Searching for relief

The nature of the position allows O-Linemen to play more downs than their defensive counterparts, but a certain amount of depth is still required--especially as a hedge against injury. <br><br>"Our starting offensive line should be a strength of the offense," Line Coach Bobby Connelly said. "But when the time comes and we need some depth or rest, then we can do that.

With three of five starters returning, two of which are pre-season All-Americans, Connelly isn't worried about his starting unit. "We don't have a lot of offensive linemen, but the ones we have are pretty good," he acknowledged. "But behind those five we're thin, so we've got to stay healthy. We've got to work hard and condition our bodies to play a 13-game season."

Right now Herrion projects to be Bama's principal backup at all four guard and tackle positions.

Heading into the season Justin Smiley, Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis have a virtual stranglehold on the starting jobs at left guard, left tackle and right tackle respectively. It's possible that things could change, but J.B. Closner and Dennis Alexander finished spring solidly ahead of the competition at center and right guard.

Taking into account all four starting positions, most teams prefer to work a minimum of 10 athletes in their defensive line rotation. But this season Bama isn't likely to go nearly that deep on offense.

Coach Bobby Connelly is counting on his starters to play the majority of downs in every game. Thankfully, the demands of the position don't make that out of the question. Connelly commented, "It's not that we don't expect our offensive linemen to run, because we will run as well. But it's a different game on the defensive line.

"Our athletes have got to do a good job in the off season building their bodies and conditioning their bodies to make it through. The players understand what's needed. They do a good job preparing themselves."

The concept of a "swing tackle" or "swing guard" is fairly common, where a team will use one player to back up on both the left and right sides. But this season Atlas Herrion is likely to be "swinging" all over the place, as Connelly plans to use the athletic senior as the primary backup at four different positions--both guard and tackle.

"You can list Atlas officially at left tackle, but he's going to back up several positions," Connelly said. "Atlas has moved back and forth from defense to offense during his career, so unfortunately he hasn't had as much technique training as some of the other guys. But he moves very well for a big kid. Atlas can do a lot of things."

Senior Matt Lomax should be the backup at center.

Bama's other main reserve will also be a senior. Matt Lomax can play either guard or center, but Connelly plans to utilize him mainly at the center spot. "Matt will be a senior, so he's a veteran player," Connelly said. "He gets going in the direction we need very fast."

Junior guard Danny Martz showed good improvement during spring drills. Unfortunately a leg problem required off-season surgery, which has hampered his summer conditioning. If he's recovered, Martz is a solid run blocker. "Danny had a good spring and got better every day," Connelly said.

Two redshirt sophomores are Alabama's only other returning scholarshipped linemen. Both Mark Sanders (6-6, 320) and Von Ewing (6-4, 312) look the part of college linemen, but strength and conditioning need to improve.

Each has the size to play tackle, but for now they're working at guard.

"Mark is a big kid that moves pretty well for a big man," Connelly said. "He's a guy that may end up being an outside guy. We may end up moving him to tackle, because of his size."

"Both Mark and Von need to continue to work in the weight room," Connelly continued, "but both have the athletic ability to give them a chance."

Help on the way? Travis West and Justin Moon will join the squad this fall.

True freshmen Travis West (6-4, 295), Justin Moon (6-6, 300) and Chris Capps (6-6, 260) join the squad this fall. West will likely play guard and Capps tackle. Moon could end up at either position. Virtually every O-Lineman in the country needs to redshirt his first season on campus. But with Bama's lack of depth on the offensive line, it's possible that a newcomer might be forced into action.

Walk-ons Cody Grammer (center) and Andy Harrison (guard) worked on the offensive line this past spring.

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