OL Have Been Good for Bama

They won't be in New York City Saturday afternoon, dressed in flashy suits and paraded before the ESPN cameras as first-round selections, instant multi-multi millionaires.

Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis will watch the NFL draft quietly, with their families in Cullman and Homewood, respectively, waiting patiently for their names to be called somewhere between the second and fourth rounds, most likely.

Theirs are the names mentioned between commercial breaks, their selections discussed only for a minute or two, most likely, before Chris Berman, Mel Kiper and Co. shuffle to a satellite conversation with an NFL general manager or coach about their first-round pick.

That is, if the first-round pick himself isn't available to talk or has already been interviewed.

That's life for an offensive lineman, so don't cry for Britt and Mathis. They're used to it by now.

Over the past four years, both Alabama offensive linemen were the foundation of the Crimson Tide's offensive attack.

It was an offense that sparked two bowl bids and one bowl victory – totals that would have been higher had the Tide not been banned from bowl play in 2002-03.

Was it a perfect offense? No.

But it would have been much further from perfect without Britt, Mathis, and their fine offensive line mates.

Consider this: When Britt and Mathis hear their names called Saturday or Sunday, it will all but ensure that the entire 2001-2002 Alabama offensive line will suit up in the NFL next fall.

Former Tide left guard Justin Smiley started nine games at right guard for the San Francisco 49ers last fall; he'll move back to left guard next season.

Former center Alonzo Ephraim won an NFC championship ring and made a Super Bowl trip with the Philadelphia Eagles.

And former right guard Marico Portis recently signed a three-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts after two seasons as a Tennessee Titans reserve.

Want more? His replacement – Atlas Herrion – recently completed his first season as a Green Bay Packers reserve. His replacement – Dennis Alexander – is in NFL Europe with the Cologne (Germany) Centurions.

And his replacement, Danny Martz, was a smash success last season and could have a shot at catching on with an NFL team as a free agent this fall.

What does that tell you?

That there was a heck of a lot of talent in the Bryant-Denny Stadium trenches the past four years.

They paved the way for an efficient offense that was consistently one of the SEC's most powerful ground attacks.

Over the past four seasons, Alabama averaged more than 180 yards rushing per game three times, falling to 159 in 2003 but rising back to 185 last fall. In Dennis Franchione's option-based attack, the Tide averaged more than 210 yards rushing in 2001 and 2002, ranking in the top 20 nationally both seasons.

Most, it not all, of that credit goes to the offensive line. Mathis and Britt were both four-year starters, and if Smiley had stayed for his senior season, he'd have joined them in that exclusive club.

If not for a badly broken leg suffered against Tennessee in 2003, Britt would have started every game of his career. Mathis sat for the first three games of his freshman season, then started 47 consecutive games to close out his career.

Few teams had the consistency that Britt, Mathis, Smiley and Co. provided over the last three to four years.

And it will be interesting to see how Alabama responds now that its offensive foundation is playing on Sundays.

Britt's left tackle spot will be filled by either sophomore Chris Capps or redshirt freshman Cody Davis, neither of whom have ever started a game of college football.

Mathis' left guard role will be manned by redshirt freshman Antoine Caldwell, who emerged as the most impressive lineman in spring practice.

Either fifth-year senior Mark Sanders, sophomore Justin Moon or redshirt freshman B.J. Stabler will fill Martz's old right guard spot.

Together, they'll join senior center JB Closner and junior right tackle Kyle Tatum and form what will be an inexperienced line, one which will test offensive line coach Bob Connelly's considerable coaching abilities.

Perhaps they'll form a competent line; after all, many had serious doubts about a line featuring redshirt freshmen named Britt, Mathis and Smiley four autumns ago.

Maybe they'll struggle.

If they do, maybe people will realize just how good the Tide offense had it over the last four years.

It's something they should have realized a long time ago.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com

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