Surgery on Wesley Britt's broken leg was successful, but the big left tackle is obviously out for the season. That leaves just three full-time starters available, Justin Smiley (left guard), Evan Mathis (right tackle and Dennis Alexander (right guard).
What happens now, Coach?
"We have to just keep working at what we're doing," Bobby Connelly responded. "We challenged a lot of guys early on when I first arrived in January to be able to play multiple positions. We've done that. We've worked that through two-a-days and early camp and now during the fall."
If the players had worked at just one position, then moving to a different slot might be a problem. But Connelly has forced Bama's linemen to be versatile. He explained, "Right guard has to be able to play center and left guard. Right tackle has to be able to play left tackle."
Formerly Bama's designated "sixth man" on the offensive line, fifth-year senior Atlas Herrion takes over at left tackle. "We obviously took a hit losing Wes," Connelly said. "That's unfortunate for all of us. But as I've said since Day One, Atlas Herrion is very capable of stepping in and filling Wesley's shoes. We've been very pleased with him."
Herrion had worked mainly this season as a backup at right tackle, but in truth the versatile athlete was the designated reserve at every line spot except center. Now Herrion will be able to concentrate on one job only.
"I don't think it changes his preparation any," Connelly said of Herrion. "Actually, it'll be easier for him. Now he can settle down and know that he's the guy. He's the left tackle. He'll get most of the reps (in practice) there. In the past we've had to bounce him around as the swing guy. He is able to play every position. He played a lot at right tackle. I've had him playing some center in practice. He's played both guard spots, both tackles."
There's some truth to the adage "Jack of all trades, master of none," but now "starting left tackle" can be stenciled on Herrion's helmet. "Being the guy at the left tackle spot will help him a little," Connelly explained. "He'll concentrate strictly on that position as opposed to a possible right tackle, right guard, left guard, whatever the case may be."
Matt Lomax will now assume the role of "sixth man." Lomax started last week at center, but the fifth-year senior also has spent time at tackle and guard. Von Ewing will get tackle reps in practice and might see game action in a reserve role, but if injury strikes again Lomax would play the position.
"Matt Lomax has tackle experience," Connelly said. "He could play there for us in an emergency situation. He's been here for five years, and he's played tackle before. If we had another injury, he'd probably be the next guy to move out there and play that position.
"Matt's a veteran. He's doing a good job at center. We have guys moving around that are able to play a lot of positions."
Smiley is now recovered from the foot injury that hampered him earlier in the season, and Alexander's ankle problem appears to be okay. Junior Danny Martz has played well at guard in a backup role, and sophomore Mark Sanders could help if needed. So the Tide is in better shape at the inside positions.
"We've got some depth among our inside guys," Connelly said. "Mark Sanders is a guy that hasn't played for us yet, but is capable. Danny Martz has played. He played 30+ snaps last week, had a good game and played well. Lomax played quite a bit at the center position. So we've got some guys that are good enough to step up and fill some positions."
Lomax started ahead of J.B. Closner last week at center, but Closner was in the game more. "J.B. played about 25 more snaps than Matt did," Connelly said. "And he played well.
"We're just trying to keep everyone healthy, move them around and keep fresh legs as best we can. Go out and give us an opportunity to win some games."
Connelly is crossing his fingers that the injury bug is finished with his troops. But if adversity strikes again, he's not going to panic.
He concluded, "Ideally we stay healthy with the rest of the guys, and we're fine. But if something happens to another guy, we'll have somebody there.