Left Tackle

When Gene Stallings was coaching Alabama football in the 1990s, he had an early fall practice that included an unsatisfactory period of kickoff work. That gave me an opening to discuss the mystery of why any two teams playing on Thursday night ESPN2, or just about any other college football team, will have kickoff men who can boom the ball into the end zone, while Alabama rarely has had that luxury.

That does not mean that Alabama has not had good kickoff men and good kickoff coverage over the years. But the Crimson Tide has probably had more gaps in that area than any other successful team.

My familiar discourse went along the lines of, "Coach Stallings, you have about 150 players out there. Almost every one of them was the best player on his high school team, and the best player frequently does a lot of special things, such as kick off. I'll bet half of those players have kicked off and, furthermore, I'll bet at least 10 per cent of them -- 15 -- consistently could kick at least to the end zone.

"Why can't you find someone who can kick off into the end zone."

Stallings listened patiently, then replied. "Hell, you'd think I could find one who could play left tackle."

He didn't answer my question, but he hit on something more important. A team needs a good left tackle a lot more than it needs someone who can kickoff into the end zone.

(Of course, I can't see any reason why Alabama shouldn't have both, but that's another question.)

For many years, just about any movie or radio television program regarding college football included the old song that included the lyrics, "You've got to be a football hero, to get along with the beautiful girls."

If I was going to be a football hero, I'd much rather be a placekicker than a left tackle. Every Alabama fan remembers Van Tiffin's 52-yard field goal to beat Auburn in 1985 and Philip Doyle's 1990 boot to beat Tennessee in Knoxville and Jamie Christensen's kick to win last year's Cotton Bowl, all on the last play of the game. Christensen also had kicks to win against Ole Miss and Tennessee last year.

Doyle got his chops busted by a Tennessee rusher. The others never got dirty. Not that day or any other day in a football uniform.

A left tackle, on the other hand, is in the trenches. More than that, he's the one offensive lineman who is usually exposed when he makes a mistake. A guard or center is down in the pile and if he misses a block it usually happens so quick that no fan knows who blew the assignment. Even the right tackle is usually camaflouged by a tight end on his right.

But if a left tackle is beaten, just about everyone in the stands knows about it.

This spring I have been asked a lot about football practice. It's not often that I'm failed to ask about left tackle, and how Alabama is coming along at that position this spring.

First of all, I'm like most people. When the ball is snapped, I'm watching the ball. I'm watching the quarterback hand it off and then watching the runner or I'm watching the quarterback throw it and then watching to see what happens on the other end of the pass.

Like most fans, I see the left tackle if he doesn't do his job AND the man he was supposed to block has an effect on the play.

But what I don't know is if someone else missed an assignment. Perhaps a back was supposed to pick up a rusher, or one of several other possibilities.

Just for argument's sake, I'll suggest that Alabama has not had enough progress at left tackle this spring. That is based on a little more than personal observation.

Chris Capps started at left tackle in every Alabama football game last year as a sophomore. He had played sparingly in five games behind Wesley Britt the previous season. Capps was one of three new starters in the offensive line at the beginning of 2005.

Capps, 6-6, 266, was expected to get some competition in the spring from Cody Davis (6-7, 279), who played behind him as a redshirt freshman last season. However, Davis had shoulder surgery and is not participating in spring work. Instead, redshirt freshman Michael Johnson (6-6, 285) has been the top back-up in the spring.

Alabama Brodie Croyle was sacked 11 times in Bama's loss to Auburn last season. Now, not all those were the fault of the left tackle, but some of them probably were. And that position will have to get better for the health of Alabama's 2006 quarterback and for the offense to have a chance to move the football.

Capps has undoubtedly improved from a year ago. A year in the trenches will do that for a man. But Alabama needs to be much better. Based on what has been shown this spring, it would be a surprise if one of the incoming freshmen, such as Andre Smith, did not get a look at left tackle when falls drills being in August.

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