Center Is Tough Spot In SEC

Alabama center Antoine Caldwell is on the "watch lists" for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's best center, and for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation's best lineman. He will be one of the featured players at this year's Southeastern Conference Media Days Event in Birmingham next week.

But that doesn't mean that Antoine Caldwell is likely to be selected as the pre-season All-SEC center when the choices of the sportswriters and sportscasters are made known at the end of Media Days. In fact, it's very unlikely that Alabama's Caldwell and a handful of other very fine centers will get a vote.

That's because Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs has already wrapped up all the pre-season honors. After all, Luigs was winner of last year's Rimington Award as the nation's best center.

I'll admit that I have always had a tough time deciding if a center was good or bad. Obviously if a team is in the spread formation (shotgun) and there are some bad snaps, that will be noticed. That's a variation on the adage that no one knows who the deep snapper is on punts and placekicks unless there's a bad snap. Usually a center doesn't have the responsibility to block anyone without help from a guard, and a center doesn't pull and make those dramatic blocks in the open field like an Andre Smith.

When Alabama was running roughshod over the opposition in the wishbone formation, it was never a surprise for any Crimson Tide player to earn post-season honors, and a handful of Bama centers in that era were regarded as excellent. They included Jim Krapf, Sylvester Croom and Dwight Stephenson, all of whom made All-America. Stephenson, who went on to play for Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins, is considered by some to be the finest center of all time.

At the end of the 1983 season, Alabama played sixth-ranked SMU in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. One of the stars for SMU was nose tackle Michael Carter. Late in the game, won by Alabama by a 28-7 margin, I realized Carter's name had been called almost not at all. The Sun Bowl has an award for the outstanding lineman, the Chuck Hughes Award. I spread the word among my sportswriting brethren that Carter hadn't been a factor and so Tide center Wes Neighbors must have done a good job. Neighbors was runaway winner of the award for the top lineman in the game.

I don't know how good a center Roger Shultz (1987-90) was, but a good way to make an all-star team when you play in the offensive line is to be a good talker. None was better than Shultz, who was a two-time All-SEC honoree.

Caldwell, a 6-3, 292-pound upcoming senior from Montgomery, is very articulate and a frequent spokesman for Alabama's football team. Last winter he announced that he would not enter the NFL draft and would return for his final season. He earned his degree from The University in under three years.

He has started every game in his Alabama career except for a four-game suspension when he was involved in a situation involving inappropriate distribution of athletics department text books last fall. The Montgomery native has also played at guard and tackle for the Tide.

Caldwell is one of four centers who will be showcased at next week's SEC Media Days. Others will be Luigs from Arkansas, Jason Bosley from Auburn, and Brett Helms from LSU.

Luigs has been every publication's pre-season All-SEC center. In fact, he's everyone's pre-season All-America.

Caldwell is listed as second team All-SEC by most, but others getting mention include LSU's Helms and Tennessee's Josh McNeil.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban, Caldwell and safety Rashad Johnson will meet the media Thursday morning. The event, which is not open to the public, begins Wednesday afternoon and concludes Friday.

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