- Cullman, Alabama

August 11, 2010

ALABAMA FOOTBALL: Fitter Fluker impresses in Tide practice

MCT News Service

TUSCALOOSA — D.J. Fluker may have big shoes to fill on Alabama’s offensive line, but the man who wears size 22 cleats is expected to fill them.

His 6-foot-6 frame provided ample shade during an end zone interview at Sunday’s Fan Day. But, in fact, there’s a lot less of Fluker to love this season than when he reported as a true freshman a year ago.

“I was right at 400 (pounds) when I came in,” said Fluker, who is listed on the roster as weighing 340. “Now I’m 325.”

And he’s working as the Crimson Tide’s first-team right tackle, although coach Nick Saban reminded reporters Wednesday he doesn’t have a depth chart. It’s a position many fans felt he’d step into a year ago.

It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to happen. Senior Drew Davis kept his starting job.

“It was my first year of college football, and I didn’t really understand the game,” said Fluker, a coveted prospect who was a standout defensive lineman in high school. “It was really my first year playing offense. I was trying to learn and go through the practice, and it was tough.”

And he was too big. A full spring and two summers with conditioning coach Scott Cochran has changed that.

“I can last a whole lot longer in practice now,” Fluker said. “I move a lot better. Feel a whole lot quicker. I work hard. I can breathe a whole lot better, too.”

Teammates and coaches have noticed not only the change in Fluker, but the effort that went into it.

“He’s improved a ton from the spring to now,” said Barrett Jones, who lines up next to Fluker at right guard. “He looks great. It’s hard to say anyone who works harder than D.J. He works his butt off out there and that’s something we all respect him for. He’s getting a ton better.”

“He’s totally reshaped his body,” offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. “It’s unbelievable what he’s done to help himself from that standpoint.”

McElwain said weight loss isn’t all that’s involved in Fluker’s progress. He said playing next to Jones will help.

“(Jones) is a very smart guy and will be able to help and communicate the different things we need to do to be successful at that position,” McElwain said.

“I get help from Barrett Jones,” said Fluker, who said they watch film together after practice. “He’s been like a brother to me … I try to learn his moves and he tries to learn my moves. We work on our footwork every day.”

At the start of training camp, Saban all but challenged Fluker when he said, “I still think if the right tackle progresses we’re going to have a decent offensive line.”

On Tuesday, the coach credited his redshirt freshman for the progress he’s made.

“D.J. has made phenomenal improvement,” Saban said. “He made big improvement from his freshman year to spring practice. I think he made a big improvement over the summer.

“I think the biggest thing he has to do — he knows what to do — is show more maturity in being able to overcome things that are unfamiliar to him and that frustrate him. You can’t get frustrated. You have to play the next play, keep playing, be aggressive.”

McElwain said Fluker, while improved, is still developing. The coordinator said he doesn’t want to create problems for the right tackle, whether it’s Fluker or anyone else.

“Let’s make sure we’re doing the things that he does well or that position does well, and not try to ask them to do things that he’s not ready for yet,” McElwain said.

Like shoe shopping at the mall. Fluker said he gets them from Freeman’s or he orders them online.

“They are kind of hard to find, but we find them somehow,” he said.

McElwain said he can’t help but look at Fluker’s feet and tremble.

“It always amazes me when I see those shoes and think how many cows just got hurt when puts those Nikes on,” the coach said.