That Good?

Someone told me last week that ESPN college football analyst Mark May gave the opinion that Alabama would have the best offensive line in the Southeastern Conference this season.

I was asked about this on a radio show, and having listened to May's opinions on college football from time-to-time, my initial reaction was to disagree with that sentiment. From past experience, I calculated that if you disagreed with May every time, you have pretty good odds of being right.

The hypothesis certainly doesn't have much supporting evidence just one game into the college football season, but after last night's game against Hawaii I'm thinking it was foolish to dismiss the possibility out of hand.

After all, Alabama played nine men on the offensive line Saturday night. True freshman Andre Smith and junior Chris Capps started at each tackle, and Cody Davis and Kyle Tatum each played significant snaps in the game.

"It was important to keep guys fresh," said center Antoine Caldwell, the only offensive lineman to play the whole game. "That kind of shows that everybody's on the same page and everybody knows their assignments, so he feels comfortable enough to put other guys in.

Smith, fast proving to be the best offensive linemen in his recruiting class, got high marks from the coaches.

"I thought he handled himself very good," offensive line coach Bob Connelly said. "He had a great look in his eye from very early on. He did not show any signs of being overwhelmed or nervous."

B.J. Stabler, who had a crushing block on Tim Castille touchdown run, and Justin Britt started at the guard spots, and they were relieved by Marlon Davis and Mike Johnson for significant duty.

Caldwell didn't come out of the game, but don't count on that being the case all year. Connelly is likely to get some more game experience at that position as well.

"One person I didn't get in that I really wanted to get in was Evan Cardwell," Connelly said, "but in that situation you are always concerned about that center-quarterback exchange problem. I probably should have done it but I didn't."

For the other four backups, it wasn't just token playing time. At one point they were thrust into the game when the Crimson Tide offense was backed up to its own one-yard line.

"I found for me that it's imperative that you just say ‘We're going to do it," and you make a time and say "Let's do it,'" Connelly said. "Actually, it was a very critical situation for a couple of them in there coming out on the one yard line. I told them on the previous series that they were going to go in. They are getting my confidence as we go through practice. I'm putting them in very tough situations."

Number of offensive linemen who played for Alabama Saturday night: 9.

Number of offensive linemen who played for Alabama in all of 2005: 9.

Said Head Coach Mike Shula, "We got a lot of guys in scrimmages and in the spring and we felt like those guys would be able to handle it."

Still, there are indications that the "Best in the SEC" designation is premature. Bama managed only 125 rushing yards, 3.5 yards per carry. And Wilson was sacked one time.

"I don't know how they all graded out on the film," Shula said, specifically referring to the backups, "but hopefully whatever it was will get better this week."


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