Offensive Line In The Spotlight

Anyone who listens to Alabama Coach Nick Saban will recognize that Bama has a very intelligent man running the Crimson Tide football program. On Saturday he was able to read the minds of 14 out of 15 sports reporters getting his post-practice report.

As Nick Saban revisited the Wednesday Alabama scrimmage and covered the Saturday practice, he confirmed that linebacker Brandon Fanney had returned to the team on Friday. Saban then said it would be up to Fanney to move up the depth chart.

He then explained that a spring depth chart was for organizational purposes only. From there he berated the media for being so concerned about knowing what the two-deep is "right now" because that's "the way you think."

Actually, the only thing I was thinking about was that it was surprising that Saban would bring up a depth chart. So I wasn't thinking about where anyone was on a depth chart--for organizational purposes or other--until he mentioned it. But I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knew how all the other reporters were thinking.

I have been thinking about the offensive line.

There are two things I think about before I even consider what the two-deep might be now or in September. I think about how good last year's line was with Andre Smith at left tackle, Antoine Caldwell at center, and Marlon Davis at right guard.

They are all gone now.

And then I think what a shame that during last year's 12-2 season there wasn't an opportunity to give more playing time to some of the men who are going to be counted on this year. But, as a former Alabama and NFL lineman pointed out, that's NFL thinking.

Once upon a time Alabama had a very fine coach, Paul Bryant, who played a lot of backup players. He once said, "When I think we've got the game won, I start thinking about next week and next year," meaning playing backup players so they would be more experienced when and if they absolutely had to play.

Alabama is in spring practice with two returning offensive line starters. Mike Johnson, who is out for a few days with a sprained ankle, has started at both tackle positions in his career, but the upcoming senior was an all-star at left guard last year.

Drew Davis was the starting right tackle last fall and is back for his senior season.

If Johnson and Davis were good enough to be starters on a team that was ranked number one in the nation for five weeks, they are odds on favorites to be starters in those positions when Alabama opens the 2009 season on Sept. 5 against Virginia Tech in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta.

Alabama has five more practices this spring before the A-Day Game on April 18. As Saban said Saturday, there is a lot of work to be done.

It is foolish to consider a depth chart, and that's particularly true in the offensive line. Assistant Coach Joe Pendry has his linemen learn the assignments for various line positions, which adds depth.

Saban has commented on several players in the offensive line. He has noted the spirited battle at center between William Vlachos and David Ross. Although neither was a center before getting to Alabama, both apparently are doing well.

Last year John Michael Boswell was considered the best of three very fine offensive tackle signees (the others being Tyler Love and Barrett Jones). Boswell was a backup right tackle last year as a true freshman and is working at right guard this spring. Among the others working at right guard is true freshman Chance Warmack, who entered Alabama for the spring semester.

Jones is thought to be in the mix at right tackle.

Left tackle is where the big cleats of All-America Andre Smith have to be filled. Another newcomer, junior college transfer James Carpenter, is always in the conversation regarding that position. Love is thought to be working at left tackle.

Last year the winner of the Dwight Stephenson Award as the most valuable lineman in the A-Day Game was Alfred McCullough. McCullough is not a favorite to repeat. Last year he was a defensive end and had some high-visibility plays to get voted the award. This spring he expects to be a left tackle in the Crimson-White Game.

others thought to be in contention include former starting center Evan Cardwell (Antoine Caldwell's backup in 2007 and the starter when Caldwell was suspended for four games); and juniors Brian Motley and Taylor Pharr.

To guess any closer, I'd have to be able to read Coach Saban's mind.

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