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A recent list of Alabama's football players who could play for most other teams included all of the starting skill position players and even a back-up or two on offense and most of the defensive players, excluding a couple of linemen. Bama's unsettled kickers did not make the list. But it was a surprise to some that Crimson Tide center JB Closner was not included.

He came to Alabama as J.B. Closner, defensive lineman, but made the subtle name change to JB Closner (dropping the periods after his initials, even though J stands for Jon and B for Bennett) and the more dramatic change to offensive line. He had never played offense at Clark High School in San Antonio, Texas. And more than just a little move to offense, he moved to what is one of the two most difficult line positions to play.

Some think left tackle is the most important offensive line position because of its duty to protect the backside of a right-handed quarterback from the rushing right defensive end.

But a good case can be made for the center being most important. If there is not a good snap–meaning a good exchange between center and quarterback, whether in "T" formation or in spread (shotgun) formation–there probably is not going to be a good play. And more often than not when the exchange is bad it is the fault of the center.

Closner has been Alabama's starting center in 24 of the past 25 games and bad snaps have been virtually non-existent. In those two years he has made exactly 1,400 snaps.

Additionally, the center calls the line-blocking responsibilities based on his read of the defensive set-up when the huddle breaks. And then he blocks. And last season Alabama led the Southeastern Conference in rushing.

There are not many team sports in which it is not important to be strong up the middle, and that is certainly true in football.

Closner, 6-4, 290, has impressed Alabama's coaching staff with his performance, improving from adequate to very good going to his final season. He was redshirted in 2001, was back-up to All-SEC center Alonzo Ephraim in 2002, then started 12 of 13 games in 2003 and all 12 last year.

Although he has a reputation of being quiet, he is articulate. He is smart (he'll be a graduate student this season). He has the size at 6-4, 290. And he is tough.

Each spring the media votes on the Dwight Stephenson Most Valuable Lineman in the A-Day Game. Stephenson is considered by many to be the finest center ever to play the game. It was probably a little tongue-in-cheek (because sportswriters don't watch the center any more than other spectators), but this spring Closner was winner of that award.

It will be a surprise if Closner is not a pre-season All-SEC candidate. And it won't be a surprise if he is All-SEC at the end of the season.


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