Smiley anxious to battle UCLA

Like most offensive lineman, freshman guard Justin Smiley loves getting dirty, but he doesn't care if you notice him or not. "My favorite part (about being an offensive lineman) is -- and I know it sounds kind of weird-- you don't get any glory," Smiley says. "You're not the one who makes the touchdowns. But everybody knows that without us it's not possible.

"It makes you feel good because play after play you're battling in the trenches. It's a war. And then at the end of the game, you're like, 'Hey, we won that war.'"

However, many critics are worried that Smiley and the rest of the Bama linemen may not win those wars come game time because of their youth and inexperience. Smiley isn't foreign to that bit of criticism, either.

"I think it's opened up a lot of people's eyes," Smiley said. "They're like, 'Hey, it's time to step in.' We have nobody that's a veteran. We've got a fresh line. You can't ease into it; you're just thrown into it."

A power-lifting champion in high school, Smiley already owns the position record for the hang clean after only his first year on campus.

He was also quick to point out that this line has come along quickly now that they've learned the system. "I think the offensive line is coming a long way," Smiley said. "At first, we didn't know our assignment, so we weren't quite as physical because we didn't know what our assignments were.

"But now that we know that, we're coming off the ball, flying off the ball and being physical. And that's the main part of being an offensive lineman is being physical."

That physical aspect of the job is one of Smiley's strong suits. He has set two records for offensive linemen by lifting 380 pounds in the hang and clean and by vertical jumping 32.5 inches.

Possibly due to his physical prowess, Smiley said he thinks the physical aspect is not the most difficult part of his job. "Honestly, I think the mental aspect of being an offensive lineman is the toughest part," Smiley said. "Because once you learn your technique and learn your assignments, you can play physical.

"But if you don't, you're busy thinking about what you got to do, thinking about your assignments. And you're kind of sitting back on your heels, and you're not going full speed."

And with only a few practices remaining before the season opener Sept. 1 at Bryant-Denny Stadium against UCLA, Smiley says the Tide is ready to shift into a higher gear.

Part of that focus is due to the relentless prodding of Coach Dennis Franchione. "Coach Fran was like, 'There's going to be some trouble if you don't come up with some enthusiasm'," Smiley said after Monday's scrimmage. "And everybody kind of realized that by this time next week we'll be getting ready to play UCLA. I think everybody's realizes that it's time to play.

"It's not practice anymore."


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