Mathis on the move

For some people, it's never too late to make a change. Four years into Evan Mathis' career at Alabama, he'll be doing just that.

Headed into his final season, the 6-5 Mathis will be moving from his usual right tackle position to left guard. Mathis has started every game at right tackle since the fourth game of his redshirt freshman season, despite being hobbled by different injuries to his legs throughout his career.

Mathis, who entered Alabama as a center in the fall of 2000, said that he'll feel more comfortable playing inside the tackles.

"I'm a more natural player at guard or center," Mathis said. "I think guard will be more suitable for me than center or tackle. (Offensive line) Coach Bobby Connelly mentioned center to me during last year. Now he's brought me into left guard, which is new to me."

If the experiment works, Mathis (right) will replace Justin Smiley (left) at left guard.

Mathis will be trying new techniques at the guard position that are different from when he was at tackle. At tackle, Mathis often found himself "on an island" away from the interior lineman while he was pushing away opponents' defensive ends.

"I'm real excited about it," Mathis said. "I'll be able to pull a lot and I look forward to showing my athletic ability and speed."

Mathis has taken some pointers from former All-America guard Justin Smiley, who declared for the NFL Draft after last season, his junior year. But he feels no pressure in trying to live up to Smiley's reputation.

"There's no pressure filling in Justin's shoes," Mathis said. "It's more of an honor to do it. I learned a lot from him. I still talk to him, and he'll tell me things that I need to know, because there's a lot he can share with me."

Offensive line coach Bob Connelly thinks that guard will be a good fit for Mathis right now.

"He can play a lot of positions," Connelly said. "He may end up being put back outside. Evan is one of the strongest persons we have on our football team. He's very physical and very athletic--he ran a 4.8 (in the 40-yard dash). He's a 500-plus bench presser and 600-plus squatter.

"He can help hold the point inside and give us a pocket presence. He's athletic enough to do the movements whether it's a power play or a counter play."

A switch in positions will take stress off his left leg, which Mathis injured against Tennessee, although he played the rest of the game and the rest of the season. Two years earlier, he fractured his right leg but he says that it's completely healed now.

Evan Mathis may be the best all-around athlete on the offensive line.

"With my leg injury, at tackle I would be kicking back a lot," Mathis said. "I won't have to do that as much inside. Pass blocking is different inside. You can be more aggressive, and it takes you off that island."

Mathis has been working with new strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston in rehabbing his knee.

"The difference between the Hawaii game and now is unbelievable," Mathis said. "I've been staying off it and doing work with Coach Johnston. The true test will be to see how it handles the pounding.

"By the time next season rolls around, it should be 100 percent."

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