Holding the Line

Playing a football game without an offensive or defensive line is a lot like playing chess without a queen on the board. The queen, of course, is the most powerful piece on a chess board, and the linemen are the key to the outcome of nearly every football game.

A great amount can be gained through player-led seven-on-seven drills held during summer, such as timing among quarterbacks and receivers, as well as running backs and tight ends improving their pass-catching skills. Sometimes a center will jump into the action working on the snap-exchange with the signal-caller.

On the flip side, cornerbacks and safeties can learn to work together and communicate, while linebackers can work on pass-coverage drops and receiver route recognition.

No wise person, however, would use these summer passing workouts as a predictor in any of the Crimson Tide's 11 regular season games in 2004. And to evaluate linemen, they need to be wearing pads and helmets, and running into each other. But there are some things linemen can do in the summer, and Alabama's offensive line has been busy.

"It's not the same because we don't have pads on," staring right guard Danny Martz said. "It is a little easier and makes you a little quicker to move so you can work on some of the small things. You can focus on your steps. We can slow everything down.

"Out there on the practice field you can do it once or twice, but in summer if someone doesn't understand, you can stop and go over it. This just gives us a better chance to make sure everyone's getting it right because you don't have time for that on the field."

The learning taking place this summer is important to guys like B.J. Stabler. Stabler is preparing himself to play this year, and has been on campus since June. Tide coaches would love to red shirt their incoming freshman every year, but don't be surprised if at least one, if not more of the incoming freshman offensive linemen play right away. Stabler, along with Antoine Caldwell and Cody Davis are counting on their older fellow offensive linemen to be good teachers.

"Some times we're upstairs working, watching film, and (some days) we come out and do one-on-one pass skel with the defensive line," Stabler said. "For instance, since I'm an offensive tackle I have to go one-on-one with a defensive end or a guard will have to go with a defensive tackle and stuff like that.

"At first the program was pretty hard, the summer workout. Later on we've got to get used to it to get ready for what's coming up in the fall. It's hard but it just takes getting used to."

While the skill position-players are working on their specific areas of the passing game, the linemen improve on footwork and endurance, but mostly on the mental side of the game that's so important in the trenches. The offensive line spends hours in the film room as well as in the weight room.

"The film sessions are helping us a lot," starting center JB Closner said. "Some of those new guys know more about it than we did this time last year. Just because we've been through it already and having last year not even installed the offense. They listen to our calls, we explain to them what the calls mean, explain what the defenses mean and have them draw the defenses up on the board. They already recognize the fronts and know what's going on and this time last year we were almost in the dark about it."

Note: Later this week BamaMag.com will take a closer look at Kyle Tatum and the progress he has made since coming over to assume the starting role at right tackle in the spring of this year.

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