Larry Burton (Panama City Beach, FL) For years, Alabama has had such a porous offensive line that each year, the press and fanbase are nervous about the new year at these positions.
Last year, it was said that the departure of so many good linemen would leave Alabama an also-ran in the SEC.
You know what happened.
The 2009 line upped the rushing yardage, increased the scoring, and cut the sacks. Now, with All-American left guard Mike Johnson and right tackle Drew Davis leaving, many are worried again. The broken foot of center William Vlachos doesn't help the worriers.
Vlachos should be ready by fall—and if he's not, seniors David Ross and Brian Motley can fill in, and the Tide shouldn't miss a beat. Both have had playing time and experience.
Carpenter returns as left tackle, and there's some discussion going on to move Barrett Jones to Johnson's position. Jones was a starter last year, but at right guard.
Others who could be in the mix for left guard are junior John Boswell, who backed up Johnson last year, and Motley, who can also back up at center.
The right side of the line is a wide-open battle. The biggest battle could be at right tackle, where three very qualified linemen are ready to fight it out.
Many thought D.J. Fluker, the No. 1 offensive lineman recruit in America, would come in and start immediately at left tackle; instead, he redshirted last year. He could be in the mix this year, but at right tackle.
The person who could stand in his way is Tyler Love. He was also a five-star recruit, and now that he's in his third year in the program, it could be time all that promise started showing itself.
What makes things so interesting here is that Alfred McCullough, although a little shorter and smaller than Fluker and Love, is right in the mix. He impressed coaches with his work last year and was the backup to Davis. He could wind up with the job just as easily.
This great battle just emphasizes more than anything just how far Nick Saban has brought this program. Any one of these three is light years ahead of, say, Chris Capps— who was a starter when Saban first arrived. And it's not there's just someone better—there are three players who are better.
Speaking of great battles, there's another one shaping up at right guard—if, in fact, Jones moves to the left side.
Chance Warmack may have less experience than the rest, but this sophomore has the talent to play at the next level if he can master the techniques offensive line coach Joe Pendry has been teaching him. He backed up Jones at right guard last year and had glimpses of greatness.
David Williams, a sophomore, has the chance to move up from third string to fight for a starting job this year. He has the size and footwork to make this a very interesting battle, as well.
When you think it doesn't get any better, two players coming off redshirt years are ready to play. They are clearly in the mix for playing time down the road and ready to back up and support the team this year.
You may not have heard their names yet, but they will be known in a year or two. They are Kellen Williams, a 6'4", 286-pound lineman who turned down five other big offers to come to Alabama, and Anthony Steen, another lineman at 6'4" and 300 pounds. As the top lineman out of Mississippi, he had offers from many big schools, too—but he came to Alabama.
Steen has a real nasty streak and likes the physical toughness of close combat. He could just as easily play defense.
This is as deep an offensive line as Alabama has sported in decades. It is no longer a point of worry for the people who know. Instead, it is a point of pride, power, and domination.