TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As a stud recruit in the Class of 2009, D.J. Fluker’s size and potential quickly drew comparisons to Andre Smith.
Physically, though, he was closer to Terrence Cody.
Nearly 400 pounds, Fluker was in no condition to start as a true freshman, as Smith did in 2006. Lumbering through preseason practice, it soon became clear junior college transfer James Carpenter would slide into the left tackle job vacated when Smith went to the NFL. The five-star prospect, in turn, redshirted.
A year later, Fluker is at a new position and sporting a new outlook.
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After losing about 75 pounds, improving mobility and enhancing work ethic, Fluker is working with the first team at the right tackle position vacated by the graduated Drew Davis.
“I move a lot better,” he said. “Feel a whole lot quicker. I work hard. I can breathe a whole lot better, too.”
Body fat is down to 23 percent while muscle makes up 25 percent of his rebuilt 6-foot-6 frame. Most of the rest can be found in his size 22 shoes.
“It always amazes me when I see those shoes and think how many cows just got hurt when he puts those Nikes on,” offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said.
Finding shoes that fit is a chore just as getting them to move as he’d like has been. Pass blocking has been an issue, but he’s getting extra help from his offensive line neighbor, right guard Barrett Jones.
Fluker said his footwork has come a long way since the spring, when he was victimized a few times by speedy defenders at A-Day. Dont’a Hightower also taught him a lesson about pass blocking when the blitzing linebacker knocked him flat on his back late in the second quarter of the spring game.
But the effort he shows in practice draws the most praise from teammates. Jones couldn’t think of anyone who works harder in practice. Without those 75 extra pounds weighing him down, workouts are not as laborious as during his redshirt season.
“Yes, sir. It was my first year of college football, and I didn’t really understand the game,” Fluker said. “It was really my first year playing offense. I was trying to learn and go through the practice, and it was tough.”
Strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran receives credit for transforming the expected star with a weight problem into one of Alabama’s most improved players.
Now that most of the physical ills have been corrected, the mental side is the next major product. Just as graduated offensive lineman Mike Johnson did for Jones, the now-experienced right guard is spending extra time in the film room with Fluker.
“I think the biggest thing he has to do — he knows what to do — is show more maturity in being able to focus on that and overcome things that are unfamiliar to him and that frustrate him,” coach Nick Saban said. “You can’t get frustrated; you have to play the next play, keep playing, be aggressive. He’s improved his pass protection because he has improved his range and his mobility.”
And when it comes to play-calling, McElwain said Fluker’s skill set will certainly be a factor in the decision-making progress. He’s not yet a finished product.
“There is no need to expose when we don’t need to expose,” McElwain said. “In other words, let’s make sure we’re doing the things that he does well or that position does well and not try to ask them to do things that he’s not ready for yet.”