Growing Up Fast

While many of us hasten the arrival of football season, Alabama's offensive line is a group that needs all the time available between now and kickoff to prepare for the grind of season of football in the Southeastern Conference. With only one true veteran on the unit, senior center JB Closner, the O-line will not have time nor experience on its side.

Redshirt freshman Antoine Caldwell hopes that hard work will be on he and his linemates' side by August, however. Alabama's young linemen to get stronger fast is a need Mike Shula made perfectly clear after last season during spring training.

"We knew we were going to be young," Caldwell said. "I see it and the rest of the line sees it as a big challenge and I don't think any of us are up for running from it."

Strength and conditioning coordinator Kent Johnston has been doing the planning, holding workout sessions in summer afternoons targeted at bulking up Bama's young offensive and defensive lines.

"A lot of it's been building strength in your shoulders and stuff, for the offensive line especially," Caldwell said about the Johnston's program earlier this week. "We are working on our lower back strength; being able to stabilize and stuff like that. It's been a lot different from the skill guys. We pretty much do max strength work, heavy weights, low reps stuff to build a little more mass and a little more strength."

Caldwell is up to 295 pounds, a 10-pound jump from the end of last season, and he said his upper body strength has improved dramatically.

Johnston's program doesn't involve trying to do as much weight as possible one time (maxing out), but it doesn't take maxing out to notice the level of progress.

"I can probably do about 350-375 pounds three times (on the bench press). Before last year I don't think I could have done 315 once," Caldwell said. "It's been fast paced."

Caldwell was a step ahead when he got to Alabama last year, and early indications were that he could break with the norm of offensive linemen, who generally redshirt as freshman because of the physical and mental maturity needed at the position. A foot injury sidelined him and the redshirt followed. Now Caldwell is penciled in as the starter at left guard, a position he is not likely to lose due to the fact that there are no returning lettermen at offensive guard.

Questions about the offensive line are nothing new to Alabama fans. A year ago, Bama was breaking in a new right tackle (Kyle Tatum) and an inexperienced right guard (Danny Martz). Wesley Britt was coming off a broken leg and Evan Mathis was at a new position at left guard.

Last year's line held up well for the most part, save a poor performance at the Music City Bowl where the offense gained just 21 rushing yards on 21 attempts (mitigated by the fact that Alabama had to regularly using third-stringers in the backfield because of injuries).

Caldwell will be one of three inexperienced starters on the offensive line this year. Alabama will have a new left tackle, and a new right guard.

"I know what is expected and they don't expect us to miss a beat, and that's the way we want it. If they set the bar high for us then we set it high for ourselves. I feel like we have to be realistic about the situation. We are young and we're not going to be as strong as some of the guys that have been in the weight room 4 or 5 years like Tennessee's D-linemen," he said.

"I think we can get all the way up to the point where we're just about ready, but I don't think there's anything you really do until you're actually on the field. In a way, I think we will be learning on the go. A lot of people might look at that as that's a big deal, that we can't be learning on the go. But do we really have a choice, though? We accept the challenge. We've worked our tails off so far up to this point and a lot of people put it on our shoulders and say we're only going to be as good the offensive line's going to be, and if that's any indication I think we're going to be a hell of a football team this year."

Chris Capps is another young lineman who will be under the gun this fall. Chris finished the spring at the number one spot at left tackle, although he could be challenged in the fall by redshirt freshman Cody Davis. Capps is anxious to get back on the field.

"They put our shoulder pads back in our locker last week. Everybody's excited," he said.

Like Caldwell, Capps, who is a quarter inch shy of 6-7, said the focus on strength in the strength and conditioning program in the off season had made a big difference in his physique.

"Yesterday I weighed 297 (pounds). In the spring; about 285," Capps said. "After spring (Johnston) really tailored the workout for us. We did a little less running, a little more weightlifting. It made our workout better as a group. I've put on some weight and I definitely a lot better, stronger – a lot stronger – since spring. I think with a little more time through the summer it will work out really good."

Capps played sparingly last year at tackle behind Wesley Britt, and now he will be thrust into the important slot of protecting Brodie Croyle's back side on pass plays full time.

"By the end of the season I was completely comfortable going in and wasn't nervous at all. That first few games they put you in a stadium packed full of people you're a little nervous," Capps said.

It's debatable whether a unit can make much if any progress between the end of spring practice and the beginning of fall camp, when contact with coaches is very limited and virtually non-existent for much of the time.

"It's up to the unit," Capps said. "We can go out there, even though there's not a coach out there, we can out there and do the same stuff we do during practice. You can have a lot more time to study film and you can get a lot better at that time."

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