The ESPN2 crew didn’t even mention it when Alabama right guard Barrett Jones got rolled up on a Mark Ingram run to his side of the line in the first quarter of the 30-10 win over Mississippi State on Saturday.
However, the impact of the sprained ankle suffered by the potential All-American lineman was felt right away. His replacement Anthony Steen, who trotted onto the field almost unnoticed, struggled in the first few possessions that followed.
Now that Jones is almost assured he won’t play Thursday against Georgia State, the offensive line doesn’t have much time to find that chemistry with another change.
Unlike last season, injuries have been a factor for the front line of the Tide offense. Left tackle James Carpenter missed time against Penn State with a minor injury before right tackle D.J. Fluker missed four games with a groin injury. Both times, Alfred McCullough filled in, earning the first four starts of his college career.
Though Steen settled down and played better after the initial shock of being thrown into a SEC game wore down, McCullough could again be an option now that Fluker is healthy and playing again. McCullough spent some time working with the guards in practice Monday, center William Vlachos said.
“We’ll probably at least practice Alfred a little bit at guard too,” coach Nick Saban said. “Alfred is kind of the guy that can left tackle, right tackle, can just about play anywhere. He is really a guard to start with so we’ll practice him some there just so we have some additional depth. D.J. did fine in the game, and we’ll probably end up playing like we finished the game after Barrett got hurt.”
Before things slowed down for Steen, it was an adventure at times. The redshirt freshman from Lambert, Miss., had issues with pass blocking as quarterback Greg McElroy took a few hits from linemen lined up across from Steen.
Pulling on the first play of the next possession, Steen missed the block on the defensive end who brought Mark Ingram down in the backfield for a 4-yard loss.
By the second half, Saban said Steen did “a pretty good job after he got settled down in this game.”
Ingram too expressed his confidence in Steen who played on both sides of the line in high school as well filled long snapping and kicking duties.
“Steen, I think, did a good job of coming in and playing on short notice,” Ingram said. “Obviously, nobody wants Barrett to be gone. We hope for a quick recovery for him. They’ve done a great job for us all year giving Greg time to throw the ball and giving us seams to run the ball. We respect that unit, and we love them.”
Chance Warmack is the other starting guard who lines up on the opposite side of Vlachos. He saw the jitters in Steen immediately after he entered the game, but those wore off eventually.
“I told him, ‘Steen, man, you played a better game than me,’ I thought,” Warmack said. “That’s my man. We’re in the same class. I’m just proud of him. He’s working really hard. He’s going to be a really good football player. He is now, but he’s going to be even better.”
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.