Offensive Line Rebuilding Again

The offensive line took a hit with graduation, but even losing an All-America from the 2009 offensive front it wasn't as bad as the previous year. Still, when five starters, three of them All-America players, are lost over two years, there is building to do.

Alabama lost two seniors from last season's undefeated, national championship team. Mike Johnson, a three-year starter, earned All-America at left guard as a senior. He will be missed almost as much for his leadership as for his outstanding play. Drew Davis, who has been at right tackle the past two years, was one of the most improved Bama football players.

Those losses come on top of the 2008 vacancies created at left guard by Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith, center by All-America Antoine Caldwell, and right guard by Marlon Davis.

Based on the job Assistant Coach Joe Pendry has done in building offensive lines for Bama, expect the Crimson Tide to be able to fill the missing spots.

And also based on Pendry's history, consider it almost impossible to know which players might fit into which spots. That's because Alabama offensive linemen all learn to play at least two positions. And the linemen say they don't know until their name is called which position they might play in.

Rebuilding the offensive line (and other positions) enters a new phase Friday when the Crimson Tide begins spring football practice. The 15th and final practice will be the A-Day Game at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 17, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. ESPN will televise the event nationally.

Here is another in our series on Alabama football position work for this spring, this one a look at the offensive line.

At least two of the three returning starters are expected to maintain those positions this spring. James Carpenter came in for Smith at the critical left tackle position and William Vlachos took over at the even more important center spot and did very well.

Barrett Jones became the starting right guard as a redshirt freshman and was outstanding, a first team Freshman All-America. The only reason he isn't a sure thing to stay at right guard is because Alabama's coaching staff might see a need for him at another position.

Assuming Jones stays at right guard, the primary needs are at left guard and right tackle.

Two of the most used back-up offensive linemen in 2009 were junior John Michael Boswell (6-5, 306), who also saw much duty at tackle in his freshman season, and senior journeyman Brian Motley (6-2, 289) and they could be in the battle for Johnson's left guard spot. Darius McKeller (6-5, 280), a 2009 grayshirt now working with the team, and Austin Shepherd (6-4, 310), a true freshman who entered The University this semester, are also possibilities.

One of the most intriguing Alabama players is D.J. Fluker, a redshirt freshman. Fluker came into Alabama last year as one of the most anticipated players, in part because of his size. In his first year he has reportedly trimmed a good bit of fat off his 6-6 frame and is down to 340. He is listed as a right tackle. Senior Alfred McCullough (6-2, 292) has quietly had a very solid career for Alabama. Last year he was the top back-up at both tackle spots and saw playing time in about half of Alabama's games. Redshirt freshman Kellen Williams (6-3, 290) could also be at right tackle, as might walk-on soph David Williams (6-3, 272).

Carpenter (6-5, 300) is solid at left tackle after a very good first year following his transfer from junior college. His back-up could be soph Tyler Love (6-7, 295). Taylor Pharr (6-6, 290) is a senior who has limited playing time.

The depth chart at center is not expected to change. Vlachos (6-2, 294), a senior who should be an all-star candidate this year and who is one of the team's strongest players, is backed by versatile senior David Ross (6-1, 299). A walk-on center is soph Russell Raines (6-2, 290).

Barrett Jones (6-5, 280) was not only a Freshman All-America, he was a second team Academic All-America. Other offensive linemen in the mix for playing time (and who could be at right guard) include Chance Warmack (6-3, 301), a soph who entered Alabama at mid-term in 2009; redshirt freshman Anthony Steen (6-3, 305), who was cited by Tide Coach Nick Saban for his work on the scout team last fall; and Chad Lindsey (6-3, 310), a true freshman who entered Alabama this spring. Junior Allen Skelton (6-1, 256) is a walk-on candidate.

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