Monday, December 29, 2008
All-America tackle barred from Sugar Bowl
By Chris Low ESPN.com
Alabama junior offensive tackle Andre Smith has been suspended and will not play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday.
Smith, the Outland Trophy winner this season, was a huge part of the Crimson Tide's offensive success. They were second in the SEC and 22nd nationally in rushing offense and routinely ran to his side on key downs. He's widely considered to be one of the best left tackles to play in the SEC in the past decade.
Low: Bad news for Bama
The last thing you want to hear a few days before your first BCS bowl game in nearly a decade is that one of your starters has been suspended for improper dealings with an agent. Blog
Sources told ESPN.com that Smith's suspension was related to improper dealings with an agent. Saban's statement on the matter said only that it was due to violation of team rules and policies.
Smith was sent home from New Orleans, where the Crimson Tide arrived Saturday to begin final preparations for Friday's game. Left guard Mike Johnson was practicing in Smith's spot at left tackle on Monday, and sophomore David Ross moved into the starting rotation at left guard.
"The University of Alabama, the team and the football program are more important than any individual player," Saban said in a statement. "Everyone on our team depends on each other to be responsible, to make good choices and decisions relative to their actions."
Also in his statement, Saban appeared to hint that Smith would not return to the program.
"Andre Smith has done an outstanding job in our program as a person, student and a player and we will do all we can as an institution to support him in all future endeavors," Saban said.
Smith, a consensus All-American, was projected as a top-five selection in the NFL draft if he decides to come out, which most observers feel he will.
Saban said in his statement that Alabama would not be distracted in its preparation to play unbeaten Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
"Our priority and focus as a team is to play the best football game of the season in this Sugar Bowl, and to support our players to overcome any adversity this unfortunate situation has created," Saban said.
Saban informed the team before Monday's practice.
"It is bad news," quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "We lost the best offensive lineman in the country, but we still love him to death. Great guy."
Center Antoine Caldwell said he spoke briefly to Smith, but didn't know what led to the suspension.
"He kind of showed remorse and apologized," Caldwell said. "It's just one of those things. It's happened, and you've got to put it behind you and get ready to go."
Utah defensive end Paul Kruger said he was looking forward to matching up with Andre Smith. The All-Mountain West Conference performer had 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
"I was a little disappointed. I feel like it would have been a good matchup and a great opportunity for me," Kruger said. "He's a big part of their offense. They've got backup players that can step up and fill that need. I don't think it's going to change our game plan at all or their game plan."
College football blogger Chris Low covers the SEC. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.