What about the offense?

As the Tide begins fall practice, all eyes will be focusing on the offense, wondering what it will look like and whether or not new Head Coach Mike Shula and new Coordinator Dave Rader can possibly get an efficient attack installed in only three weeks. <br><br>All-American guard Justin Smiley responds to fan concerns about the offense.

Brodie Croyle got playing time last season, but overall Bama's quarterbacks are a frighteningly inexperienced group?

Justin Smiley: "It's a concern, but a lot of teams are faced with that problem. Our quarterbacks get plenty of reps against a really good defense every day in practice. You can't get experience unless you get the chance. Brodie is learning the offense every day.

"He'll face an excellent defense every day in practice. So it's not like there is going to be any difference into talent once the season begins."

Brodie Croyle in action (Associated Press)

Is Croyle big enough to withstand the hits he'll have to take during the season?

Smiley: "He's over 200 pounds now. Brodie is much stronger this year, and he's much wiser. I believe he's got the strongest arm in the SEC. He's primed and ready for a good year. I really believe that eventually his name will be up there with all the greats here at ‘Quarterback U.'

"Besides, it starts up front with the offensive line. We'll have a pretty good one this season. He'll be all right."

No question they're talented, but Bama's returning tailbacks are all on the small side. Can they hold up?

Smiley: "Of course they can hold up. In fact we're stacked at tailback. We may not have a 6-4, 260-pound power-back. But our guys are good.

"Actually a smaller running back can work to our advantage. We've got a big offensive line. The running backs can get behind our big guys and find seams. With their speed, they can hit those seams for big plays. Take Arkansas last year for example, Shaud broke it on them big right off the bat. I think our tailbacks are an advantage for us."

Shaud Williams (Barry Fikes photo)

Your several senior wideouts are all talented, but none of them have put up big numbers. None showed up on any pre-season all-star lists.

Smiley: "That's not a problem. There are a lot of athletes that are relatively unknown heading into a season that end up doing well. When (tight end) Kellen Winslow played behind Jeremy Shockey at Miami, nobody knew who he was. But Kellen was at the pre-season Playboy All-American festivities with me. And before last season he had no playing time.

"We have great athletes (at receiver), but it's hard to get everybody on the team exposure. With a good year in this system, some of those receivers will get their justice.

How can the offensive line replace quality players like Marico Portis and Alonzo Ephraim?

Smiley: "You can't replace those two. Those guys were amazing and both are getting a chance to play in ‘The League' right now. But we have quality guys that can fill their shoes. J.B. (Closner) and Dennis (Alexander) are going to be good. In fact, Dennis has a chance at a career at the next level, and J.B.'s going to be a good one. It's just up to them.

Dennis Alexander

"Partly the transition will depend on how we balance the workload. If you've got a new guard playing beside a good tackle, then you'll be fine. Across the board on the line we'll be all right."

Your position coach, Bobby Connelly, is known for his work on a passing team. Will Alabama be able to run the football this year?

Smiley: "Oh, of course! Without giving away our game plan, that's a given. The new coaches know what our strengths are. We've been at the top of the SEC in rushing these last couple of years. They know what we can do. You can't get away from running the football, especially in games like Oklahoma where you know you've got to be able to play power football.

"I'm happy we've been able to learn more pass-blocking techniques from Coach Connelly. He's a technician. That's what (our offensive line) needed--some fine tuning. We'll only be better because of his influence."

At center, J.B. Closner has never started in the SEC. Is he ready?

Smiley: "I don't worry about J.B. at all. This guy has put in so much work and effort. He works out with me every day (in the weight room). J.B. is a specimen. He's actually more athletic than Alonzo was, and he works just as hard. In time I think he'll be a leader just like Alonzo was. He'll be fine.

J.B. Closner

"We've got to help him out, but he's got to lead the offense. He'll be calling the (blocking schemes) for the offensive line. He'll do a good job."

Is "Big D" (Dennis Alexander) too big to compete effectively in the SEC?

Smiley: "(One day last week) after we finished running Dennis weighed 328 pounds. He's lost 30-something pounds the past few months. He's been amazing. You can't say enough about how much work and effort Dennis has put into getting ready for the season. He's ready for a good year. We work offensive line drills on our own every day. He's out there leading the offensive line.

"This is his senior year. Dennis has started before. It's not his first rodeo. This season will be his turn to shine."

With so much emphasis in the spring on pass blocking, did the offensive line become soft?

Smiley (laughing): "Anybody that would say that obviously doesn't know our offensive linemen. Look back at our careers. Plus, you can be a good pass protector without being soft. You can be physical in your ‘punch.' We work on that.

New O-Line Coach Bobby Connelly

"We take pride in being physical but also being agile enough to play with the quick defensive tackles. The extra work on pass-blocking will work to our advantage."

Outsiders see all the change and turmoil that Alabama has gone through the past several months and conclude this team can't be good. Your reaction?

Smiley: "We've been through so much already. We can cope. Personally I don't even think about it. I don't ever think about (Dennis Franchione and Mike Price) leaving unless somebody brings it up. I hadn't thought about them in at least two months until you just said that.

"That's our mindset. We've been through trials and tribulations here. Honestly, a lot of what has happened didn't even really register, because we've been through so much. All of it will just make us stronger. We've been through adversity and endured. Our team is stronger because of it."


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