Could another freshman start at left tackle?

Andre Smith started 13 games as a freshman. By his junior year he was the best offensive lineman in the country—if you can believe the draft experts and the Outland Trophy. Also, you’d have to say Smith’s loss added to Alabama’s discombobulation along the offensive line of scrimmage in the Sugar Bowl. But how do you replace him?

That was a question asked by Ian Rapoport at the Rap Sheet this morning. His list of candidates: Mike Johnson, Drew Davis, Tyler Love, Barrett Jones, John Michael Boswell, or someone else like D.J. Fluker, Bobby Massive or Kerry Murphy. It makes a fun exercise in speculation—and this is all I’m doing, speculating…

Mike Johnson is an experienced lineman. He’s played tackle and guard. I’d keep him at guard. He did a superb job in the guard role this year; was there a better left side of an offensive line with Smith and Johnson working together? While it would be tempting to move Johnson to the important tackle position, it would be a mistake. It was a mistake in the Sugar Bowl as Alabama was forced to replace two positions instead of just one. Sometimes the less disruption to routine the better. While Johnson could play tackle, it would be better to use him at guard for one simple reason—his experience would be invaluable helping support a new center and a new left tackle. (We can’t forget the loss of our center and what that could do to the interior of the line.)

Drew Davis Moving Davis is a possibility. But it would be a one year solution as he was a junior in 2008. Is that the best answer? I’d prefer to build a foundation and grow players for a longer term horizon than just one season. That doesn’t mean if Davis is the best/only solution you don’t move him, but I get the feeling Saban’s process is about more than just getting the quickest or easiest solution.

Tyler Love, Barrett Jones, John Michael Boswell These three were big signees, but Boswell saw the most playing time. Boswell is 6’5” 300 lbs. according to the media guide—that makes him larger than Jones who comes in at 6’5” 280 lbs., and Love who is 6’7” and 290 lbs. Andre Smith is listed at 340 lbs. Any of these players must add strength to gain the left tackle position.

D.J. Fluker Based on the workouts and actual play at the Army All-American Bowl, Fluker looks to be the closest thing to filling Smith’s shoes. He’s strong. He’s agile. He’s fast. He’s gigantic as he stands 6’7” and tilts the scales at 350 lbs. Fans should prepare themselves for falloff even if Fluker earns the spot during fall camp. Even Smith had to grow and learn the college version of the position. It will be no different with Fluker.

With Fluker’s commitment to Alabama, fans should be able to take a deep breath and worry about another hole on the offensive line—center.

Replacing Antoine Caldwell could be an even greater problem than replacing the Outland Trophy winner Smith. Why? Is there anyone on campus now or in the recruiting class who looks to possess all the skills Caldwell showcased? While the falloff from Smith to a freshman Fluker would be large, it could be an even larger falloff from Caldwell to his replacement.