August 5, 2007

Tide offense leans on veteran line

Two seasons ago, a weak offensive front proved to be the biggest chink in the armor of an otherwise impressive Alabama Crimson Tide team. Since that time, both former head coach Mike Shula and new head coach Nick Saban have worked to strengthen the offensive front into perhaps the biggest strength of the 2007 Tide.

Making the transition from weak spot to brick wall has taken some ace recruiting work as well as some good luck but the primary reason the Tide are so optimistic about this year's offensive line is experience. The unit brings back all five starters and is currently undergoing an intense competition at one spot that will almost certainly mean an upgrade.

"We know we're the veteran group on the offense so we feel like we have to take it upon ourselves to move the team forward," said B.J. Stabler, who moved from right guard to right tackle during the off-season. "We know each other's ins and outs so that's going to be an advantage for us going into this season."

Stabler is currently in the midst of a heated competition at right tackle with sophomore Mike Johnson to take over the role from last year's starter Chris Capps, who has been moved to left tackle.

"Mike Johnson is in front of me right now but we're competing pretty hard," said Stabler. "We're both helping each other get better and I feel like we're competing as teammates. We both want the job but we are helping each other find what our weaknesses are and find ways to correct them."

Aside from having a new starter at right tackle, the line will likely remain intact from last season meaning that a group who entered last year's fall camp as strangers are starting this year's camp as old friends.

"We've got a lot of experience with each other," said left guard Justin Britt. "There's a comfort level now that we haven't had before. I know [starting left tackle] Andre Smith better now than last year. I had never played with [starting center] Antoine Caldwell before last season so he wasn't used to me. It's good to have everybody on the same page this early on."

Britt said the focus for each of the returning veterans on the line has been to improve their strength, fitness and technique in the off-season and believes the hard work since the spring will pay off this fall.

"I'm just trying to get better every single day," said Britt. "I don't want to take any steps back this year, I just want to constantly keep moving forward. I talked to my brother and that was his advice to me was just keep getting better every day so that's what I'm focused on."

"I'm in better shape than I was going into the spring because the off-season program was pretty intense," said Smith. "I feel as though I can play all four quarters now as opposed to last season where I would get tired about midway through the fourth quarter. I'm looking forward to be able to compete for the entire game this year."

Even Stabler, whose career thus far has been plagued by a nagging knee injury, appears to be in the best shape of his career heading into 2007.

"My knee is holding up well," said Stabler. "The coaches have all told me they think I'm moving around pretty good and I'm not in any pain or discomfort so I'm optimistic about the season."

With all the pieces appearing to fall in place early on, the Crimson Tide offensive line are counting on one of their most productive seasons yet in 2007.

"It's going to be intense," said Smith. "I'm going to enjoy seeing that play out. I've got to watch my own back as well and continue to work hard with Coach Pendry. I expect us to be very productive this year and have a lot of fun."

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