THE CRIMSON TIDE must replace an Outland Trophy--winning left tackle (Andre Smith) and an All-SEC center (Antoine Caldwell). What's more, the revamped line must protect a first-year starter at quarterback (Greg McElroy) who has thrown all of 20 passes at Alabama. But the big men up front have a training tool that no other line in the country has: Terrence Cody.
"If we're not in perfect position to block him, then we don't really have a chance [of stopping him]," left guard Mike Johnson says of Mount Cody, the 6'5" nosetackle who slimmed down from 380 pounds to 354 in the off-season. "That's what he does for us on a day-to-day basis. It was huge for us last year. It's going to be even bigger this year."
Cody's assistance is but a small part of the help the defense will be for an offense that will most likely need time to find its rhythm. With standouts Cody, linebacker Rolando McClain and cornerback Javier Arenas holding off the opposition, Alabama won't have to light up the scoreboard. But make no mistake. To win the strongest SEC West since the conference split into two divisions in 1992, Alabama's offense will have to hold up its end.
McElroy is a 6'3", 220-pound junior from Southlake (Texas) Carroll High whose mobility should take some of the pressure off the line. In fact, Johnson says McElroy may remind Tide fans of another Texan. "He's got a Colt McCoy--type athleticism to him," Johnson says. "People are going to be surprised with the kind of plays he can make."
Of course, McElroy's success will be tied to the line's effectiveness. "Every question that you ask me about quarterback is going to come right back to this group," coach Nick Saban says of his blockers. Senior Drew Davis returns at right tackle; James Carpenter, a transfer from Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College, is the front-runner at left tackle, though all eyes will be on 6'6", 340-pound D.J. Fluker, a prized freshman from Foley, Ala. Holding the edge at center is junior William Vlachos, who played in seven games in 2008. Why Vlachos? "He handled Terrence Cody pretty well all spring," Johnson says.
High praise indeed.
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THE OFFENSE WILL NEED TIME TO FIND ITS RHYTHM.
COACH: Nick Saban (3rd year)
2008 RECORD: 12--2 (8--0 in SEC)
FINAL AP RANK: 6
RETURNING STARTERS: 12 Offense 4, Defense 8
5 Virginia Tech in Atlanta
12 Florida International
19 North Texas
3 at Kentucky
10 at Ole Miss
17 South Carolina
14 at Mississippi State
27 at Auburn
The Crimson Tide set the tone for its 2008 breakout by thumping No. 9 Clemson in the Georgia Dome on the opening weekend. A victory over the Hokies, the ACC favorite, would be a huge boost.
Alabama unloaded six years of Iron Bowl frustration on Auburn with a 36--0 win last season, but the Tide best be wary when the teams tangle in November. The margin of victory was the largest in the series since 'Bama won 38--0 in 1962. Auburn won the next year, 10--8.
ROB TRINGALI/SPORTSCHROME/GETTY IMAGES
In practice the 354-pound Cody (62) gives his teammates a glimpse of what life is like in the SEC trenches.