28 August 2008
To get everyone fired up for this weekend’s big opening game with Clemson (like we needed to!) we have been breaking down the battles within the battle that separate the winners from the losers. Today we continue out these breakdowns with:
Alabama Offensive Line vs. Clemson Defensive Line
A familiar scapegoat for Bama’s woes in recent years has been the offensive line. From a disgusting performance against Alabama Polytechnic Institute a few years back to…well, I just threw up in my mouth a little so I will go no further.
This year, that won’t be the case. The Tide comes in to the 2008 season with a veteran corps that should be considered as one of the best in the conference. Everyone knows that junior Andre Smith has been a pillar at left tackle since his first day on campus and must be considered one of the best in the country - but he may not even the most valuable lineman on his own team.
Senior center Antoine Caldwell has been almost irreplaceable to the Bama o-line during his career at the Capstone. Caldwell has been one of the best centers in the conference and when injuries or insufficient play has predicated a move to guard or tackle, he has excelled there.
Also returning for his senior season is guard Marlon Davis. Davis has played well when healthy but he hasn’t been a picture of health during his career. Davis was for the most part healthy last season after getting better conditioned.
Another returning starter, albeit in a different position, is Junior Mike Johnson. Johnson spent most of last season at tackle, where he did a decent job, but was moved back to his more natural position inside during the spring.
The lone new starter will be Drew Davis, a junior with very limited experience. Davis held off sophomore Taylor Pharr for the starting nod.
A key for the Tide offensive line will be to remain healthy. Three true freshmen have supplanted the returning lineman, including Pharr, for back-up roles up front. These freshmen are tackles Tyler Love, Barrett Jones, and John Michael Boswell.
On the defensive front for Clemson, they will be without one of their best players for the first month or two of the season. Senior tackle Rashad Jackson will be sidelined with injury. In his spot, junior Jamie Cumbie steps in.
At the other tackle, massive 320lb senior Dorrell Scott will look to get an inside push for the Tigers. At defensive end, the talented junior Ricky Sapp is joined by fellow junior Kevin Alexander.
A player to watch at defensive end will be super freshman DeQuan Bowers. Bowers was widely considered one of the top three players in the country last season, along with Terrell Pryor and Alabama WR Julio Jones.
While not listed in the two-deep depth chart for the Tigers, it has been reported that Bowers has been getting a lot of reps during game preparations.
Not having Jackson available is a blow to a Clemson defense that will need to get pressure with a four man front to keep the heat off their inexperienced linebackers. If they can’t, the Tide will be able to get more players out in routes and not have to keep an extra back or tight end to max protect.
With the experience Bama brings into the game, they should be able to open up some running lanes for the running backs, opening things up for John Parker Wilson and the receivers.
A key for Alabama is this game and for the season is whether Drew Davis can make fans forget the names of Chris Capps and Kyle Tatum. Ugh. If Davis can produce, this Bama offensive line will be one of the best in the conference, if not the country.