O-Line dominates conversation

With his offensive line depleted by injuries, finding enough warm bodies to take the field Saturday against Mississippi State has been a concern for the Alabama staff.

"Even though our numbers are down, we have guys we feel comfortable with," Tide Head Coach Mike Shula said, "even if we have to move them around.

Left tackle Wesley Britt is out for the year with a broken leg, and right guard Dennis Alexander is still hobbled by an ankle injury. In their absence Atlas Herrion and Danny Martz have gotten plenty of work at practice.

"Atlas is obviously going to start at left tackle," Shula said. "We're not sure with Dennis. If Dennis can't go then Danny Martz has had a good week. Dennis is actually doing a little bit better than maybe I would have thought two days ago."

If Alexander can't play, then Bama's starting offensive line will sport Evan Mathis and Herrion at tackle, J.B. Closner at center, and Justin Smiley and Martz at guard. Fifth-year senior Matt Lomax would then be the only experienced reserve on the roster.

"Matt has been everywhere this week," Shula said. "He's been at tackle, at center and he's taken his turn at guard. That's the good thing about the guys we've got. They can play different positions. In an emergency Danny can play tackle. Matt can play tackle, center and guard. Atlas can play guard or tackle."

Up to now Martz has not been a starter, but the junior guard has actually played quite a bit this season. "Danny has had more playing time than people realize," Shula said. "I'm not sure fans know how much he's been in there, especially the past few weeks."

Saturday's game against Mississippi State will be the 88th meeting between these two border rivals. This will be Alabama's first trip to Starkville since 2000 as the two teams played in Tuscaloosa the last two years due to a scheduling quirk.

Handling the announcing duties for Jefferson Pilot Sports' 11:30 kickoff are Dave Neal (play-by-play), Dave Rowe (analyst) and Dave Baker (sideline). The game will also be aired over the radio airwaves on the 80-plus station Crimson Tide Sports Network with Eli Gold (play-by-play), Kenny Stabler (color analyst) and Tom Roberts (sidelines) describing the action.

Tight end Clint Johnston still suffers problems from a pinched nerve, and it's not likely he'll play Saturday. "Clint's situation will be tough," Shula said. "Of the injured guys, he's probably the furthest away."

The good news is that most of Bama's injured players on defense are now healthy. For the first time in awhile Bama's original starting defensive unit should be full speed.

"Defensively I think we should be pretty healthy," Shula said.

Reserve linebacker Juwan Garth has not recovered from a quadriceps injury and will probably miss Saturday's game. "Terrence Jones will see more time if Juwan can't go," Shula said. "And he'll be on special teams, too."

In Bama's most recent game against Tennessee, cornerback Anthony Madison suffered a blow to the chest and had some trouble breathing. In his place fifth-year senior David Scott took over and played well. But Shula said not to expect any change in the starting unit. "David Scott will play a lot. At cornerback the last two weeks we've rotated more guys in. But we won't change our starters."

Shula said that both freshmen fullbacks, Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille, had a good week of practice. Against Tennessee Castille got his first two carries of the season, scoring on a 12-yard touchdown run in overtime.

"Tim was looking for those fullback carries to see if they were in the game plan, more so than he has in the past," Shula joked.

Special Teams Coordinator Dave Ungerer has given extra attention to his snap/hold combination for placekicks the past two weeks. Nick Ridings will continue to handle long-snapping duties, but Alex Fox has gotten a long look holding along with former starter Gabe Giardina.

Shula commented, "It's been good. We've worked both guys at holder. I'm not sure what we're going to do. We'll probably wait and tell them tomorrow."

Miscues getting the ball placed down properly have cost Bama dearly in recent games. "Every day we practice it," Shula said. "We try to go full speed with our first team. At times it's good, at times it's not good enough. We go ones on ones to simulate (game action). Obviously we've got to get better at that."

Shula also announced game captains for Saturday: DeMeco Ryans (special teams), David Cavan (offense) and Roman Harper (defense).


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