No. 3 Alabama's offensive line lost 50-plus pounds, its two biggest stars and the bulk of its experience from last season.

Don't pity 'Bama's blockers, though. They've still managed to pave the way for a running game that ranks fifth in the nation and keep defenders off quarterback Greg McElroy going into Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener against Arkansas.

"I don't think we're the same type of offensive line we were a year ago," coach Nick Saban said. "But for what this offensive line does, they've been very functional, played extremely well, played with a lot of toughness."

Gone is Outland Trophy-winning left tackle Andre Smith. He has been replaced by junior college transfer James Carpenter, whose only major college scholarship offer out of high school in Georgia came from Iowa State _ and current Auburn coach Gene Chizik.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Carpenter, who enrolled early and went through spring practices, packs 30 fewer pounds on his frame than Smith at about the same height.

Gone is Antoine Caldwell, like Smith a first-team All-American. The 6-2, 294-pound William Vlachos gives up an inch and 11 pounds to his barrel-chested predecessor.

The 6-4, 289-pound right guard Barrett Jones is a couple of inches taller and 11 pounds lighter than last year's starter Marlon Davis.

Despite the downsized line, Alabama (3-0) still has a running game that is averaging 268 yards a game and has produced a league-high 11 touchdowns and a healthy 5.9-yard average per carry.

"I think it's more athletic," McElroy said of the line. "We lose Marlon Davis for Barrett Jones. Barrett was a really good athlete in high school. He's not as big as Marlon, but he runs really well. Then we also lose Antoine Caldwell for William Vlachos. He runs really well also.

"We lose Andre for James and James is a very good athlete. We just have a little different identity in what we try to do offensively."

One difference might be less reliance on running between the tackles to take advantage of blockers who can get outside and downfield a little quicker.

"You see guys pulling around a little more this year," left guard Mike Johnson said. "I think that's a product of teams trying to stop our inside run. We were a lot bigger last year and we were able to run downhill. Teams are doing more to stop that this year, so we use our athleticism.

"We've got a little bit lighter crew, and I feel like we move a little better and are able to get out in space and make some big blocks."

The line has also yielded just three sacks of McElroy in three games.

It was the most questioned unit on the team during the offseason. Johnson was the biggest returning name on the line after earning second-team All-SEC honors last season. Drew Davis also returned at right tackle.

Johnson said the new starting five has improved its communication since fall camp and gained confidence through the first few games.

"We knew a lot of this season was going to rest on our shoulders," he said.

Tight end Colin Peek said the coaches have indicated in team meetings that the Tide has actually increased the number of knockdown blocks from last season.

"To have such success with this line where people questioned the veteran leadership within it and just the experience level, makes it such a unique situation," Peek said. "We've sort of been able to jell together. That has been able to help us just get to that next level as an offensive unit.

"We just try to go out there and play as hard as we can, try to impose our will, as coach Saban likes to say, and hopefully through our style, just being tough type guys, that rubs off and maybe defines our offensive unit as maybe a different type from last year."