Leave him in the game

Alabama's coaches are making a concerted effort to play more back-ups this season, but you couldn't tell it by Wesley Britt. Bama's starting left tackle was on the field for every snap last Saturday, including several on special teams. <br><br>"I don't want to come off the field," Britt said Sunday. "That's the mentality I have."

Often called upon to be "Iron Men," offensive linemen are used to playing for most of the game. But to build depth and keep his men fresh, line coach Bobby Connelly has substituted at right tackle, center and right guard this season.

But the left side of the line--where twin All-Americans Britt and Justin Smiley roam--has been left out.

One of the brightest players on the team, Wesley Britt is a popular interview request for the media. He's set to graduate with his undergraduate degree this December. If Britt returns for his final season in 2004, it will be as a graduate student.

"No, I haven't been substituted for yet," Britt said laughing. "Me and Smiley are the only ones. We kind of stay out there the whole game.

"I want to be on the field every play."

Matched up last Saturday against a speedy Sooner defensive line, Britt more than held his own. But winning individual battles isn't good enough. "I expected us to beat Oklahoma," he stated flatly. "I really did. We were in a position to win that game."

Bama's linemen played hard, but they were facing what many pundits say is the most talented defense in college football. During the game Oklahoma accumulated five quarterback sacks, and Bama's Brodie Croyle was hit more times than that.

Britt commented, "You win some, you lose some, but I think we matched up well against Oklahoma--doggone well. We were battling against the best team in the nation all night, and I think we held our own."

Last year's Tide line was very good, especially effective in the run game. Two starters (Alonzo Ephraim and Marico Portis) from that unit are now playing in the NFL. In their stead Dennis Alexander and J.B. Closner work at right guard and center respectively. In Saturday's game, senior Matt Lomax played extensively at center in the second half.

Shown protecting his quarterback versus Ole Miss, Britt's long arms, tall frame and excellent strength make him a prototype pass blocker. (UA Photo)

"We're doing good things," Britt said of his line mates. "We've been playing really well together. We've been picking up things.

"Of course we can always get better. There are some pass-block things we need to pick up better."

Fifth-year senior Dennis Alexander worked extremely hard in the off-season to lose weight and prepare for the season. "Big D" played extensively early in his career, and so far in 2003 he's done very well, earning team honors for his play versus South Florida.

"Dennis is doing an excellent job for us," Britt said. "He cares a lot. He brings a lot of leadership on the field."

In his third year on campus, Closner has been asked to step in as the starting center. Long-term he has very good potential, but he's still learning the position. Matched up Saturday against Sooner All-America defensive tackle Tommie Harris, Closner sometimes struggled.

Britt had good things to say about his teammate. "J.B. has done a good job, stepping up to the plate. Of course there are some things he needs to work on. You can always get better. But he works hard to get better every day."

Two years ago, then redshirt freshmen Britt, Smiley and Evan Mathis took over as starters. Unfortunately, Mathis struggled with injuries the past two years. This fall pain from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg has been a problem, but versus the Sooners he took the great majority of snaps.

"If (the injury) still bothers him, he doesn't let anyone know," Britt said. "Evan is doing fine."

In a departure from recent years, reserve linemen Matt Lomax, Atlas Herrion and Danny Martz have all seen action this season.

Britt looks for someone to block. He was selected last season to the post-season All-SEC squad. (UA Photo)

In Bama's season-opening win over South Florida, Herrion actually took more snaps at right tackle than Mathis. "Atlas especially is a really good lineman," Britt said. "He's as talented as any of the five that are starting."

Martz had his own leg injury to overcome. But following surgery this past spring, he's worked himself back to the point where he can provide valuable relief minutes at guard. "Danny's a good player," Britt said. "He may be a starter for us one day."

Alabama played the nation's top-ranked team tough, but a loss is still a loss. As its conference schedule begins, the Tide's record stands at 1-1.

But Britt doesn't think it'll stay that way for long. "If we continue to get better and continue to work like we are, then we shouldn't lose another game."

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