September 8, 2011 10:51:00 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama''s Barrett Jones is an All-Southeastern Conference right guard, but he could be found just about everywhere else on the line in the Crimson Tide''s opener.
Left tackle. Left guard. Center.
The second-ranked Tide isn''t seeking a home for Jones but the right combination on the offensive line, which likely means waiting until freshman Cyrus Kouandjio is deemed ready to protect the quarterback''s blind side fulltime.
Coach Nick Saban doesn''t consider the line shuffling a valid excuse for missed blocks or what he described as a lack of consistency in the opener with Kent State.
"When you play on your toes and put your head down and whiff the linebacker, what does that have to do with who plays where?" Saban said Monday. "It doesn''t matter if you''re playing center, guard, tackle, tight end.
"It really doesn''t matter which position you''re playing to be able to get your second step on the ground and butt the guy in the throat and finish the block."
The Tide still ran for 183 yards and five touchdowns against Kent State. But the competition figures to get considerably tougher and more physical with Saturday''s visit to Penn State.
The line seemed pretty set except for left tackle, where James Carpenter started the past two seasons after replacing Andre Smith. Both were NFL first-round draft picks.
Jones started working at tackle late in spring practice. Anthony Steen started in his stead at right guard, like he did late last season when Jones was hurt. Returning starters William Vlachos (center), Chance Warmack (left guard) and D.J. Fluker (right tackle) are still holding down their normal spots.
The coaches wanted to get Jones some experience at center since he is Vlachos'' backup. He and Kouandjio were listed as co-No. 1 left tackles in the depth chart released last week.
Dealing with the May death of junior college transfer Aaron Douglas went far beyond football for the Tide, but on the field he was also a candidate to replace Carpenter.
Kouandjio is being groomed for that role. He was a consensus top-five prospect nationally and caused a stir when he committed to Auburn on national signing day, then switched to Alabama.
Now the Tide is preparing to play in front of 108,000 mostly hostile fans, a tough environment for any player much less a freshman.
"From my standpoint, I couldn''t imagine having to go up there as a true freshman," Vlachos said. "But I think he''s a special player. I think if that''s what the coaches want to do, that''s what we''ll be ready to do. We''ll help him out the whole way. This (Kent State) game was big for him as far as finally getting some game experience."
The Tide did have success running the ball, but got 72 yards on long runs by Jalston Fowler (49) and Eddie Lacy (23).
The other 33 carries netted 111 yards. Starter Trent Richardson managed a modest 37 yards on 13 carries but scored three touchdowns.
None of that''s really a major cause for concern in a 48-7 blowout, but Vlachos said the line shoulders much of the blame for any shortcomings on the ground.
"I think if the offensive line does a great job, the running game will be good," he said. "We''re probably the most important part of the running game. We''ve got two great backs, so if they''re not getting a bunch of yards, it''s probably not their fault. There are a bunch of things that play into it, but if the offensive line does a good job you should have a good day."
Defensive end Damion Square said practicing against the Tide''s offensive line regularly has given him confidence in both the unit and the new kid on the blocks.
"That group can be great," Square said. "Cyrus is a great, great offensive tackle. To come in and be as polished as he is as a true freshman, he''s going to be a guy that can contribute now or later. Whenever he gets his shot, he''s going to be a great player at the University of Alabama.
"The offensive front, those guys are big, powerful group of guys. They''ve just got to come together ... and polish up and communicate. They''re going to be just as good as anybody''s offensive line."
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