Breaking Down Bama’s Breaking Down Offensive Line

Hey guys – I contributed an article to Bama Hammer that took a bit of a deep dive on Saturday’s offensive line woes.  For those of you who are following the blog, I wanted to direct you over to the offensive line article.  Thanks for following!

 

http://bamahammer.com/2013/09/03/alabama-vs-virginia-tech-breaking-down-the-crimson-tides-offensive-line-mistakes/

 

Alabama v Virginia Tech Game Review

It was after midnight and I was standing with some friends down in the bowels of a MARTA station.  The station was deserted except for a smattering of Bama fans and Hokie fans who were finally making their way back to their destinations.

We boarded the desolate train and with only five stops to go, I expected the ride to be quiet and fairly subdued since most everyone had already left the city.  However, I was shocked when the next stop was overflowing with a mass of people crowding together to board the train.  Our quiet little ride turned into a freak show!

Instead of quietly discussing the ills of the Bama line, we were suddenly besieged by hundreds of Dragon-con event goers who were decked out in their finest garb-o-geekdom!  It’s said that the freaks come out at night but on this night, it was the geeks.  We were surrounded by the Big Bang Theory cast (sans the hot blonde) in all their costumed glory and while we still made it to our destination, the trip wasn’t quite what we expected.  To me, it was an apropos ending to a night that saw the Alabama Crimson Tide reach their destination but not quite in the manner we expected!

Oh – this just in….Christion Jones just scored again!  Where on earth would we be without him???  Here’s to Jones, who allowed Alabama to score the very first time we touched the ball this season.  A foretelling of good fortune?  Hmmmm…..

Alabama on Offense

We begin as we do every week with a look at the Alabama offense.  If you’ve passed by a wreck on the interstate, a dumpster fire or some dead trees around the Auburn campus then you have a good idea of what the offense looked like on Saturday.  In a word, it was brutal.  But who’s to blame?  Well, like the Cyrus family, it took an entire family to produce the ugliness we saw in the Georgia Dome…

Oh Brother Where Art Thou:  The Virginia Tech defense reminded me of 1992 when Brother Oliver stacked 8, 9 and 10 men across the line of scrimmage, daring Miami to make Alabama pay.  With more men rushing the line of scrimmage than a Dragon-Con group chasing down Mr Spock, the Alabama line was often overwhelmed.  Blocking assignments were missed.  Blocks weren’t made.  Backs were tackled for losses.  It was a brilliant scheme by Bud Foster but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before.  In fact, our W2W4 prior to the game told you to expect this onslaught of Hokie defenders.

Baby Got Back(side):  Alabama’s plan to offset the numerical disadvantage across the front was to leave the backside defender unblocked.  Unfortunately, apparently no one  told TJ Yeldon this.  On four different occasions, with a play designed to go right Yeldon inexplicably cut back to the left into the unblocked defender.  Had he continued pressing the hole, there was yardage to be gained where the play was designed.

Beggin:  Oy.  There were so many times a Bama blocker completely whiffed on a block that you’d be begging the line to wake the heck up!  But who was to blame?  In a word, everyone.  Ryan Kelly was blown up numerous times at center.  Arie Kouandjio failed to get his blocks several times before giving way to Kellen Williams (who performed much better).  Austin Shepherd missed several assignments and whiffed on a couple of pass rushers, as well.  Steen and Arie K were gobbled up by Hokie stunts.  It was ugly.

Be Somebody:  The one position that was expected to be pretty solid was left tackle since it was said we had an NFL specimen at the position.  Well, on Saturday Cyrus Kouandjio lost himself quite a bit of money.  Big CyKo was beaten outside.  He was beaten inside.  He was pushed back into the backfield.  He missed assignments.  He even was called for holding twice.  TWICE!  For a man who is widely considered to be the best left tackle in all of college football, he suddenly has a very long way to go before he gets to cash that first round check.

Duck and Run:  With a flurry of Hokies flying around in his face, AJ McCarron found himself ducking and running for cover on several occasions.  However, there were opportunities to stand strong in the pocket and deliver a pass but, instead, AJ faded back on his back foot and fired innacurate passes.  This was very disconcerting because there were times when AJ could have delivered the football.  Two of the four sacks were a result of AJ holding on to the ball a little too long and one has to wonder if the toe was more of an issue than he led on.

Convoy:  Alabama finally found some success on the flanks by pulling both of their guards in the second half.  With Arie K sitting on the bench, Kellen Williams led two successful convoys around the end resulting in some nice runs.

Bucket List:  With Virginia Tech crowding the line, there were some opportunities down the field.  AJ narrowly missed passes to Kenny Bell, Amari Cooper and OJ Howard before finally connecting on a bomb with the star of the game, Christion Jones.  This connection was a perfect strike thrown as though AJ was lofting the ball into a bucket down the field.

