Tide vs. Catamounts: OL-DL Match-Ups

Nick Saban's Crimson Tide begins the 2007 season against a Western Carolina team that lost nine in a row last year. The Western Carolina Catamounts are no strangers to playing in huge atmospheres -- last year they played the Florida Gators in Gainesville. As a matter of fact, the Catamounts were the only team to play both the Division-I and Division-II National Champions in 2006.

In turn, Western Carolina lost 31-9 to Appalachian State, and 62-0 to Florida on consecutive weeks last November. In a game in which quarterback Tim Tebow had two rushing touchdowns and 200 yards in the air, combined with five more rushing touchdowns from Florida's respective backs, it was a good old SEC beat down.

Will history be repeated with another SEC team in the fray? The Crimson Tide most certainly look to be in a prime position to put up some points against this Southern Conference team, however much of this will depend upon the trenches. Coaches always say, "A game can be won on the ground, or in the air; but it's in the trenches where the games are decided."

Right off the bat, this contest will give Crimson Tide fans a glimpse of what to expect from their offensive line this year. The 2006 offensive line became the butt of many jokes because of inconsistencies in pass protection. John Parker Wilson took some pretty severe hits, most notably in some of those later games. The offensive line didn't do their job in some crucial plays. In particular, injuries on the offensive line began to stack up as the weeks went by, and it became challenging for the Tide to stop some of those huge defensive lines from SEC teams.

"The offensive line is one of the areas on the team that has been the most impressive in the way they execute and the way they work together," Saban said. "They do have pretty good character and attitude. I think they're making pretty good progress. We've been pleased with that group, and we have maybe seven or eight guys that are doing it that way, so it's not just three or four or five." (ESPN.com)

One of the players to watch for in this game is right tackle Mike Johnson (6-6, 298 lbs.), a redshirted sophomore from Pensacola, FL. As a redshirted freshman in 2006, Johnson recorded a season-high 27 snaps against Louisiana Monroe, and played a total of 95 snaps in 12 games. With senior Chris Capps (6-6, 298 lbs.) moving over to left tackle as a second string, behind Andre Smith (6-5, 340 lbs.), Johnson outperformed the other lineman this spring to win the starting job. Junior B.J. Stabler (6-4, 294lbs.), who is still nagging from his knee injury a year ago is not yet in a position to really challenge Johnson for the job at the moment. Only as the season goes on, will we see how this battle will fare.

Another key position battle to watch out for in this game is at the tight end position. With junior's Nick Walker (6-5, 255lbs.) and Travis McCall (6-2, 261 lbs.) battling it out for the starter's job. Right now Walker gets the nod, but look to see both tight ends split plays. The only other change to the line is at the right guard position, where junior Marlon Davis (6-4, 294 lbs.) has the starting job. After starting the last three games in 2006 following the B.J. Stabler injury, Davis has solidified himself as the right tackle for the Crimson Tide heading into the 2007 season.

Alabama has three returning starters on the offensive line, and the left side is looking to be the go-to side for the rushing attack, with left tackle All-American, and former Mr. Football, Andre Smith, senior left guard Justin Britt (6-5 284 lbs.) and 2nd team All-SEC center junior Antoine Caldwell (6-3, 292 lbs.).

Caldwell, a Montgomery native, has already been tipped for the Remington Trophy fall watch list, and Andre Smith will win the Outland Trophy sometime in near the future. Andre Smith was the anchor for the Alabama offensive line last year, and he can only get better in 2007.

With three returning starters on the Crimson Tide line and two great additions on the right side, the Tide looks poised to have their way rushing and passing against a Western Carolina team that is in Division II. There is such a huge discrepancy between the size of the Alabama offensive line and the Western Carolina defense line that it is going to be very tough for the Catamounts to put pressure on John Parker Wilson or stop the Tide's tandem of rushers.

On the other side of the ball, Western Carolina has many defensive linemen competing for playing time. Fifth year senior John Martin leads the way with experience and poise. Others returning to the defensive line include junior Brandon Drumgoole (6-6, 220 lbs.), senior Darren Curtis (6-2, 245 lbs.), junior Jeff Bradley (6-3, 265 lbs.), who has been impressive in scrimmages, and Levander Thomas (6', 235 lbs.).

Saturday's game will be a real test for Western Carolina. With all the excitement surrounding the arrival of Coach Nick Saban, it's going to be an electric atmosphere. Can the Catamounts keep it a close game?

Considering their recent history and all the excitement in Tuscaloosa, it's looking like it might be a bloody affair with maybe 50-60 points on the board by the Crimson Tide by the time the final whistle blows.

It should be a great game for Tide fans, and all eyes will be on the man calling the plays, Alabama's head coach Nick Saban. The Tide will have great opportunities to test some of their newer and younger players in this game, and it should definitely be a treat to watch.

Saturday starts a new chapter in Crimson Tide history, and it could be a very fruitful one at that. Kickoff between the Tide and Western Carolina is slated for 6:07 p.m.

Part 1 of a two part series.

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