- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Dad read about it first before calling his son Monday morning to break the good news. Anthony Steen had been named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, and the Alabama veteran right guard was one of the last people to find out.
Steen, according to the release, had the top grade on the line against Kentucky with no missed assignments, no sacks, no pressures and no penalties. Over the phone, his dad told him he finally had the award he'd been waiting for.
"I was telling my dad I've been working, trying to get that for three years now and I'm glad I finally got it," Steen told reporters in a rare moment of self reflection, one that ended as quickly as it began. "As I told him, I'm not going to sit here and celebrate like he was trying to celebrate for me. I've got another SEC game this week to focus on."
Steen's focus has never wavered since signing with Alabama in 2009. The 6-foot-3, 309-pound senior will joke about being the forgotten man, but he doesn't dwell on it. Like most members of the top-ranked Crimson Tide, his attention is always on what's next. Frankly, it's what coach Nick Saban demands.
What's next for Alabama (6-0, 3-0) this week is Arkansas (3-4, 0-3), a team many wonder if the Tide will overlook. But not Steen. He's started some 30 games in his career at Alabama and in that time he's learned how to mimic his head coach's personality.
"For me, I know that they're an SEC team," Steen said. "If we want to beat them that bad we have to go out in the beginning and play our 'A' game. That's the bottom line. Because if we go out there and don't play our 'A' game then they're going to get it in their head that they have a chance. So we've got to go out there and be on top of things."
Last year we didn't hear much from Steen. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker garnered the lion's share of attention while Steen went to work with the same blue-collar attitude you'd expect of a lineman from rural Mississippi. He pitched the equivalent of 14 perfect games, according to left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who said that Steen had no penalties and no sacks allowed all season. But he was never an All-SEC selection, an All-American candidate or even an SEC player of the week. Alabama's staff voted him player of the week just once.
To his teammates, though, his worth has always been evident. We're only now starting to see it play out on a larger stage.
Steen had to step up since last season, both as a leader as well as the face of the offense. Now that Jones, Warmack and Fluker are gone, Steen is the most experienced lineman on the roster. He and Kouandjio were the only two returning starters at the beginning of the season.
But in spite of the turnover, Alabama's line has steadily improved, shaking off the rust after so-so performances against Virginia Tech and Colorado State early in the season. Steen and Co. gave up just one tackle for loss and didn't allow a sack against Kentucky this past weekend. In the two games prior, the line surrendered only one sack of AJ McCarron.
"Unbelievable player," McCarron said of Steen. "Comes to work every day. You never see Steen in a negative mood, never bringing down on the practice field, which helps tremendously because your offensive line takes you as far as you want to go as an offense and a team. You can’t say enough about him. He does everything for us. He’s practiced at center for us with [Ryan] Kelly being out, and he’s done an excellent job of that, too. He really is a great teammate and an a great person to have on the field."
Saban, for his part, called Steen "the most consistent performer that we’ve had, probably, in the offensive line." How he anchors the group in the coming weeks will be vital to Alabama's success over the long haul.
Arkansas and its leading pass-rusher Chris Smith will challenge Alabama's line this Saturday. Then comes the biggest test of the them all on Nov. 9 when sixth-ranked LSU comes to Tuscaloosa.
"Anthony’s got a lot of experience," Saban said. "I think his leadership and his affect on the other people has been critical in the development of the offensive line. He’s tough, he’s physical, he’s very confident in what he does. He’s played extremely well for us. I’m pleased and hopeful that he’ll continue to be able to stay healthy and do those things in the future."
4dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf