When Barrett Jones and Alfred McCullough spent Tuesday afternoon at right tackle and right guard, respectively, most pundits, myself included, dismissed it as one of the random position changes that are so common under offensive line coach Joe Pendry. However, after another day of practice, it seems those quick dismissals may have, perhaps, been misguided and premature. When Alabama returned to the practice field this afternoon, Barrett Jones was once again at right tackle and Alfred McCullough was once again at right guard.
Now, from the outset, I'll say that this is still relatively early. Clearly, two days alone do not mean this change is of a long-term nature. In no way does this necessarily indicate that this move will stick and that the right side of the offensive line has been revamped, and nothing written here or anywhere else should be interpreted as such. Barrett Jones could move back inside tomorrow afternoon with Fluker alongside him at right tackle, and this could instantly become a complete non-story.
However, with those points established, it can reasonably be said that we are at least moving closer to the potential of this being a legitimate long-term move. Anything can happen on one day, mind you, but when you do something multiple days, especially when you are this close to the season opener, well, you're not in experimentation mode any more. You may play around with some position changes for a few days on end in early April, or perhaps even early August, but when you start juggling multiple starting positions in multiple practice sessions a mere ten days before the season opener -- especially at positions that place an abnormally high value on group cohesion and unity in execution -- you're clearly serious about what you are doing.
And, in many ways, the particularly interesting aspect of this potential move is that, while it puts Fluker back on the bench, it does put both Barrett Jones and Alfred McCullough in their more natural positions.
When Jones came out of Cordova, Tennessee, he had a thin build on a 6'5 frame, and with his lean nature and raw length he was expected by most to eventually develop into a tackle on the collegiate level. For all intents and purposes, he was the protoypical build of a tackle prospect. When he suddenly appeared as a starter as a guard in only his second year on campus, that was a move that surprised everyone. A speculator could have retired by betting against those who felt he could never play inside, but he did so early in his career and at a high level to boot. Even so, though, he is still arguably more of a true tackle, and for all of his success inside as a redshirt freshman, he may still have a higher ceiling as a tackle.
Alfred McCullough, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. When he came out of Athens in 2007, he was a two-way lineman who really didn't have a home, and in many ways he still hasn't found a home. Coach Saban and company have been very high on him for quite some time now -- he was the Tide's sixth lineman in 2009, and played more than most would realize -- and he was the second team left tackle this spring. The problem for McCullough is simply that, while he seems like a fine football player, he is listed on the official roster at only 6'2 (which is probably stretching it, truth be told), and as a result he does not have the length that is generally required to play tackle. He's a physical player, and all told he is probably more at home as a guard rather than as a tackle. Despite his clear ability, he's likely a bit of a fish out of water at tackle.
So, while this potential move would relegate Fluker to a back-up role if it sticks, it's hard to otherwise criticize the move, and a good argument can be made that it would put both Jones and McCullough in their more natural positions. And, in that regard, this is a move that could legitimately result in a better overall offensive line, all the while perhaps getting our five best linemen on the field. In short, it's not just some hair-brained scheme, it's feasible and would actually make a lot of sense.
Ultimately, does it stick? I don't know, it possibly could but nothing is set in stone. Again, these players could go back to their old positions tomorrow and turn this into a complete non-story. Only the coaching staff knows for certain, and obviously they aren't telling. With that said, however, don't think for a second that Pendry and company would have any reservations about making late changes to the starting line-up, and two days in a row this close to the season opener is clearly some legitimate smoke, even if not confirmation of actual fire.
Keep your eyes on this one closely throughout the rest of the week. We only have three more practice sessions planned before our normal opponent preparations begin for San Jose State on Sunday morning. Point blank, we're getting close to the end and we're reaching the point where it's long since past the time for experimentation. If Jones and McCullough spend the next couple of days at right tackle and right guard, respectively, then odds are you can expect that to be the starting lineup when San Jose State comes to town.