Saban praises contenders Douglas and McCullough
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If the gravity of a left tackle’s job wasn’t known before 2009, Sandra Bullock made it clear on the silver screen.
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The opening monologue in the hit movie “The Blind Side” paired with Lawrence Taylor’s leg-snapping sack of Joe Theismann cleared up any remaining misconceptions. So with a new starting quarterback about to assume the reins of the Alabama offense, it’s only fitting that a parallel competition is under way for the right to watch his back.
With just over a week remaining in the Crimson Tide’s spring practice schedule, a two-man race is emerging for the starting left tackle job vacated by the graduated James Carpenter.
It’s the new guy versus the utility man.
Aaron Douglas vs. Alfred McCullough.
“There’s competition at left tackle between (McCullough) and Aaron Douglas,” coach Nick Saban said. “Alfred obviously has a little bit more experience, knows the offense a little bit better, but Aaron’s making nice progress as well.
“We feel really good about the way some of the tackle prospects on our team have progressed.”
Douglas is participating in his first round of Alabama practices as junior college transfer who started his college career at Tennessee in 2009.
McCullough, on the other hand, is a program veteran who knows both sides of the ball and pretty much every spot on the offensive line. A defensive lineman as a freshman in 2007, McCullough switched to offense after redshirting in 2008. By last fall, he was a fill-in starter when injuries popped up on the line.
He received limited playing time at left tackle when Carpenter went down with a minor injury late in the win against Penn State. The majority of his time came at right tackle when D.J. Fluker’s groin injury kept him from starting four games after the loss to South Carolina.
“I went down last year and (McCullough) filled in the spot and he has a great attitude,” Fluker said. “It doesn’t matter where he’s got to play; he’s going to go out there and play that spot.”
If size is an issue, McCullough has a big advantage over Douglas. The former Vol is listed at 275 pounds on the spring roster while McCullough weighed in at 311.
Then there is the experience factor, and within the Alabama offense, that edge goes to the Athens (Ala.) High School product.
“It’s a huge challenge, and I think a lot of guys don’t realize how intelligent Alfred is,” right guard Barrett Jones said. “Alfred is an extremely smart guy. I think he knows every position but center on the line. Getting settled, I think that’s been part of it -- that consistency of playing at one spot, that’s helped him.”
Douglas’ time in Knoxville can’t be ignored, though.
He was a freshman All-American during coach Lane Kiffin’s only season with the Vols. Douglas played right tackle in 2009 after redshirting his first year in Knoxville.
Every teammate who spoke about the former arch rival said his hunger to learn every nuance of the Alabama offense is impressive.
“Honestly, I was really interested to meet Aaron Douglas,” Jones said. “We’ve heard so much about him, and actually meeting him in recruiting, he was a nice guy. Then I saw him play at Tennessee, and I think he’s gotten along great with everybody coming here and being single-minded and really focused on football.”
As with any positional battle, Saban doesn’t like setting a timetable for determining a starter.
Having options and depth behind the top two is encouraging, he said.
“Those guys have improved,” Saban said. “I feel like the offensive line has continued to make progress because we did play with a lot of young guys last year. I feel like they’ve actually all showed some improvement this year, and I think the depth is better because of that as well.”