Offensive Line Shake-Up

It has been many years since there was very much experimentation with drastic personnel changes during an Alabama spring football practice, but the offensive line will get a shake up this year. Among other changes, a couple of defensive linemen are expected to move to offense. Spring practice begins Saturday, February 21.

It is obvious that the staff of Alabama Coach Mike Shula was thinking about more than just recruiting over the past couple of months. While the recruiting efforts have been lauded, has learned that the head coach has had his assistants looking at possible changes. This staff was not together with the players last spring. This spring will be very important, particularly for the offensive line.

Alabama lost two starters from last year's front five on offense. Right guard Dennis Alexander completed his eligibility and left guard Justin Smiley elected to by-pass his senior season in order to enter the NFL draft. Left tackle Wesley Britt will not be able to participate in spring practice as he continues to recuperate from a broken leg suffered in last year's game against Tennessee.

One of the two returning offensive line starters is expected to move to a new position. J.B. Closner, who started for the first time last fall at center, will stay in that position. But Evan Mathis, who has started 35 consecutive games at right tackle, is expected to get a look at the left guard position vacated by Smiley.

If the experiment is successful, it would put Bama's two best offensive linemen, the 6-8, 313-pound Britt and the 6-5, 308-pound Mathis, side-by-side next fall.

Two defensive linemen are slated for a look on the offensive front this spring. Since he arrived on campus, Kyle Tatum (6-7, 282) has been viewed by many as more suited to offensive tackle than the defensive line. Tatum played as a back-up at defensive tackle last fall as a redshirt freshman, but will work at the right tackle spot vacated by Mathis this spring. Tatum will be competing with redshirt freshman Justin Mooin (6-4, 285) and junior Von Ewing (6-5, 304).

Danny Martz (6-4, 291) saw his first appreciable playing time last fall as a junior and he is the leading returning candidate to replace Alexander at right guard. Wesley Britt's brother, Taylor, a 6-4, 278-pound junior who transferred from Alabama-Birmingham in early 2002, saw a little playing time last fall on the defensive line. He will move to the offensive line to compete with junior Mark Sanders (6-7, 310) at right guard.

Next fall the Tide will welcome the third Britt brother, Justin (6-4, 275), who is expected to be yet another offensive line candidate, projected as a left guard.

This spring, Chris Capps (6-5, 275), a redshirt freshman, is the only able-bodied man who has been identified as a left tackle candidate, pending the return of Wesley Britt.

Travis West, a 6-3, 280-pound redshirt freshman, is considered talented enough to play any offensive line position, but is currently listed as a back-up center, along with junior walk-on Montre Walker (6-2, 259).

In addition to Justin Britt, next fall the Tide has a handful of new signees expected to enter the competition for playing time on the offensive line. They include Cody Davis (6-7, 275) at left tackle; B.J. Stabler, 6-5, 291, at right tackle; and Antoine Caldwell, 6-3, 265, at center. Drew Davis, 6-7, 285, who projects as an offensive tackle, was a February signee, but he has acknowledged that he expects to be a "grayshirt," not entering The University until January, 2005.

The 15 practice days conclude with the annual A-Day Game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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