TUSCALOOSA _ Although the University of Alabama offense is averaging 512.3 yards of total offense, including 267.7 rushing yards, and has only yielded three sacks so far, the offensive line has a different look from last year's unit that featured two All-Americans.
Consequently, the Crimson Tide doesn't have quite the same power game from 2008, but is still having success under the direction of Joe Pendry.
"They've done a pretty good job and they've improved each week," Coach Nick Saban said. "I don't think we're the same type of offensive line we were a year ago, but for what this offensive line does they've been very functional, played extremely well, played with a lot of toughness, played hard, played smart and done a good job for us."
Most notable is the size difference, with the three newcomers all smaller than whom they replaced. However, they have something else in common, which in part helps explain the offensive changes as a whole like the addition of the pistol formation (when the running back lines up behind the quarterback in shotgun formation), and increased mobility.
"We lose Marlon Davis for Barrett Jones," junior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "Barrett was a really good athlete in high school. He's not nearly as big as Marlon as far as weight is concerned, but he runs really well. We lose Antoine Caldwell for William Vlachos. He runs really well also, a little smaller guy, but he moves really well for his size. Andre (Smith) for James (Carpenter), and James is a very good athlete.
"I think we have a different identity in what we're trying to do is disguise the run really well and we're trying to take advantage of them pulling out and they match up really well against linebackers and some smaller guys. That's one of the advantages so far."
With Alabama emptying the bench against North Texas on Saturday, the coaching staff essentially sent notice as for which true freshmen will likely redshirt this season.
The only ones to play thus far are wide receiver Mike Bowman, linebacker Nico Johnson, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, defensive lineman Kerry Murphy, running back Trent Richardson, guard Chance Warmack and safety Rod Woodson.
"We want to play the best players," Saban said. "We never want to redshirt anyone who can play better than someone who's playing. I've talked about this before, with freshmen sometimes it comes down to maturity. It doesn't mean a guys isn't going to be a really, really, really, really good player at some point in time in the future. It just means maybe he isn't quite ready right now for whatever reason.
"We really don't decide early on that we're going to redshirt players."
Among those most likely to be pressed into service if needed are those listed on the three-deep depth chart: tackle D.J. Fluker, quarterback A.J. McCarron, linebacker Tana Patrick, defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore and guard Anthony Steen. Eddie Lacy remains an option if Alabama has more injury problems at running back.
Sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones (bruised knee) led the receiving corps through drills Tuesday as Alabama was able to practice outdoors. Senior running back Roy Upchurch (sprained ankle) was practicing behind sophomore Mark Ingram, freshman Trent Richardson and junior Terry Grant.
Senior P.J. Fitzgerald on switching to No. 7 because Lorenzo Washington was added to special teams and the Tide couldn't have two No. 97s on the field at the same time: "I was actually shocked when I walked in because I had heard a rumor going around that my number could be changed. I walked in and it was number seven and I was, 'Well that's weird. All I heard from the trainers and all them Saturday was J. Barker and P.J. Barker. But actually I like lower numbers." Fitzgerald wore No. 11 his freshman year after redshirting in 2005.
Converted running back Chris Jordan has done his homework on learning all the calls at middle linebacker as Rolando McClain's backup. "They make a big deal out of it because it is a big deal," he said. "You have to come out and set the front, you're the quarterback of the defense so it is a big deal you have to make the call to set the defense up so we can be successful."
Story of the day from senior guard Mike Johnson: "I was talking to James Carpenter the other day and he was telling me about all the official visits he went on, he went to Oklahoma and Ole Miss, this place had great facilities and this place had great places to hang out and stuff like that. I said, 'Well James, why did you come here?' and he said, '˜I wanted to win.' That kind of tells the story about where we've come since I was a freshman here. We've come so far."