"Run! Always run!" senior center Alonzo Ephraim says with an almost-reverent look in his eye. "We like to be physical. That's what they teach us. The offensive line, we go through more things on the field and off the field than any other players."
After all, if you're 6-5, weighing in somewhere around (or over) 300 pounds, you don't wanna stick and move with a 240-pound speed rusher. You didn't spend your spring and summer lifting weights in order to play traffic cop for your quarterback. You wanna hit somebody.
"That's the way our offensive line is set up," says starting quick quard Justin Smiley. "We're more physically, mauling blockers. We like to go get 'em instead of waiting for them to come to us."
Of course, if you're an offensive line coach and you're asked the same question, you're a bit more diplomatic. "My preference is that we move the ball and score points," Jim Bob Helduser says. "It doesn't make a difference how we do it."
Come on, coach! Wouldn't you rather see an up-the-gut run instead of a five-yard over-the-middle pass? Wouldn't you rather see a pancake than a game of patty cake?
"There are some inherent things about this sport that requires you to be a physical football to win," Helduser concedes. "One of the ways you develop that is to run the ball and run the ball physically."
Now, the truth comes out.
"From that standpoint, I like the run game because it helps us develop a physical demeanor that bleeds over into the passing game," Helduser continued. "From a foundation standpoint, being able to run the ball is important to us."
How important? Well, last year the Tide's SEC-best running game (226 yards a game) was able to mask a passing attack that was low on risk and low on production (183 ypg, 10th in the SEC).
Behind the strength of their powerful line--which included one AP All-SEC first-teamer (Ephraim) and two coaches' picks for Freshman All-SEC (Smiley and quick tackle Wesley Britt)--the Tide rolled over enough opponents to place fourth in the conference in total offense.
However, there were three teams that finished ahead of the Tide in that category, and nine that exceeded their passing totals. That, according to Ephraim, is one reason the Tide's line shouldn't be satisfied.
"We have bigger expectations," Ephraim said. "That's great that we led the SEC in rushing, but now we have to work on our passing game. We really weren't in the passing game so much [last year]."
Indeed, head coach Dennis Franchione and Helduser were concerned slightly about the team's pass protection after their second spring scrimmage, during which the offensive line gave up 11 sacks over a two-hour span.
Franchione didn't see it as a glaring concern, noting that some of the sacks were "coverage sacks." But due to the improved play of the secondary, the players know they'll be working more on blitz pickups than drive blocks.
"We're getting better at pass blocking," senior guard Marico Portis said. "We're trying to work on it every day."
Not that that's a bad thing. After all, there's a reason the Tide isn't spending much time on run blocking.
Before discussing pass blocking a bit more, Portis added, "We know we can run!"
And so does every defense in the SEC.