Vlachos Will Put Best Foot Forward
A year ago, William Vlachos was preparing to take over the starting job at center for the Alabama offense. He had big shoes to fill, replacing graduated All-America Antoine Caldwell. The upcoming junior did more than an adequate job, and now he's a candidate for the 2010 Rimington Award, given to the nation's top college center.
Vlachos performed well last season despite having a foot problem that was so severe it required surgery following Bama's national championship season. Shortly after the BCS Championship Game victory over Texas to give Alabama a 14-0 season, Vlachos was under the knife. The large bone behind his big toe had split into three parts.
"It was painful," Vlachos said. "It felt like tendonitis. The games weren't too bad because we could manage the pain, but practices were tough." He admitted that he doesn't miss practicing against massive Terrence Cody, Bama's All-America nose tackle.
Following last year's Kentucky game, Vlachos had his foot X-rayed, but the problem didn't show. A few weeks later, following the Ole Miss game, the injury was found.
Following the Winter surgery, a bone graft to repair his foot, the recuperation was long, six weeks on crutches and then six weeks in a protective boot. "It was painful," Vlachos remembered.
"Now the foot is good," he said. "The foot feels really good. I've been cleared to work on it since we reported June 1. I don't see there being any problems going forward. I practice without pain in the foot and I'm excited about that."
Vlachos had to miss spring football practice. Some players might consider that the one prerequisite of an injury. Not Vlachos. "I like spring practice," he said. "I enjoy it. It's a great time to get better and focus on the little things we do as an offense. You start forming your identity as a unit in spring practice. I hated having to miss it, but we consulted the doctors and coaches and everyone was okay with me missing it because it was something that had to be done. The guys did a great job during spring practice in my absence."
Vlachos, 6-1, 289, from Mountain Brook, is one of the strongest players on the team. Nose tackle Josh Chapman said he and Vlachos are the strongest. "If I go first, then he's going to try to out-do me by a few pounds, and if he goes first, I'm going to try to out-do him," Chapman said.
Vlachos is excited about the experience returning on the offensive line with starting left tackle James Carpenter and starting right guard Barrett Jones back. All three of the returning starters have come in for all-star recognition.
"I feel good about it," Vlachos said. "We've been to the top of the mountain as far as the three of us coming back as starters. We've been on every stage. We know what to expect every time we go out there."
He said in practice "there is a lot of shuffling around," men going from first team to second team, players shifting from guard to tackle to center, etc.
Vlachos said that Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are emerging as potential starters, Warmack replacing Mike Johnson at left guard, Fluker ahead for the right tackle spot where Drew Davis played.
"Chance and D.J. have worked as hard as anyone I've been around since I've been here," Vlachos said. "They've asked a lot of questions, really been mentally engaged. It bodes well for those guys. They want to know what it takes to have success in the offensive line."
He added, "We have 18 offensive linemen. Whoever plays will do a good job."
All-in-all, it's a veteran offense. But, said Vlachos, "There's always room to grow and improve. The style we're going to play is yet to be determined. You have camp to form your team identity. Last year we had a Heisman Trophy winner in our backfield and were able to run the ball. But we also have Julio Jones, so we'll find out. We had a lot of key men in place to have success and we have a lot of them back, but we'll have to figure out what kind of team we're going to have. We haven't won a game. We've won zero games. That's what pre-season is about – forming the identity, what are you going to do, how are you going to work, how are you going to react to adversity."
As the center, Vlachos is very much involved with communications during a game. What will the addition of nearly 10,000 fans in Bryant-Denny Stadium mean for that?
"Hopefully for us, nothing, because our fans understand the importance of the offense being able to communicate and they keep quiet," he said. "But for opponents, it's going to be...no telling. It's about as loud as anywhere I've ever been before this expansion. The loudest of any place I've been in my three years.
"It could cause some havoc for the opponent. The key, of course, is we've got to get them down, score some points and get the crowd behind us. When we're doing well on offense, that's when they're going to be the loudest for our defense."
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