Oct. 19, 2008
By Scott Latta
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Marlon Davis was in enemy territory.
A standout offensive guard from Carver High School in Columbus, Ga., Davis was a sought-after recruit his senior season in 2004, garnering offers from SEC programs such as Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Alabama. He was a 6-foot-3, 306-pound force on the Carver offensive line, a nationally ranked player and, unfortunately for him, just minutes down U.S. 280 from Auburn, Ala. when he made his college decision to play for Alabama.
“I lived in Columbus, Ga., which is probably about three minutes from Alabama,” Davis said. “So I came to Alabama, I grew up an Alabama fan my entire life. Phenix City (Ala.) is right across the border. But there’s something about Auburn, I never could stand it. The main reason I picked Alabama was the tradition that they had.
“I caught a lot of flack. It’s Auburn country and a lot of Auburn fans are down there, but I love Alabama.”
Three years after starting his college career during Alabama’s 10-2 season in 2005, when he saw action in four games, Davis is now a mainstay on the right side of the offensive line, anchoring a group that has proven essential to the Crimson Tide offense’s success under new offensive coordinator Jim McElwain in 2008.
Now in his fourth year, Davis has been a part of what seems like a constant shift along the Alabama offensive front during his first three seasons—since 2005, every position on the offensive line not manned by Andre Smith has seen some form of platoon rotation due to necessity, injury or suspension.
From his right guard position, he has seen senior Antoine Caldwell and junior Evan Cardwell split time to his left at center. To his right, at right tackle, he has seen Chris Capps, Mike Johnson, Caldwell, Drew Davis and freshman John Michael Boswell each anchor the spot.
It could seem like that rotation would hurt any sense of cohesiveness that the group might need. But Davis says that despite the shuffling, the personnel has largely stayed the same, leading to a solid relationship among the group this year. He is especially familiar with Johnson and Cardwell, as the three were each members of Alabama’s 2005 recruiting class.
“We’ve been working together now for several years and now we’re pretty used to each other,” Davis said. “We’re a pretty cohesive group on the team. We’re just working to get better every day and working to get to know the calls. Just trying to work so we can do the best.”
One major shift along the offensive line before this season involved Johnson, who gave up his right tackle position to man the spot at left guard, between Smith and Caldwell.
For Johnson, the change in positions means a change in technique – according to Davis, not everyone can make the transition from tackle to guard. Adding to the mix is Alabama coach Nick Saban’s statement in August that, if needed, Johnson can shift back to the tackle spot in the event of an emergency or an injury, and sophomore Brian Motley can step into the left guard position.
To Davis, all the change and shuffling means one main thing: to play on the Alabama offensive line, you’ve got to be versatile. Johnson, he has seen so far, has handled it smoothly.
“Guard is a bit quicker and physical,” Davis said. “You have to think a little more. With tackle, you can be out in space more with the pass rush. There’s more leverage on the inside, so there can be a big difference.
“Mike is a very smart guy. He pretty much knows guard and tackle, both situations, so he’s doing it now. He can play guard or tackle.”
Davis is a part of an Alabama offensive unit that continues to exert its dominance in the rushing game. In 2006, Davis’ sophomore year, Alabama averaged 123 rushing yards per game. In 2007, the Tide averaged 149 per game with the platoon of Terry Grant, Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch leading the way.
Through Alabama’s first six games this season, the Tide averaged 226 yards on the ground, using a platoon system not unlike the one it used last year. Despite the change in runners, however, Davis said that his responsibilities remain largely the same, regardless of who is carrying the ball for Alabama – be it the speedy Grant, the larger Coffee, the shifty Upchurch, or the bruising newcomer Mark Ingram.
“Our assignments are the same,” Davis said. “We’re going to come off the ball, knock them off the ball, in the same scheme. As far as who’s running, it doesn’t make any difference to us. We’re going to do our job no matter what guy back is back there.”
Three years after making his college decision, Davis’ goals year-to-year are still largely the same — be a consistent force on the Alabama offensive line, protect Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson and open up holes in the ground game. It’s a tested formula that has worked for Davis so far, and in 2008, he knows, he gets one last chance to use it again.
“My goals this year are to just go out this year and do the best I can do,” Davis said. “Play the best, be as physical as I can be. Play low as I can play. Just have the best season I can have, and do my job, the job I can do. I’ll let God take care of the rest.”