O-Linemen will lead the way

Asked to name positives about this year's team, Head Coach Mike Shula again listed the offensive line as a reason why he feels comfortable heading into the season. <br><br>Every starter has a legitimate chance to play on Sundays, with two already essentially certain to be drafted.

(Above left) Sophomore center J.B. Closner jogs off the practice field. A backup to Alonzo Ephraim last season, Closner now has the center position all to himself. According to his teammates, he's smart and a fierce competitor who plays with a mean streak--excellent qualities for a center.

Junior left guard Justin Smiley talks with the media following practice. From the moment he arrived on campus, the Tide coaches knew they had something special in Justin Smiley. He was named All-SEC after last year. This year Sports Illustrated, and other organizations, have designated h im a pre-season All-America.

Alabama's starting unit mimics their blocking assignments during warm-ups for last week's scrimmage. Left to Right: Evan Mathis (#51), Dennis Alexander (#73), J.B. Closner (#74), Justin Smiley (#78) and Wesley Britt (#70). Like Smiley, Britt was both All-SEC last year and has received pre-season recognition for All-America.

Evan Mathis leaves the field following practice. Mathis still suffers from significant pain from off-season leg surgery to repair a stress fracture. It limited him somewhat during fall camp, making him vulnerable to a challenge from Atlas Herrion for his starting job. But Mathis managed to hold onto the position.

It's an old but good photo of David Cavan (Cavan now wears No. 87 and his hair is longer this year). A very good pass receiver and much improved blocker, Cavan finished fall camp as the Tide's top tight end.

After practice, Herrion, Smiley, Britt and Closner work on their conditioning by running wind sprints. Given his size (6-8, 315), Britt runs amazingly well. The same is true of Herrion (6-4, 286), who will function as the Tide's primary reserve for the entire offensive line.

Fifth-year senior Dennis Alexander will start at right guard. After dropping significant weight from winter to fall, Alexander is in the best shape of his football life and poised for an excellent final season.

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