Caldwell Makes Name For Himself

HOOVER, Ala. — It's hard to imagine that a guy who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 305 pounds could get lost in the background.

But Alabama center Antoine Caldwell has accepted the fact that for as consistent and versatile as he is, it's his teammate — offensive tackle Andre Smith — who gets all the attention.

Smith has quickly established himself as one of the nation's top offensive linemen. He's a 6-foot-4, 340-pound giant who's considered a possible top 5 pick in next year's NFL Draft, and he earned the distinction of being the only individual to grace the cover of Alabama's 2008 football media guide.

Caldwell, meanwhile, has quietly started 34 games for the Crimson Tide, moving around during his three years as a starter from center to guard and then back to center.

"It's tough to be a center, but I look at it as I'm not just a center. I can play center, I can play guard, I can play different positions," Caldwell said at last month's Southeastern Conference Media Days. "We've got a lot of good guys this year where I probably won't have to do that.

"I can't say enough, of course, about Andre. I won't ever play left tackle as long as he's (there), I know that for sure."

Caldwell, however, will be needed in other ways if Alabama hopes to rebound from a disappointing 7-6 finish in Nick Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa.

The senior is a proven leader who commands respect among his teammates, something the Crimson Tide needs after an offseason filled with too much off-the-field turmoil.

"I think our team last year probably didn't play with a lot of consistency," Saban said. "We didn't finish games. We didn't finish the season."

While Smith gets the star treatment, Caldwell is considered the anchor of an Alabama offensive line that surrendered less than two sacks per game in 2007.

Caldwell said he has no regrets about returning to Alabama for his senior season instead of leaving early for the NFL. He's on the preseason watch lists for several individual awards, and he was named last month to the coaches' All-SEC second-team.

"I'd do whatever I can do to help this team," Caldwell said. "That's what I'm about."


DIFFERENCE MAKER: Quarterback John Parker Wilson has frustrated Crimson Tide fans, and as a senior with 26 consecutive starts, now is the time for him to live up to the early hype. He passed for 2,846 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season, but he enters the season with his third offensive coordinator in as many years. He must adapt quickly.

RISING STAR: Plenty of buzz has followed wide receiver Julio Jones to Alabama, where the highly touted freshman is expected to have an immediate impact in the passing game. Jones was considered one of the nation's top high school recruits last season, and the 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver has already impressed teammates in preseason drills.

BIGGEST STRENGTH: With Andre Smith at left tackle and Antoine Caldwell at center, Alabama has an offensive line that should open up plenty of holes for the running backs. Smith is arguably college football's best left tackle, so Parker Wilson shouldn't have to worry about a defender coming off the end and sacking him.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Nick Saban gave Alabama's long-suffering fans a reason to get excited when the Crimson Tide won its first three games of the 2007 season. But Alabama lacked consistency and looked like a different team during its four-game losing streak to end the regular season. Saban hopes his team can be more consistent in ‘08, but that remains unproven and could again be a problem.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: One of the most intriguing games of the season could be on Nov. 8 when Saban makes his first trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU as Alabama's coach. Saban is hated for how he left the Tigers a few years ago, and LSU coach Les Miles has only heated up the rivalry by taking pot shots at the Crimson Tide.

FORECAST: 8-4, 5-3 in the SEC

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