James Carpenter Big In Building OL

It's difficult to believe now, but this time a year ago there was much consternation in the Alabama camp regarding the left offensive tackle position. Andre Smith had made contact with an agent, earning him a dismissal from the team just before the Sugar Bowl loss to Utah.

Smith, considered by many to be the nation's best lineman as a junior, wasn't the only Alabama lineman lost from the 2009 Crimson Tide football team. Bama had to find a center to replace All-America Antoine Caldwell and a right guard to take over for Marlon Davis.

William Vlachos is the new center and Barrett Jones, a freshman All-America, took over at right guard.

At the critical left tackle position, James Carpenter arrived from Coffeyville (Kansas) Junior College, where he had been a JUCO All-America. The Augusta, Ga., native had once committed to Coach Gene Chizik at Iowa State. Chizik is now at Auburn, but the only school for Carpenter once the offer came was Alabama.

"I've always been an Alabama fan," Carpenter said during a media opportunity in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday. "I love Alabama. And it's even better than I thought it would be; way better than what I expected."

Carpenter arrived in Tuscaloosa last winter, enabling him to take part in off-season conditioning work and spring practice. "That was huge," said Alabama Offensive Line Coach Joe Pendry. "If he hadn't come in last January I don't know where his development would be, but it would be way behind where he is now. And I'm sure he'd tell you the same thing."

Carpenter agreed. "It was a big advantage to come in and work out in the spring and learn everything," said the 6-5, 300-pound lineman. "It helped out a lot.

"And it has helped that Coach Pendry has worked us so hard. That's why we're where we are and why we've had a good offensive line this year."

He said he has also had help from senior All-America left guard Mike Johnson. "He's always there for the new guys," Carpenter said. "He has great knowledge."

Alabama's coaching staff had some concern that Carpenter would try to be another Andre Smith, said Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain. "We just needed him to be James, and not push to be another Andre," said McElwain.

Carpenter, who has always played left tackle, said "Andre was a real gifted player. I was really just trying to do my part."

Offensive line was a question mark prior to the 2009 season, but the group came together early in Alabama's 13-0 season. On Thursday Carpenter and his teammates will play Texas, also 13-0, in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Kickoff will be at 5 p.m. PST (7 p.m. central time) with television coverage by ABC.

Carpenter said preparation for Texas had gone well. He said the Texas defensive front is "very fast with a good pass rush. It will be a challenge."

If he could have the game go the way he wants, he said, it would be "everyone has a good game. If Mark Ingram has a good game, we might be on the field a lot, but that's the way we want it."

So what grade would Carpenter give himself in his first season? "I'd say a ‘B'," he said.

"A ‘B?'," said backup offensive lineman David Ross, sitting nearby. So what would Ross give him. "About a ‘G'," he said. "Nah. Kidding. He's had a really good year."

The first season for Carpenter comes to a close Thursday night.

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