Conclusion:  The problems with the offense were widespread across all 11 men in the huddle.  Several blocking assignments were missed by the O-line but the backs and tight ends failed even more miserably at times.  When Va Tech only rushed four men Bama was able to make some hay, so there is hope for the offense yet.  But, until they find some cohesion across that offensive line, AJ and the backs are going to continue to struggle.  To those of you who have been reading the blog and the W2W4 on Offense, you knew the O-line would struggle this week.  To these eyes, they haven’t made much progress since they struggled during the 8/17 scrimmage so any blind hope all will be corrected before the A&M game seems to be a bit of a stretch…

Alabama on Defense

We predicted the defense would be better this year than last year and, after one week, our prediction looks mighty good.  The front four was outstanding against the Hokies and this allowed the staff to stay relatively conservative throughout the game.  With Stinson, Ivory, Pagan and Tomlinson stuffing the running lanes, the rest of the defense was able to fly up and make plays when needed.  The change that moved Vinnie Sunseri back to deep safety (and putting Landon Collins at LB in the dime look) resulted in a game ending pick-six so that looks to be a solid move for this season.  With the exception of one lone run, the Bama defense was outstanding.

I’ll Be:  Vinnie Sunseri said “I’ll be taking these here Huggies and whatever else you’ve got in the drawer” when he jumped an in route to a scared little Hokie receiver.  Sunseri quickly spotted the in route and jumped it from the back of the secondary.  Tech QB Logan Thomas never saw Sunseri and he threw a perfect strike that struck our cousin Vinnie in the middle of the number 3 on his jersey.  This was an amazing and instinctive read by Vinnie and a game ender for the Hokies.

Great Balls of Fire:  The front four of Stinson, Pagan, Ivory and Tomlinson were outstanding Saturday night.  Stinson, in particular, seemed to spend as much time in the Hokie backfield as their running backs and he nearly took one of their handoffs!  Jeoffrey Pagan played his best game as a Tider and we finally got to see what all the talk regarding Dalvin Tomlinson was all about.  Meanwhile, the unsung Brandon Ivory held the point of attack, stuffing the middle nearly all night long.

The Anatomy of a Hokie Touchdown:  Yeah, we were pretty good on defense.  But what the heck happened on that long touchdown run?

  • Jarrick Williams blitzed off the slot like an OLB in a 3-4 front, taking away the entire right side and the option pitch.  The only play for Logan Thomas was to hand the ball off up the middle.
  • In a strange occurrence, it looked as though the Bama front slanted to the right, away from Williams’ blitz.  This carried Ivory and Tomlinson well past the hole for Edmunds’ run.  Typically the front four plays straight up so the slant look was a bit out of character.
  • DePriest tried to close the hole that was vacated by the slanting line but he was swallowed up by an offensive lineman.  Mosley was the defender who was supposed to fill the hole but he overran it, allowing him to be blocked by the fullback.
  • With the front line kindly moving out of the way and the LBs getting blocked, it was off to the races for Edmunds.  He surprisingly outran Ha Ha easily to the end zone.

Enter Sandman:  The Bama Sandman was whoever played the edge in Alabama’s front.  The way to stop the option (and we’ve covered this in the blog numerous times) is to keep outside leverage and force all of the edge runs back into the middle.  Time and time again, Alabama hemmed in the flanks with Stinson, Devall, Hubbard and Dickson.  Each time the Hokies wanted to turn the corner, Alabama shut the door with authority.  Dickson played a great, great game at his new defensive end position.

Conclusion:  Let’s be honest – the Virginia Tech offense is likely to be one of the worst offenses the Bama defense will face this season.  But, the way the front seven continuously crashed into the backfield and stuffed the run, you have to like the way this season is shaping up for the big Alabama D.  There were a couple of holes in the secondary that could have been exploited had the Hokies possessed hands instead of chicken wings, but the secondary played a ton more zone than we typically play.  Alabama completely dominated the Hokies Saturday night and that will not be the last night they dominate an offense this season.

Alabama on Special Teams

Luckily, there are three phases in every football game and with Alabama failing miserably on offense it was a perfect time for Bama’s special teams to crash the party.  The first time Alabama touched the pigskin this season, Christion Jones took it to the house with a 72 yard punt return.  Later, Jones took a kickoff at the six yard line and, after gathering Hokies and Tiders alike in a bit of a muddle huddle, he decided to vaporize the group with a burst to the outside.  Give.  Him.  SIX!  What an amazing return and an amazing game for Mr Jones!!!!

