Alabama O-line sizes up opening night

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If everything is bigger in Texas, then the Alabama offensive linemen will fit right in when they arrive in Arlington for the season opener against No. 8 Michigan later this week.

The unit's smallest player, center Barrett Jones, is 6-foot-5, 302 pounds. The largest? Right tackle D.J. Fluker who comes in at 6-6, 335.

It's a source of both pride and punishment for quarterback AJ McCarron. Alabama's second-year starter doesn't end up on his back side much, but his wallet sure does take a beating.

"It's terrible," McCarron joked. "No, it's definitely not bad by any means. It gets hard seeing over Fluker sometimes. But, no, I love it. I got a chance to play with D.J. in high school at some all-star games. We've grown up together for a while. My whole offensive line is a good group of guys. They protect me.

"I'm really not looking forward to that bill the night before the game. ... When I take them out to eat it's going to be painful."

Up and down the line, the Crimson Tide are as decorated as they are large. Michigan coach Brady Hoke told reporters, "That’s as good an offensive line as I’ve seen in college football."

Jones is a two-time All-American and the defending Outland Trophy winner. The fourth-year starter has been a veritable Swiss army knife for the Crimson Tide, playing at every position on the offensive line. Said tight end Michael Williams, "Barrett has evolved from guard to tackle to center. There's no telling where he'll go next."

Fluker is already being hailed as a potential top-10 draft pick. Mel Kiper Jr. has him as the top offensive lineman on his Big Board. Coach Nick Saban said he is one of the more physical players he's ever coached and compared him to former All-Pro tackle Flozell Adams.

Chance Warmack was an All-American and All-SEC selection last season, and could go in the first round of the NFL draft as well. The 320-pound senior is one of the more physical linemen in the SEC.

The baby of the bunch, sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio, was the No. 1 offensive lineman in the 2011 class and had the look of an All-Pro the day he stepped on campus. Despite appearing in just eight games last season due to injury, the 6-6, 311-pound tackle was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

Anthony Steen rounds out the bunch at 6-3, 303. The junior guard made nine starts last season.

If there's a battle at the buffet line in Texas, Vegas oddsmakers might give Alabama's hogs the edge. The Crimson Tide average 314 pounds across the line. Michigan's wing-tipped linemen average closer to 303.

The numbers advantage doesn't stop there. Alabama's linemen have more than 90 starts among them. Michigan's have 67, including two players who will start their first games at a new position on Sept. 1.

When the Outland Trophy watch list came out, three of Alabama's linemen made the cut. Michigan had just one.

"The offensive linemen are great," said Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. "They''ve played together for years. Everybody''s big, strong and physical. They''re a great bunch of guys, and they''re very good."

With so many games among them, the line has what every coach is looking for: chemistry.

Fluker and Warmack are close friends on and off the field. Said Warmack, "I could write a book on D.J. It would be like 12 volumes." When the two get together to play video games, Fluker's furniture is pushed to the limits.

"It's an extra-large, extra-thick couch," Warmack said.

Kouandjio, whose older brother Arie is a reserve lineman, is the young pup on the line. Despite being the only player to have not started a game, he's blended in as one of the guys.

"We have jokes on the offensive line, joke around a lot, and they make me look like the baby, but it’s cool with me," Kouandjio said. "I’m just having fun.”

Kouandjio hasn't caught any grief about taking Jones' position at left tackle -- yet. It takes a special talent to move an Outland Trophy winner off his spot.

"I don't remind him that but I do tell him often that he can be the best left tackle in the country, and I really believe that," Jones said. "He has a tremendous amount of talent. He's got all the tools. It's my job and all other veterans' job to bring him along and to help him realize his full potential."

If Kouandjio does reach his potential, the line as a whole could be the best in the SEC, if not all of college football. Steen certainly thinks it's a possibility.

"We can be the best in the country," he said. "We have the confidence to be. … If we keep our heads straight and stay focused, we can be the best."

If they're not the top line when it's all said and done, they still might be the biggest. With so many eager appetites among them, McCarron is already dreading the bill for the pre-game dinner.

"I'm just glad we don't have a Ruth's Chris around here," he said.