison at guard.
Without including the true freshmen, Bama's current depth chart is barely more than two-deep.
- Wesley Britt
- Atlas Herrion
- Justin Smiley
- Danny Martz
- Andy Harrison
- J.B. Closner
- Matt Lomax
- Cody Grammer
- Dennis Alexander
- Mark Sanders
- Evan Mathis
- Von Ewing
For the Tide to have any chance of repeating last season's 10-win success, fans everywhere should start praying now for the continued health of the frontline players. In regard to the 2003 Alabama offensive line, the term "Iron Men" should take on new meaning.