published Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Tide expecting to roll despite line losses

  • photo
    Senior right guard Anthony Steen (61) is one of only two starting linemen back to help protect quarterback AJ McCarron as Alabama goes after a third consecutive national championship.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ALABAMA

Camp start: Aug. 2

Opener: Virginia Tech in Atlanta on Aug. 31 (5:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN)

Fun fact: Quarterback AJ McCarron is 25-2 as the starter and needs 11 victories to surpass Jay Barker (35-2-1 from 1991-94) for the most wins in Crimson Tide history.

Coming Monday: Arkansas

A peculiar thing happened last football season when Alabama's hopes of a second consecutive national championship were at their bleakest.

Trailing Georgia 21-10 midway through the third quarter at the Southeastern Conference championship game, the Crimson Tide turned to Anthony Steen. The overlooked right guard sandwiched between center Barrett Jones and right tackle D.J. Fluker led the way as the Crimson Tide amassed 121 rushing yards on their next two possessions to regain the lead in their eventual 32-28 triumph.

The biggest of those rushes, a 32-yarder by Eddie Lacy to open the second drive, was right behind Steen.

"There were certain games where D.J. and I would just feel it," Steen said this past week at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala. "We would tell the coaches to run to our side, and they would do it. The coaches definitely saw it in that game, and we kept doing it until they stopped us, which they never did."

Alabama wound up rushing for 350 yards and 6.9 yards a carry against the Bulldogs and did more of the same in the 42-14 rout of Notre Dame in the BCS championship game, gaining 265 yards and 5.9 yards per carry. Fluker and left guard Chance Warmack went on to be first-round picks in April's NFL draft, and Jones was selected in the fourth round.

That left Steen, a 6-foot-3, 309-pound senior from Clarksdale, Miss., and junior left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio as the returning starters up front. Joining them in the first-team lineup this spring were center Ryan Kelly, who worked with the starters a lot during bowl preparation when Jones was injured, right tackle Austin Shepherd and left guard Arie Kouandjio.

Arie is the older brother of Cyrus.

Quarterback AJ McCarron, who threw 30 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in leading the nation in pass efficiency a year ago, is back along with 1,108-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon and 1,000-yard receiver Amari Cooper. Reproducing those numbers likely will depend on whether the line can jell quickly for opening tests against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M.

"Nothing has changed," Tide senior linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Some of our linemen have already played, and some are stepping up for some great players who left for the draft, but it's Alabama, and that's why we have the players that we have."

Said McCarron: "I wouldn't expect us to fall off in any type of way. I expect us to push forward and be the type of offense that we know we can be and start off where we ended last year."

Steen said the two returning starters up front are sharing leadership responsibilities, with each settling into his role just in time for preseason camp.

"I've told Cyrus that whatever he wants to say, I've got his back, and he's told me the same thing," Steen said. "Cyrus is getting to where he's talking more up front around everybody, and I'm more of the guy who takes a freshman who has messed up and pulls him aside to talk to him about what he did wrong. I'm more that type of guy."

Alabama is an astounding 61-7 the past five years and has led the nation in total defense and scoring defense each of the last two seasons. The Crimson Tide's disciplined and stingy defense under coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart has occasionally overshadowed an offense that last year was second to none in program history.

The 2012 Tide set school marks for yards (6,237), points (542) and rushing and passing touchdowns combined (68). It was the first Alabama team to rush and pass for more than 3,000 yards, and it was also the first time the program produced two 1,000-yard rushers -- Lacy and Yeldon.

"Oregon has their flashy uniforms, but I think we are just more tradition, old-school, hit-you-in-the-mouth football," Steen said, "and that's what I like. I would rather keep it simple, and I don't care if we let you know and dare you to try and stop us. That's just how Coach Saban is."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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