Quiet period is over

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The headlines didn't go Anthony Steen's way in 2012. Alabama's under-the-radar right guard was sandwiched between two All-SEC performers and buried under the fame of an offensive line that will likely produce three NFL draft picks this month.

For some reason, the curly-haired junior from Clarksdale, Miss., went largely unnoticed during the Crimson Tide's championship run. Something about his languishing Southern drawl didn't catch on.

In the discussion of Alabama possessing the best line in the country, there was talk of the Big Three -- Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker -- and every so often Cyrus Kouandjio would enter the conversation as the young star on the rise. Steen, though, was the Ringo Starr of this group. He wasn't adored, but the band couldn't go on without him.

All the while, Steen accomplished the impossible, pitching the equivalent of 14 consecutive perfect games: no penalties and no sacks all season. No one else on the line could claim such success, though it wasn't enough to earn him either an All-America or All-SEC selection. He was named the team's Offensive Player of the Week just once, against Western Carolina.

Slow and steady won Steen the race, but it didn't award him much in the way of recognition. Inside the locker room, though, it was different. Teammates recognized how valuable he was in 2012 and how important he'll be for the organization moving forward.

"We love Steen," Kouandjio said. "When you get to know him, he's such a great person. He's funny, too, when he opens up to you.

"He's a tremendous athlete, too. Last year he had no sacks, no penalties. That's the only one on the O-line that had [that]. That's almost a perfect season. He's so quiet, he doesn't talk about it."

His unassuming nature will only get Steen so far in the 2013 season. As one of two returning starters on the offensive line this spring, it's up to him to break out of his shell and become a leader. Though he might never develop into a vocal captain the way Jones did a year ago, he is warming up to the idea of being a teacher on the football field, and that's a start.

"It's difficult, because I've always been a guy that's been around, just do my job and that's it," he said. "Right now, I'm just trying to make sure all the young guys know what they're doing so, when the time comes and they come in the game, they'll know what to do."

AJ McCarron insisted that Steen is already a leader on offense, even if it's only behind closed doors.

"He's a leader; he just doesn't say a whole bunch," Alabama's senior quarterback told reporters Monday afternoon. "He's a good leader for that offensive line group. He can talk to them when they get in their meeting room and stuff like that. He's been here for a while now and can offer some guys advice."

When Steen turns to his left and his right in the huddle this spring, he doesn't see the same familiar faces. Rising sophomore Ryan Kelly has taken over at center, and right tackle has been a revolving door with Austin Shepherd and others competing for starter's reps. When Steen flips over to left guard, he no longer has Warmack to rely on; it's up to him to bring along guys like Arie Kouandjio, Kellen Williams and Isaac Luatua, who have a combined zero career starts.

Nick Saban, for his part, has been pleased with the effort from the offensive line this spring. The 61-year-old coach said the spring will be a lot about shuffling the cards up front to find the best five, whoever they might be. Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio are solidly atop the depth chart and Kelly is all but a shoo-in at center. The remaining two spots are unknowns.

"Arie's done a good job at left guard. Kellen Williams is playing left tackle, left guard and center. He's doing a good job," Saban said. "Those guys are competing there. We'll probably spend this week with guys in the position they're in and maybe next week we'll do some experimenting and look at guys at some other positions."

Phil Savage, who was once the Cleveland Browns general manager and recently became executive director of the Senior Bowl, said he's confident in what Steen and the newcomers will bring to Alabama's offensive line in 2013. Even new O-line coach Mario Cristobal comes with an upside.

"The good news is with the coaching change, Mario Cristobal comes in and gets a chance to put his name on it and the new players can kind of grow together," said Savage, who also does work as a color analyst on the Crimson Tide Sports Network. "I think that's kind of a positive. Kind of like with Jeremy Pruitt taking over the secondary a few years ago; that whole unit came in and learned together and figuring out what their strengths and weaknesses were."

Savage spends much of his time traveling to college football programs to scout NFL prospects. He called both Steen and Kouandjio future pros and two cornerstones around whom the Tide can build a line.

"It's going to take some time to work through it," he said, "but again, when you're talking about bringing about two quality starters off a national championship team and then Ryan Kelly, who is a really good prospect, they've got more than enough to fill in the gaps."

The line might not be all-world, as it was in 2012, but the future isn't bleak in Tuscaloosa. The talent is there; it's just in need of a few adjustments. It's no longer Jones' or Warmack's offensive line, it's Steen's. It's his turn to step into the spotlight, ready or not.

"He's going to have more of a burden to carry in terms of having the experience," Savage said. "If he plays well, he'll get more than enough recognition."