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March 3, 2012

Spring preview: Offensive line

Tidesports.com's annual preview of spring practice at the University of Alabama continues with a look at the offensive line. This is the thirdof an eight-part series previewing one position each day until spring drills commence on March 9.

Moving on
Key losses include fifth-year seniors William Vlachos (center) and reserve Alfred McCullough. Vlachos was a three-year starter whose experience and savvy won't be easy to replace. McCullough filled in at both guard and both tackle positions at one time or another over his last two seasons, showing the kind of versatility that is tough to find and tougher to develop.

Moving forward
Alabama enters spring drills with more experience on the offensive line than any other position on the field with four returning starters. Tackles Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker have five years of starting experience between them. Guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen aren't quite that experienced, but are returning starters just the same. Fluker ended speculation about turning pro early last December, and enters spring drills looking to refine his already formidable game. Potentially, it could be Fluker's last spring at the Capstone. Jones, meanwhile, is the Crimson Tide's Mr. Everything, having played every position on the line in his career and potentially starting at three different spots over his last three seasons.

Moving up
Though it remains to be seen how fully Cyrus Kouandjio will be able to participate in spring drills coming off a knee injury, the Crimson Tide's up-and-coming left tackle should figure prominently in Alabama's future plans on the offensive front. One possible option would be to return Jones to the interior, where he started for two years at guard, replacing Vlachos at center. The spring development of younger options such as Kellen Williams (center) and Austin Shepherd (right tackle) will be crucial as well.

Moving day
None of UA's eight early enrollers are offensive linemen.

Position overview
In terms of experience, this line enters spring drills looking not unlike the 2008 Alabama line that returned the likes of Antoine Caldwell, Marlon Davis, Andre Smith and Mike Johnson. Like that line, the 2012 group will feature just one new starter. How Kouandjio rebounds from knee surgery will ultimately go a long way toward shaping the lineup. Ideally, a healthy and effective Kouandjio would give UA the top line in the conference, bar none.

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