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Why Alabama's Offensive Line Will Be a Big Surprise to Opponents

Larry BurtonSenior Writer IJuly 17, 2009

Everybody knows when you're building or rebuilding, you call a Carpenter. 

Well, that's just what Nick Saban did when he needed to rebuild one of the premier lines in the SEC. He called up James Carpenter, who was a standout at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, and talked him out of going to Oklahoma and many other big schools that were after him.

The 6'5", 310-pound tackle has outstanding run blocking ability and is quickly adjusting to the pass blocking requirements needed at this crucial position.

You can't have a good offensive line without an anchor at left tackle to hold down the line, and the departed Andre Smith is a big anchor to replace. Carpenter is being looked at as the man to get us stabilized at that position and be that anchor.

Is he as good as Smith? No, not now. 

Can he be with enough reps at the position? He'll certainly be good enough.

What proof do I have?

During A-Day, Carpenter was going against what may be the nation's best defense, and he held his own against some real top talent. 

Yes, there was a lapse or two, but overall he helped the offense move the ball against the No. 1 defense and, at least in grading him after the game, held his own.

Not bad for a guy's first game with an all-new team and new teammates.

And it certainly won't hurt to have a left guard who is a senior to help him through the learning curves.

6'6", 310-pound Mike Johnson is a versatile player who has played a little left tackle himself and knows how to mentor Carpenter to get the most from him.

With an All-SEC senior beside him on the left side, the left side of the line seems pretty solid at this point and has the potential to get just as good, if not better than last year's.

The fact that this line could potentially be better is no fluke, but a Fluker will certainly help make sure it is better.

At 6'7" and at least 355 pounds of quick moving muscle, James Fluker is the prototype left tackle that you would genetically manufacture if you could. Quick feet, explosive blocking ability, and a huge frame leaves no doubt why he was a highly sought-after recruit out of high school.

The fact that that he and Tyler Love, an experienced 6'7", 300-pound sophomore, are both backups give the Tide something it lacked for most of the last several years: quality depth on the offensive line.

At center, we have not one, but two men who have been battle-tested and who cowboy boot-wearing Joe Pendry feels could handle the job as well as last year's standout Antoine Caldwell, and that says a lot since Caldwell went to the NFL.

William Vlachos, a 6'0", 308-pound lineman, and David Ross, a 6'3", 298-pounder, are both juniors. Vlachos is looked at as the starter, but Ross will see playing time as well.  In the A-Day game, Vlachos wowed the coaches by handling Mt. Cody for most of his snaps against him.

"After practicing against (Terrence) Cody and Josh (Chapman) every day, I think I'll look forward to playing in games where I can take on lesser opponents," joked Vlachos.  "If you don't get hardened practicing against the best, you never will be," he added.

So there is no doubt to question either the quality or the depth at center this year.

At right guard—yes, it's more than a deodorant, especially on a running team like Alabama—they have as many as five good ones that will fight for that spot.

Yes, we lost Marlon Davis to the NFL, but 6'5" sophomore Barrett Jones was one of the top 20 linemen in America when Alabama snagged him, and in limited playing time, he did remarkably well. 

Barrett moves well for a big man and can run as well as pulling guard in the SEC and has pancake potential on running plays. His 6'5" frame makes him and those long arms effective as a pass blocker.

Also making a run for this job is junior Bryan Motley, who handled the spot during the A-Day game and looked good, as have true freshman Chance Warmack and John Boswell.

With so many good players ready at this position, this spot won't cause us any heartaches as many have feared.

Right tackle is headed up by the right man: Senior Drew Davis returns to a spot that he dominated last year. 

This 6'7", 308-pounder didn't lose a matchup all of last year and dominated those who lined up against him, and no team we play has anyone I see that will change that outcome.

Earlier this year when I met with Saban, he actually broke out a smile while talking about the offensive line. 

"I've never had a team with this much depth on the offensive line," he said, "and it's going to be solid for a few years."

What makes it even more exciting for Saban is having someone like Joe Pendry to coach them.

"Joe is one of the best offensive line coaches I've ever been around, and I've been around some good ones," said Saban.

With more talent on the offensive line than ever before, combined with a lot more depth, no wonder Saban and Pendry are happy coaches.

"I hope every team we play is just like everybody in the press who thinks this offensive line could be a liability," said Pendry this spring. "I hope they underestimate us real bad." he joked.

So while this offensive line may surprise the press, fans, and opponents, it won't be surprising to the Bama coaching staff.

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