The rest of the kicking game was solid with Cody Mandell crushing the ball for a 46 yard average and putting four of his punts inside the 20.  Cade Foster and Adam Griffith each kicked off a few times with Griffith showing a slightly stronger leg.  And, in coverage, Alabama stymied the punt returns and the kick returns of the Hokies.  The one time Mandell outkicked his coverage, he made up for it by hog tying and smoking the Gobbler returner.

Keeping Up with the Joneses:  Here’s a quick hitting recap of Jones’ two touchdown returns…

The Punt Return

  • Jones caught the ball and began running right.  He avoided the first gunner with this move but by running right he also allowed the first key block to be made by DeAndrew White as he took out the other gunner.
  • With the crease made between the gunners, Jones sprinted back to the left and up the sidelines, picking up a great block by Dillon Lee.  Jones avoided a Hokie at the 45 and then picked up a three-man convoy down the sidelines.
  • Dee Hart pushed the punter out of the way and Ryan Anderson plucked the final Gobbler who stood in the way.  Touchdown!

The Kick Return

  • When Jones caught the ball on the six, a three person convoy led the way up the left side of the field.
  • One of the convoy participants, Ryan Anderson, continued to hold his block while Jones bounced around between two Hokie defenders and several Bama blockers.
  • With many thinking Jones had been stopped, Anderson continued blocking.  So, when Jones finally bounced outside of the carnage, he had a well blocked crease courtesy of Mr Anderson.
  • From there, Jones simply outran everyone to the end zone, showing quite a bit of speed.  Touchdown!

Conclusion

While the score at the end of the game was exactly what we expected, the path that it took to get there was certainly not what was expected.  With all of the pundits lauding the abilities of the wide receivers and running backs, they seemingly forgot that the offensive line is the little engine that could…or could not…determine their success.  Saturday proved that there’s nothing like the cohesion and precision of a well oiled offensive line.  Some of the issues such as assignments and communication can be corrected.  But, other physical limitations across the line cannot be.  There’s a reason the 2014 class already has 5 or 6 top-notch offensive linemen committed because I don’t think there is enough talent on the line at the Capstone right now.  Until they can get a tremendous amount of improvement with the big uglies, the Tide’s defense and special teams will have to carry the day.  That recipe for success might work against the likes of Mississippi State, Kentucky and others but it likely will not work against a team like Texas A&M.

Fall Camp Preview – Offensive Line

Fall Camp Report – Offensive Line

Left Tackle

Cyrus Kouandjio – 6’6, 311 Junior:  Most NFL scouts list big CyKo in the top three overall NFL prospects for next year’s draft so we just have one more year to enjoy his work.  He’s big.  He’s nimble.  He has the long arms that are needed for the LT position.  In short, he’s the prototype of everything you’d want in a left tackle.  He can still get better as a pass blocker but he’ll be the most dominant OL on the field every Saturday.

Brandon Greene – 6’5, 292 Redshirt Freshman:  As I look at the depth at left tackle, I can pretty well understand why we need Cameron Robinson (5 star high school senior LT) in this next recruiting class.  If CyKo were to suffer another injury, I shudder to think who would need to move into the LT position.  My best guess is that Austin Shepherd would move from RT to LT, allowing Brandon Hill or maybe Leon Brown (very unlikely – see below) to slide into the less critical RT position.  But, coming out of spring practice, Brandon Greene is listed as the #2 left tackle.  He certainly has the athleticism to play the position but the left tackle spot requires much more than just raw athleticism.  We will be tracking Greene’s progress as this could be a critical issue if something happens to Cyrus.

Kellen Williams – 6’3, 303 Senior:  I think it says something that, as a senior, Williams finds himself listed third on the depth chart here.  In our spring OL report (here), we felt Greene would surpass Williams on the depth chart and that’s exactly what happened…

Left Guard

Arie Kouandjio – 6’5, 311 Junior:  As we predicted in the spring OL report, Arie K ascended to the top of the LG food chain and showed enough promise to become the unquestioned starter.  The only concern with Arie is his ability to stay healthy and that’s why we will be monitoring the progress of Alphonse Taylor and the Hills this fall.  But, if he stays healthy, Arie has the size and athleticism you’d want from a guard and his play has certainly made Coach Saban outwardly confident in his newly composed offensive line.

Alphonse Taylor – 6’5, 340 Redshirt Freshman:  Taylor was our pick to push for a starting gig and that’s exactly what he did during the spring.  Taylor is a massive physical specimen with the ability to become a battering ram when he pulls.  We honestly feel as though the LG position is pretty well manned between Arie K and Taylor this season.

