Many Candidates, Few Positions
Alabama is having to rebuild the offensive line to some extent for the second consecutive year. It is a measure of how far the Crimson Tide program has come that Coach Nick Saban's team can lose a three-year starter and All-America in Mike Johnson at left guard and a two-year starter in Drew Davis at right tackle and almost no one seems worried about filling the voids. (In the spring, Alabama is without returning starter William Vlachos at center, but Vlachos–who had off-season foot surgery–is expected back for fall camp.
The year before, Alabama lost All-America left tackle Andre Smith, all-star center Antoine Caldwell, and veteran right guard Marlon Davis. The Tide coped quite well in going 14-0 and winning the national championship with the rebuilt offensive line.
In addition to Vlachos, Alabama's other returnees for 2010 are senior James Carpenter at left tackle and Freshman All-America Barrett Jones at right guard.
Assistant Coach Joe Pendry has a large number of players to work with in filling the holes in the offensive line. Moreover, Pendry's coaching philosophy is that players learn to play more than one position, which doubles or triples the depth chart.
The one thing candidates for the open positions lack is playing time. Like most major college football teams, the practice of playing very few back-up offensive linemen has been borrowed from pro football philosophy. As a result, when a new man emerges as a starter in the offensive line, he typically has few snaps of previous experience.
In some respects, that puts all competitors on relatively even ground.
(Former Alabama Coach Mike DuBose was asked why he didn't play more back-up offensive linemen. He said, "Because I don't want to get my quarterback killed.")
Alabama got spring training started last Friday, then took this week off for The University's spring break. Practice resumes Monday. The 15th and final practice will be the A-Day Game at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 17, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. There is no charge for admission. The event will be nationally televised by ESPN.
With so many possible combinations, it is almost impossible to guess at how the offensive line situation might shake out. There is no reason to believe any returning starter will be unseated assuming Vlachos makes the full recovery that is expected.
John Michael Boswell was considered the top offensive lineman in the 2008 signing class. Boswell saw playing time at both guard and tackle that season. (Barrett Jones was injured that year and was redshirted.) Last year, Boswell again saw playing time in most games, some of that experience coming on extra point and field goal teams. He is considered the leading spring candidate at left guard.
Alfred McCullough has had an interesting Alabama football career. Originally a defensive end, he was a standout in the 2008 A-Day Game, winning the Dwight Stephenson Award as the top lineman. That fall, he was switched to offensive line and was redshirted. Last season he was the number one back-up at both left tackle and right tackle. He is considered the leader at right tackle as Bama begins spring work.
David Ross, who has been listed as a back-up at both center and guard the past couple of years, is expected to open spring work as number one at center. Chad Lindsay, a true freshman who entered in January, is considered a possibility at center, although he said when he signed that he expected to be a guard.
Saban has noted the difficulty of finding tackles and has said that will be a priority in the 2011 signing class. But two of the high profile names in Alabama's back-up arsenal are tackles. They are sophomore Tyler Love, listed as a left tackle, and redshirt freshman D.J. Fluker, a team giant at 6-6, 340 who is listed as a right tackle candidate.
Taylor Pharr and Brian Motley have been around a few years and have worked at both guard and tackle.
Others who were in back-up or scout team roles last year include guards Darius McKeller and Anthony Steen and tackle KellenWilliams.
In addition to Lindsay, the spring practice candidates include Darius McKeller, who originally signed in 2009 and grayshirted, and Austin Shepherd. Both are guards.
The fourth offensive line signee, tackle Arie Kouandjio, will enter The University this summer.
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