A new center of attention?

Football is the ultimate team game. When an individual plays well but his team loses, don't expect him to be happy. <br><br>So it was with center Matt Lomax.

Barring injury, backups on the offensive line don't often see much playing time. But Saturday Lomax actually ended up with more snaps than Bama's starter.

When asked to assess his individual performance, Lomax grudgingly replied. "Just looking at (my play), I guess I did pretty well. There were a couple of plays where I didn't do as good as I thought I should, but I had a pretty good performance."

Offensive Line Coach Bobby Connelly backed up that assessment. "Matt played well; he did a good job," Connelly said. "I told him that I was going to put him in for a couple of series. When I put him in he played well.

"There were some things that came up in the game that warranted him getting in some more, and he did a great job."

Quarterback Brodie Croyle says he has no preference. "It doesn't really make a difference to me," Croyle said. "You get used to both of them. I room with both of them. I room with J.B. and Matt. Matt played extremely well Saturday. You can't argue with results."

Lomax (#69) signals "Touchdown!" after Shaud Williams scored in the first half. (AP Photo)

Earlier in the week Connelly had informed Matt Lomax and starting center J.B. Closner of his plans. "He said that he was going to rotate J.B. and me, that he was going to put me in on the opening drive of the second and fourth quarter," Lomax related. "We had already set that, no matter what the situation was. It just happened that I got a little more playing time than that."

The final stats showed Lomax playing 30 offensive downs to Closner's 29. But coincidence or not, Bama seemed to perform better with the senior in the game. Sometimes an athlete is just playing so well that's it's hard to take him out.

"That's exactly right," Connelly said. "Matt went in and did some things we needed to get done. As a result, he played more."

"I did get on a roll a little bit," Lomax acknowledged. "Things were clicking, and I guess (Coach Connelly) just left me in there."

Every athlete wants to play as much as possible, but if you think Lomax is particularly happy over his individual play, you'd be sadly mistaken. The fifth-year senior learned long ago that team success is paramount.

Was it just a matter of not wanting to mess up what little positive chemistry was evident in an otherwise bad game?

"Apparently so," Lomax replied. "I guess I was doing pretty good and he wanted to keep me in there. After grading the film, Coach just said I had a ‘very solid' game. Those were his words: ‘really solid.' Not many mistakes."

Actually Connelly had intended to play Lomax more in recent games, but sometimes it's hard to substitute when a team is struggling.

Connelly explained, "We've been in some tight situations, some tight games coming into this past week. Matt has been working hard. He's been doing a good job. He's a senior. He deserves to play. He's doing good things when he does get in, and he's doing good things at practice.

"I apologized to him after a couple of games where I didn't get him in, and I told him ‘We're going to get you in regardless of the situation.'"

Croyle agrees with Connelly. "Matt's a guy that's been around here a long time and really worked hard," Croyle said. "He's getting some playing time now and really thriving when he does get in there."

More than any other position on a football team, chemistry is important on the offensive line. Did that have an effect? "It's important," Lomax replied, "but it's the same with J.B. as it is with me. It's really not any different. We were doing good while I was in there, so I don't think (Coach Connelly) wanted to change things up."

Closner is a redshirt sophomore, starting for the first time this year. So it's comforting to the Tide coaches to know they've got a veteran player ready to come in if needed. "You betcha; Matt's a good leader," Connelly said. "He's a smart kid. He gets us in the right situations and played a good game Saturday."

A highly sought after recruit out of high school, Lomax signed as an offensive tackle and has also worked at guard. Would he have preferred to have spent his entire career at center?

Lomax (#69) and Justin Smiley (#78) walk up to the line of scrimmage during Saturday's game. The fifth-year senior saw extensive action at center for the Tide.

"Not really; things just happen that way," Lomax responded. "In football funny things happen. I'm kind of reaping the benefits of it right now."

More than one person has suggested that Bama might be better off starting the senior over the sophomore, but Lomax wants no part of that argument.

"No; J.B. is our center," he said. "J.B. is our starting center, and he's going to be that this week."

Despite Lomax's best efforts, his team played poorly last week in losing on the road to Ole Miss. But he expects a better performance against Tennessee. "I think we've got a lot of growing up to do," Lomax said. "That showed up on Saturday.

"This week you're going to see a lot more leadership. You're definitely going to see a presence that you haven't seen the past few weeks."

The Tide coaches are calling for leadership from the squad. Will some of that responsibility fall to him?

"I'm a senior, so maybe so," Lomax said. "If I have the opportunity to do that and I feel the need for me to do so, then sure."

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