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April 6, 2011

McCullough, Douglas battle at tackle

TUSCALOOSA | To see Aaron Douglas and Alfred McCullough standing together on the University of Alabama practice field, someone unfamiliar with the Crimson Tide's left tackle position might never guess the two are competing for the same job.

At 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds, Douglas is long enough and lean enough to pass for a tight end. McCullough, at 6-2 and 311 pounds, looks more like a guard than a tackle, and in fact has practiced some at guard in his career.

Whether or not either fit the ideal mold, however, matters little.

What matters more is that one of them will likely exit spring drills as the Crimson Tide's most reliable option at the most crucial position on the offensive line.

"Alfred's done a nice job. There is competition at left tackle between him and Aaron Douglas," said UA coach Nick Saban. "Alfred obviously has a little bit more experience, knows the offense a little bit better. But Aaron is making nice progress as well."

McCullough picked up some valuable game experience at right tackle last season when starter D.J. Fluker was sidelined with a groin injury. Douglas started at right tackle at Tennessee in 2009, but his experience at left tackle comes from his season at Arizona Western Community College last year.

The Crimson Tide returns starters at each of the other four positions on the offensive line. James Carpenter, a two-year starter who, like Douglas, came to Alabama from the junior college ranks, left the void on the left edge of the line. Given that the most effective pass rusher on opposing defenses rushes from the left side, the blind side of Alabama's yet-to-be-named first-year starter at quarterback, the McCullough-Douglas competition is no small matter.

"He's one of the most athletic offensive linemen we have," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said of McCullough. "With him playing defensive line (earlier in his career), then moving to offense, he knows the pass rushes and the way we want to set things up. He's always kind of one step ahead, which makes it great to go against him."

On National Signing Day, when Douglas and the rest of the Crimson Tide's signing class was announced, Saban noted that Douglas had the ability to fill Alabama's need at the position. His pass blocking skills drew strong reviews from his former coach at AWCC, although at 275 pounds, adding size to help his run blocking may be a post-spring priority for Douglas.

"Honestly, I was really interested to meet Aaron Douglas because I'd heard so much about him. I remember meeting him in recruiting, and he was a nice guy," said right guard Barrett Jones. "Then I saw he played at Tennessee, and heard a lot of things. I think he's gotten along great with everybody and he's come in here and has really been single-minded and focused on football. I've been pleased to see that, and I think he wants to do things right."

Saban is encouraged with Alabama's depth at both tackle positions.

"We feel really good about the way some of the tackle prospects on our team have progressed," Saban said. "(Right tackle Austin) Shepherd's done a nice job, (D.J.) Fluker's done a nice job. Those guys have improved. 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."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.


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