A Look At Center

Center is one of the positions where Alabama's football team has a returning starter in 2004, and most believe that Jon Bennett Closner has a huge upside. JB (he doesn't put periods after the letters) stayed in Tuscaloosa throughout the summer to work out and his position coach, Bobby Connelly, considers Closner a team leader and a man who is headed for excellence on the football field.

JB Closner didn't come by the position naturally. He was a defensive lineman at Clark High School in San Antonio, Texas, but was moved to offense at Alabama. After being redshirted in 2001, he played sparingly behind All-SEC center Alonzo Ephraim in 2002, then had the task of replacing Ephraim last year.

No one would suggest Closner should have earned all-star honors last year. Center is a difficult position and the 6-4, 290-pounder had his share of mistakes as a starter in his first full season of play. It is fair to say that the change in coaches (and resulting change in offensive system) was as hard on Closner as any player.

Closner started 12 of 13 games last year. The one game (Tennessee) in which he did not start, the graduated Matt Lomax got the nod. Still, Closer played about two-thirds of the snaps (61 plays) in that five-overtime contest. For the year he was in on 708 snaps, including 82 at Hawaii and 79 against Kentucky.

While Closner may have missed some assignments last season, he was a very reliable snapper. There was some concern in the spring when he had a scrimmage in which he was guilty of a number of poor snaps in spread (shotgun) formation, but that seemed to be a one-day anomaly.

With Lomax gone, there is virtually no proven depth behind Closner. During the spring, junior Taylor Britt (brother of Wesley) was looked at briefly as a center after moving from defensive tackle, but Taylor Britt (6-4, 278) goes into fall camp as a back-up left guard.

That could change if redshirt freshman Travis West (6-3, 280) is not sufficiently healed to participate this fall. West missed most of the spring with a severe muscle tear that required surgery. However, West, who came to Bama as an offensive guard, was able to take part in summer conditioning work.

No one likes to think about a true freshman playing in a key position like center, but Antoine Caldwell (6-2, 265) of Robert E. Lee in Montgomery will probably have an opportunity to make the travel squad.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of essays on what Alabama might reasonably expect from each position in order to have a successful 2004 season.

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