12 June 2010
If you are a veteran here at the BSR, then you'll know that my knowledge of offensive line play leaves a lot to be desired. At least I'll admit it. What I do know is that many smart football people will tell you that the second most important position on any offense - behind the quarterback - is the left tackle. As Coach Saban's movie told us, protecting the quarterback's "blindside" is a rather important thing. All kidding aside, the contracts signed by guys like Jake Long, Andre Smith, and Michael Oher tells me all I need to know... an offense is only going to go as far as its left tackle will take it. And last time I checked, Alabama won the 2009 National Championship. That must meen something good about Bama's left tackle.
James Carpenter - 6-5 - 300 lbs - Augusta, GA - Hephzibah High School
At this time last year a straw poll of internet savvy Bama fans would probably have told you that D.J. Fluker would be Bama's starting left tackle. If not the mammoth incoming freshman, then certainly it would have to be the five-star redshirt freshman Tyler Love. Little attention was paid to James Carpenter, who inked with the Tide out of Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, despite the fact that he had participated in spring practice, and exited the spring as the starting left tackle. Given the immediate impact of Terrence Cody on Bama's defense, maybe we should have given greater consideration to the next junior college guy signed by Nick Saban.
All Carpenter did was go about his business, and never relinquish the starting spot at left tackle for one day of fall camp, much less at any point during the 2009 season. It's just that simple... if Nick Saban signs a junior college guy, we have to at least acknowledge the fact that it is likely he will play in his first year. That's why the injury to incoming JuCo player Dequan Menzie hurts so much, as it's likely that he would have challenged for a spot as a starting corner. Remember this for next year when Quentin Dial is reporting out of East Mississippi Community College.
Carpenter was never a headline grabber during the 2009 season. Not many left tackles are, though. Unless you are a superstar like the three NFL players mentioned above, or you are getting beaten like a drum on Saturdays, most people aren't really going to play that much attention to you. That's not just true of left tackle, but of the offensive line as a whole.
While Carpenter can't lay claim to it all on his own, possibly the most astounding stat from the 2009 season for Bama involved the offensive line. After the Kentucky game on October 3, do you know how many holding penalties were called against the Alabama offensive line? Zero. Bama played nine consecutive games to close the season without seeing an offensive lineman called for holding.
That's just plain ridiculous.
It would be noteworthy if just one guy on the line managed that streak, but for all five of them to do it speaks absolute volumes about the coaching that they are getting from Joe Pendry. The fact that Carpenter was able to protect Greg McElroy for nine straight games without committing a holding penalty is all you really need to know about what type of season he had. In fact, Bama only allowed 20 sacks for the season... a number far lower than we've seen in Tuscaloosa for several years.
And then there's the fact that Mark Ingram set the school record for rushing yards in a season on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Not to mention Trent Richardson piling up quite a few yards himself.
Basically, it's safe to say that the Alabama offensive line had a great year. And the left tackle is the most visible and most scrutinized position on the offensive line. So, with my apologies to linemen everywhere for not being able to get into better specifics, it's also a safe bet to say that James Carpenter had a great year.
There is absolutely nothing to indicate that Carpenter will be replaced as the starter at left tackle. At this point there is a revolving door at right tackle that includes pretty much everyone except for Carpenter and starting center William Vlachos. That makes his presence on the line that much more important, though. With the right side of the line unsettled, Bama will likely be "left heavy" early in the season. Since All-American left guard Mike Johnson has moved on to the NFL, that makes Carpenter the go-to guy on Bama's line.
From everything I've seen, Carpenter is ready for that challenge. He improved considerably over the course of the season in 2009, and one would think that continued tutelage under Joe Pendry would only make him that much better. Bama has bigger names on offense, so the linemen seem to be getting lost in the shuffle. With that being the case, don't expect to see Carpenter's name on many pre-season All-SEC lists.
But make no mistake about it, he's a vital member of Bama's offense. The gap between him and the player behind him (right now Tyler Love) is bigger than the gap between Ingram and Richardson, and possibly bigger than the gap between Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron. That's how important he is to the offensive line, and the offense as a whole.
He's not likely to catapult himself into the first round of the NFL Draft next April, but he should be a middle round draft pick that continues Alabama's recent tradition of linemen headed to the pros.
Up next is a defensive end clinging to his role and hoping for a senior season that allows him to finally meet expectations - Luther Davis.
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