Ahead of schedule

Travis West didn't only have to get used to making the jump from high school to college--he also had to learn a totally new position. <br><br>After playing tackle for NW Jones High School in Laurel, Mississippi, West reported to camp, and was shifted to center, a position he had never played before.

Why? Even West doesn't know the answer to that. But he's just happy to be here.

"I'm just doing what I'm told," West said.

There is a huge difference between playing center and tackle, the position West played in high school.

Travis West (pictured as a prep senior at Alabama's football camp), can play any position on the offensive line, but for now he's working at center.

Offensive line coach Bob Connelly has taken a liking to West, saying that he has impressed him the most among the newcomers on the offensive line. Currently, West is battling for a second-string position with Matt Lomax behind J.B. Closner.

"Travis has some natural ability," Connelly said. "He's a tough kid, very physical, and he's intense. He's playing through some pain, doing a great job learning the system, and working his tail off."

"Snapping the ball is the hardest part," West said. "Everything happens a lot quicker at center. At tackle, you have a lot more time to react and set yourself. Everybody's a lot closer to you at center and you're bunched in with the guards."

West has adjusted to the game well enough to garner quality repetitions in practice, even though this offensive system is head and shoulders above the one he worked under in high school.

"Its pretty tough," West said. "Everything's a lot quicker, a lot of calls have to be made, and the playbook is two inches thick. Considering we ran 10 plays in high school, it's been tough picking it up. Now there's probably 45 run plays and 30 different protections."

Line coach Bobby Connelly is working to develop reliable depth behind his starters.

As for his strengths?

"At center I don't think I have any yet," West admitted candidly. "Once I get my hands on somebody he's mine, it's just a matter of getting there."

The tradition of the University of Alabama lured West here, but it also helped that West has been an Alabama fan his whole life. He committed early under Dennis Franchione, but never wavered after Franchione bolted for Texas A&M.

"It was tough, but everyone goes through adversity," West said. "I gave my word, and when you give your word, you keep it."

Connelly thinks it's best to redshirt his true freshman offensive lineman, although there have been successful ones in the past. Dante Ellington's best season for the Crimson Tide came in 1999, when he started as a true freshman right tackle in the Tide's SEC Championship season. Connelly also saw Nick Mihlhauser play last season as a true freshman in Washington State's Rose Bowl season. He doesn't like to play true freshman unless injuries force open a position, which was a case with Mihlhauser.

"Ideally I'd like to redshirt every freshman that I have to give them the opportunity to get bigger, stronger, and faster," Connelly said. "The jump from high school to college especially for lineman is so big. They need time to learn the system and get bigger and stronger, because they're going to be blocking grown men that are 21-22 years old that have been in the weight room for 4-5 years. Needless to say they've got to learn a system in two-a-days. We don't have them until they get here in camp."

West (#76) and fellow freshman Justin Moon (#71) warm up before practice.

As for West's beliefs on sitting out this season, they are pretty clear.

"I think I'll be redshirting this year," West said. "I'm not ready yet."

What West is ready for is the benefits of using this season as a redshirt year.

"A lot more experience, you get to work against one of the best defenses in the SEC (every day in practice)," West said. "That can't do anything but make you better."

EDITOR'S NOTE: If senior center Matt Lomax can begin the season full speed, then it's unlikely West would be used this year. But clearly the Tide coaches need a reliable backup in case of an injury to starter J.B. Closner.

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