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August 29, 2012

Offensive line attracting attention

TUSCALOOSA | As anonymous as offensive linemen tend to be in football, offensive lines as a whole are even less recognizable.

They don't catch the ball or score, they don't make ESPN highlights and they certainly don't draw attention to themselves.

A marketing challenge, to be sure.

But the University of Alabama's 2012 offensive line has already garnered some serious attention, and if the unit plays to its potential, it could be as well-known as an offensive line can be by season's end.

It starts with the defending Outland Trophy winner, Barrett Jones, starting at his third position in three years as the Crimson Tide's center. Two others, right tackle D.J. Fluker and left guard Chance Warmack, are preseason candidates for the same award, which goes to the nation's top lineman each year. Right guard Anthony Steen and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio complete a veteran group that was among the nation's best a year ago.

Jones, Fluker and Warmack were also chosen to the Southeastern Conference coaches' preseason All-SEC team, with Fluker and Jones earning first-team honors.

Kouandjio, a sophomore, is the least experienced of the group. But his prodigious talent got him on the field at one of the line's most demanding positions as a true freshman last year.

"The offensive line that we have here is a close group. We have a lot of experienced players, so they've been very supportive in trying to help his development," UA coach Nick Saban said. "The biggest thing for talented young players is to understand the importance of doing the little things right. That's what's going to help them become a more consistent player - (knowing) that they can't just rely on their ability."

Kouandjio said he can always count on his counterpart at the tackle position to keep his energy high in practice.

"I like the energy we bring. Fluker on the right side is always trying to pump everybody up," Kouandjio said. "Chance, Steen, everybody has good energy. We're trying to stay positive, trying to make things work. I like that."

In an offensive line that will have more than 100 combined career starts by the end of September, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier inherited a smoothly-running engine for his first Alabama offense.

"This is a very, very talented group of guys, as good an offensive line as I've ever been around in college football," Nussmeier said. "We've got an opportunity to do some really good things with those guys. Really, really excited about that group."

Experience is limited among the reserves, and Saban said the UA coaching staff is working to develop more consistency in the second unit.

"We have some good young players that need to continue to develop confidence and consistency. That's going to be a real key to developing the depth that we need at that position," he said.

"You're always fortunate, though, when you have some older good players who can actually help players. At least you have someone that sets an example for how we can and should do it, and you can see it and sort of try to learn a little bit from what you see."

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