Chad Lindsay – 6’2, 290 Junior:  Lindsay is really the backup center but he has logged some time as the LG in the past.  We look for him to spend the vast majority of his time behind Kelly at C.

Isaac Luatua – 6’2, 313 Sophomore:  Luatua needed a really strong spring to put himself in position for some playing time and by most accounts he didn’t quite make it.  The task of finding some quality time on the field just became that much tougher with Bozeman, Grant Hill and Brandon Hill coming in the 2013 class.  Things are not looking up for Luatua but since he’s just a sophomore he’s still got some time to impress.  He is currently listed on Tidesports as the #2 right guard but we are a bit skeptical to think Luatua would replace Steen if an injury occurred.

Center

Ryan Kelly – 6’5, 290 Sophomore:  Are you sitting down?  You need to be.  Our spies tell us that Ryan Kelly is actually a BETTER center than Barrett Jones and that Bama is actually upgrading at this position.  In fact, Jones has said so himself.  Kelly was so good last year, the plan was for Barrett to replace anyone who got injured and Kelly would take over as the center.  That tells me all that I need to know about young Ryan Kelly.

Chad Lindsay – 6’2, 290 Junior:  Lindsay has been surpassed by Kelly so he may be used as a swing guard to take over at one of those position in case of injury.

Right Guard

Anthony Steen – 6’3, 303 Senior:  When we first saw Anthony Steen, he was little more than a speed bump on the way to Nick Fairley sacking Greg McElroy.  My how times have changed.  Steen, now a senior, is considered to be one of the strongest players on the team and he uses that brute strength to gleefully move defensive linemen from point A to point B against their will.  Steen has improved his play each and every year and is now considered to be a solid mid round NFL pick.

Isaac Luatua – 6’2, 313 Sophomore:  See notes above.  We do not really think Luatua would replace Steen at RG if he leaves due to injury.

Right Tackle

Austin Shepherd – 6’5, 312 Junior:  The Lighthouse staff always celebrates when we nail a prediction so suffice it to say Austin Shepherd winning the RT position made us very happy campers!  Shepherd is solid, if not spectacular, and he’s dependable.  In all of the Bama blowouts last year, we paid particular attention to the #2 line and Shepherd was head and shoulders ahead of the rest of his linemates.  We expect Austin to do a fine job at right tackle.  He won’t be DJ Fluker but very few OL are.

Leon Brown – 6’6, 313 Junior:  When he gave his initial commitment, the initial reports about Brown were that he was “raw” and “unpolished” so we found it amusing that so many folks were ready to anoint him as the starter at right tackle.  Brown has not impressed and there has actually been some talk about redshirting him during 2013.  Meanwhile….

Brandon Hill – 6’6, 370(ish) True Freshman:  God bless Brandon Hill’s momma because giving birth to this big behemoth must have been some kind of task.  At this size, you immediately figure Hill to be a guard so it was surprising to see him spending so much time at right tackle in one on one drills on the field at A-Day.  If you go to Fan Day or to another practice, Hill won’t be hard to find – he’s literally the elephant in the room!  However, he’s shown that he has the natural ability to play the position and he seems to be earning the staff’s trust (while the staff wonders what exactly Brown can do for them) so don’t be surprised to see big Brandon Hill play this season at right tackle either in mop up duty or due to injury.

Newcomers:  Grant Hill (6’6, 301) and Bradley Bozeman (6’4, 305) are coming in this fall while Leon Brown and Brandon Hill were early signees participating in spring drills.  Everyone we have talked to is raving about Grant Hill and they are predicting stardom for this big un.  Hill is already one of the strongest players on the team and we look for him to assert himself into the guard rotation this year.  The staff will desperately try to redshirt him and, honestly, that would make the most sense.  But, Hill may simply be too good to pass on if injuries bring about a need.  Bozeman is not quite 100% recovered from a knee injury and will surely redshirt this season.

What we said in Spring:  We here at the Lighthouse typically downplay our predictions but our spring preview couldn’t have been more spot on.  We said Arie K would win the RG spot.  He did.  We said Alphonse Taylor would make a move at the position and become the #2 RG.  He did.  And, lastly, we were one of the very few people touting Austin Shepherd as the starting right tackle.  Not only did we say Shepherd would win the job, we said that Brown would show he had a looooong way to go before he would be a viable option.  It doesn’t get much more accurate than that.  Pardon us for our humble brag moment but, hey, we like big butts and we cannot lie.  Now you other brothers can’t deny!  This fall, look for the Hills to come alive with the sound of pads popping – we think they will show themselves to be better guards/tackles than many of the players listed ahead of them.

 

Fall Camp Previews

Quarterbacks

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

H-Backs and Tight Ends

Defensive Line

Linebackers

Defensive Backs