No surprise to anyone, Connelly is more than pleased with the left side of his line. Guard Justin Smiley and tackle Wesley Britt were both named to the pre-season All-SEC squad. Each man has also received All-America recognition, with Smiley recently being named first-team All-America by Sports Illustrated.
Guard Justin Smiley was recently named by Sports Illustrated to its All-America team.
“I’m absolutely satisfied with them,” Connelly said of his two line stars. “They’ve had a great camp. Those guys are two-year starters going into their third year. They’re up for a lot of accolades--and deservedly so. They’re great leaders. They work hard. The team looks up to them. They get better and better every day. It’s exciting to coach those two.”
Evan Mathis is the third returning starter, but because of an injury he finds himself in a battle with Atlas Herrion. Last winter Mathis had his second surgery to repair a stress fracture. The bone is solid enough, but severe lingering pain is impacting Mathis’ mobility.
“That’s the biggest battle of camp,” Connelly said of the competition. “Those two are fighting it out right now. Evan is at a little disadvantage because of his injury, but he’s working hard. He’s a tough kid who never complains. He does everything he has to do. Both Evan and Atlas are going to play significantly this year.
“Hopefully once we get through camp and there are less reps and pounding in practice, Evan can get back on his feet 100 percent. He’s certainly not there right now.”
Right guard Dennis Alexander and center J.B. Closner are new additions to the lineup. “I’m satisfied with both of them,” Connelly said. “I don’t think we’ve dropped a bit from the two that we lost to the two that we’re replacing them with.”
Connelly says guard Dennis Alexander is a completely different player this fall.
That’s high praise, considering last year’s starters, Marico Portis and Alonzo Ephraim, were both All-SEC caliber. But Connelly has been more than happy with his new starters.
Heading into fall camp, Connelly was referring to Atlas Herrion as his “sixth man.” The designation was both praise for Herrion (who can back-up any position on the offensive line) and tacit admission of the line’s dire need for more depth.
Thankfully, several players have improved in recent weeks. At center, senior Matt Lomax should be ready if needed. “Matt Lomax has had a good camp,” Connelly said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s a natural leader and a very intelligent kid. He understands our schemes. Matt will play for us this year.”
Junior Danny Martz has successfully rehabbed an injured knee and has made a move to play. Connelly commented, “The kid that has had one of the best camps and has done good things is Danny Martz. He’ll play this year.”
Of course depending on who wins the starting job, either Evan Mathis or Atlas Herrion will back-up at tackle. “Right now Atlas is the sixth guy,” Connelly said. “He can play any and all positions and is willing to do so. He gives us a lot of added depth.”
Continuing pain from his surgically repaired leg has landed Evan Mathis in a fierce battle with Atlas Herrion for his starting job.
Among other returning linemen, Connelly says redshirt sophomores Von Ewing and Mark Sanders are improved. “Both are making progress,” Connelly said. “Early in camp they were just chugging along a little bit, but both have gotten better.
“Fortunately they’re both still young. We’ve got time to let them grow and mature. I think they’ll be guys that could get us out of a game, if need be.”
Sometimes necessity forces a coach to play true freshmen on the offensive line, but without question Connelly would prefer to redshirt all three of Bama’s newcomers. However, that doesn’t mean he’s not happy with their potential.
Travis West could play either center or guard. Right now he’s limping around because of an old high school injury, but West has impressed his position coach. “Travis has the most natural ability, physically,” Connelly said. “He’s the furthest along. If any of them had to play early, it would be him.”
Connelly believes Chris Capps is a prototype for offensive tackle. He explained, “Chris came on his official visit at 260 pounds. He was a bit thin, but he had broad shoulders and a good frame. We knew he could grow into a good player for us.” (Capps reported this fall at 275 pounds.)
Martz will be the principal back-up at guard.
At 6-4, 304 pounds, Justin Moon reported the heaviest of the three. Connelly says he’ll have some work to do physically, but he should develop into a solid guard. “Justin is a big ole strong kid,” Connelly said. “He wants to be here. He’s Alabama through and through.”
Guards Andy Harrison (6-1, 289) and Gerritt Gordon (6-2, 277) and center Montre Walker (6-2, 259) have also worked on the offensive line during fall camp. All are walk-on athletes, willing to pay their own way to college to get a chance to play football for Alabama.
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