TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Coach Nick Saban has a good idea who will occupy four of the five spots available on the Alabama offensive line.
Who are they?
The coach wouldn’t say but hinted by adding, “You would probably name the same four guys,” following Tuesday’s morning practice.
“The offensive line is a developmental position,” the coach said. “We have to give those guys a chance to develop. Until we see how they develop, it affects how everything else fits together.
“So sometimes you need to have poise and patience in making those determinations, even though I know how important it is for you guys to get a depth chart.”
The coach didn’t offer a firm deadline for establishing a starting group to develop continuity heading into the Sept. 5 opening game with Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome, but he said sometime after the first scrimmage would be acceptable.
Returning starters Mike Johnson and Drew Davis are the safest in assuming they will be in the top five, followed by junior college transfer James Carpenter, who started in spring practice and was the only one singled out by Saban as a player performing well in practice.
William Vlachos has been a two-year backup on the line but was the starting center in April’s A-Day game and is among the favorites to start this season.
Athens High School alumnus Alfred McCullough, who has been working out as a right guard and left tackle, is likely among the “three young players” Saban said who have a chance to be contributors on the line.
High school All-American D.J. Fluker had been a trendy pick to land a starting job right away but has shown plenty of room for improvement. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound freshmen struggled with pass-blocking during Sunday’s Fan Day practice in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Nailing down any kind of starting lineup based on Sunday’s practice, the only one open to the public all season, was impossible because players were shuffled around in various positions without many discernible patterns.
But what looks disorganized from afar is all part of the process of properly slotting players and developing depth.
“The better and bigger the resource of information the players have on the team, the more multiples we have when the season comes,” Saban said.
Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain didn’t offer any insight into the competition when asked Sunday but did talk about the importance of the sometimes forgotten big men up front.
“When we give weekly awards, we give the awards to the ones who don’t show up in the box score,” McElwin said. “Some guy catches a pass, and he is all over the TV and in the newspapers. Or some guy hits a long run, he gets his name in the paper. It’s those guys who don’t show up in the box score that do a great job to get those guys in the box score.”
Sophomore Mark Ingram is one of those box score regulars who, along with the other Tide running backs, will have their success determined in large part by the effectiveness of the line in the run-happy system.
And the son of the former NFL player bearing the same name isn’t too concerned with the ability of the unit — matter who is starting.
“The coaches go out and recruit great players,” Ingram said. “We had three great ones that left and there are guys that have been waiting for their opportunity. I think they are going to do a great job.”