Offensive Line No Longer In Question

Although Alabama was a preseason top ten team, the Crimson Tide was not expected to be ranked number one and playing in the national championship game. Last year Bama has reached number one, but fell to Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, then was embarrassed by a loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

One part of the analysis of 2009 Alabama football was that the Sugar Bowl had been a preview of what the Crimson Tide would be without Andre Smith at left tackle. Smith, the Lombardi Award winner as the nation's best lineman, was booted from the team days before the bowl game for having had dealings with an agent.

Alabama would also be playing without All-America center Antoine Caldwell and right guard Marlon Davis. There were other holes to be filled (including quarterback and tailback), but most often mentioned was the task of rebuilding the offensive line.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban and his staff get high marks for the job. The Crimson Tide is 13-0 and will play Texas, also 13-0 and ranked second in the nation, in the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena January 7.

One of those building blocks has been center William Vlachos. On Sunday, Vlachos and his teammates concluded their second day of practice since defeating previously number one Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

Following practice, Vlachos, a 6-0, 300-pound junior from Mountain Brook, said, "I think we had a chip on our shoulder, particularly in the beginning when that's all anyone wanted to talk about -- ‘How are y'all going to do?' ‘Who is going to start?' ‘How are y'all going to step into those guys shoes?'. We just came to work every day.

"Coach Pendry (offensive line coach Joe Pendry) does a great job letting you know what's expected of you, what you have to do to be successful. We put in a lot of extra hours every week on the game plans and getting right on the corrections that we messed up the week before. It just came together.

"Luckily, no one has been injured. We've been able to stay all five of us across the board. I think that's helped. Getting a feel for one another, what everybody next to you is going to do playing against different defenses? I think we've done well. We still have to get better to get ready for this game, but I think we've done well so far."

What brought it together?

"Time," Vlachos said. "Time is the biggest thing in (offensive line) chemistry. Playing next to people and knowing what they are going to do and they know what you are going to do. Footwork. Time. Staying together as a unit and jelling."

Vlachos said, "I think we jelled quicker than a lot of people expected. We've gotten better through the games, I think every game as a unit improved. We had some rough spots. Obviously against Auburn we didn't play as well. But we've put a lot of time in and I think it's paid off."

Pendry, the man who coaches the offensive line, gets a big share of the credit, Vlachos said. "He's a genius," Vlachos said. "Everybody trusts what he has to say. Everything he says we get out there and try to execute. He puts us in the right positions to do the right things. He does a tremendous job of looking at a defense and knowing what our personnel will be able to do and have success against them.

"We shut up and listen to him and do the little things on our own. He does a great job."

Alabama is noted for its few penalties. Bama was particularly successful in avoiding offensive holding calls, particularly in the last half of the season.

"That goes to Coach Pendry," Vlacos said. "He really focuses on getting your hands inside. When you focus on it in practice and do it in practice every day, you don't have to think about it in games. If you've not holding in practice, then in the game it will take care of itself. That has helped our team."

Vlachos said that the Crimson Tide preparing to play for the national championship has "sunk in to a point, but we realize we still have business left. You can't ever sit back and think you've accomplished a bunch of great stuff. This game is all we're thinking about. "We're happy for Mark (tailback Mark Ingram winning the Heisman Trophy) and winning the SEC, and those definitely were goals for us.

"But we're working on getting better and for what we have to do to get ready to play Texas."

He said the return to the practice field on Saturday was "Getting back into the swing of things. Getting footwork down pat. Getting back into shape. Just playing football. We haven't done too much on Texas yet, we've done some, done the basics. But right now it's just football. Going against our guys, and our guys are great. Getting back into the swing of things. Saturday a everybody was little rusty, today a little smoother. I think day-to-day it will get better."

Although it has been a couple of weeks since the SEC Championship Game, Vlachos said it wasn't a time of idleness. "We worked out and had some kind of simulated type practice deals the week after the SEC Championship Game," he said. "Everyone took it upon themselves and saw what was at stake and that we needed to stay in shape and worked out. But getting back into football has definitely helped and I think as it goes on the better it will get."

Vlachos isn't taken in by the perception that Big 12 teams don't play good defense. He said the champions of the Big 12, the Texas Longhorns, are "very good. They have the number one rushing defense in the country statistically. They are outstanding. (Texas defensive coordinator) Will Muschamp does an incredible job with their defense. They do some stuff similar to what we do. Personnel-wise they are as good as anyone. They are really good."

Vlachos was asked about the pride the offensive line has in Ingram winning the Heisman, particularly considering that Ingram thanked the offensive line in his remarks upon being announced.

"We all up front felt we had a small part in that," he said. "But that guy deserves everything he's gotten. He's such a class act and a tremendous football player. I was so happy to see him win and the way he's handled that. And the way he's come to work the last two days. I hope he wins another one and I think he will."

Mike Johnson, Bama's senior left guard who plays alongside Vlachos, earned first team All-America. "He definitely deserved it too," Vlachos said. "I was really happy for him. Mike's been a great leader for us up front. Always comes to work, has a great attitude about everything. Helps the young guys. Really done a fabulous job for us.

"He's the most experienced guy. He's seen everything. He's been in every position. So anything a young guy can be going through, Mike has been there, he's done it, he's seen it. He knows he's a leader. He's taken that upon his shoulders. He's done a really good job."

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