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!
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!
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?
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
The Kick Return
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 Report – Offensive Line
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
I absolutely love looking at the Spring roster and trying to forecast what the Alabama football team will look like when they kick it off against their first opponent. Spring practice is basically moving day as you begin to absorb which key players departed and you determine Bama’s biggest needs for the upcoming season. For 2013, I don’t think there is any question whatsoever as to which position will be the biggest question mark heading into the Va Tech game. This spring and fall, all eyes will be on the offensive line as new OL coach Mario Cristobal begins to learn the playbook, learn his players and teach them to be half as good as the 2012 OL was. Alabama will have to replace the best offensive guard in the country in Chance Warmack. He’s projected to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft which is basically unheard of for a guard. The Tide will also have to replace the heart and soul of the line in big D.J. Fluker – projected by most to be selected in the late 1st or early 2nd round as a right tackle. And, lastly, Cristobal has to figure out how in the world to replace a man who was the 2011 Outland Trophy Winner (at left tackle), 2012 Remington Award winner (at center) and 2012 Campbell Trophy Winner (for best combination of athletics and academics) as the most decorated offensive lineman ever to play at the University of Alabama. How will the Tide replace these guys? Here’s an spring preview of how we think things will shake out on the offensive line.
Cyrus Kouandjio – 6’6, 311 Junior
The most critical position on the offensive line is the left tackle position because he’s protecting the QB’s “blind side.” Blind side hits are typically the ones that de-crapitate the QB and send him limping off to the sidelines looking for Batman. The kids who man the left tackle position are the typically the most athletically gifted players on the OL so it’s no wonder that Cyrus Kouandjio is Bama’s starting left tackle. He’s a beast. Cyrus showed flashes of beastliness during his freshman season and gave a glimpse that someday soon he would be an impact player on the OL. Well, last season Cyrus proved to the world that he was certainly deserving of his five star status coming out of high school as he began to dominate SEC defensive ends. While big Cyrus did struggle at times early in the season, as he gained more and more experience, he became a dominating force up front. His combination of size, strength and agility should make him yet another three year player for Nick Saban and he’ll likely be the next to make the jump to the pros as a first round NFL draft pick after only three years of playing offensive line for Nick Saban.
Kellen Williams – 6’3, 303 Senior
Williams manned the second string left tackle spot last season but, truth be told, if Cyrus had gone down to an injury then Barrett Jones would have likely moved to the LT position instead of Williams. Williams has been on campus for four years but has yet to earn enough of the trust of the coaching staff to put him into the lineup (except in mop up situations). Last year, Williams and the entire second string line saw quite a bit of mop up duty as most of Bama’s games were over by halftime. While Williams did ok, he missed a few blocks and did little (in our opinion) to establish himself as the #2 left tackle. We look for him to be pushed by Brandon Greene during the spring and we think Greene should make a strong push to bump Williams down the pecking order eventually by the end of fall.
Brandon Greene – 6’5, 292 Redshirt Freshman
Brandon Greene is certainly athletic enough to man the left tackle position and, with a year of experience, we think that Greene will begin forging his way towards the top of the depth chart at LT. While he’ll never unseat Cyrus K, he definitely has an opportunity this spring to make a move on Kellen Williams. Greene is clearly the better athlete between the two of them so it will just be a question of exhibiting playbook knowledge and improved blocking techniques for Greene to move to the #2 LT spot on the depth chart. Watch him closely during A-Day to see how he handles Alabama’s defensive front. If he aquits himself well, look for the coaches to invest more of their time (and more playing time) in Greene than in Williams.
Arie Kouandjio – 6’5, 311 Junior
The Tidesports depth chart lists Chad Lindsey atop the depth chart at the LG position but we just can’t see that continuing thru the spring. The Left Guard position will be THE most hotly contested position along Bama’s starting offensive line and several different guards will get a look at this spot before it’s all said and done. The coaching mandate has been and always will be to find the five best offensive linemen on the team and make them into a cohesive unit. Of the players listed at the Guard position, it would be difficult to imagine that Arie K isn’t the best of the bunch. Injuries have slowed Arie down but he’s still a big, physical presence and, if he’s remotely healthy, we believe he’ll end up being the grand prize winner at the LG position simply due to his size and strength. If he shows any ability to pull whatsoever (again – see health concerns), we think the job is his to lose.
Chad Lindsay – 6’2, 290 Junior
Lindsay really projects better as a center at his listed size so we don’t really consider him to be the Left Guard of the future. True, Lindsey manned the second string LG position last year but this year he should be pushed by the bigger, stronger players like Isaac Luatua, Alphonse Taylor or Grant Hill. The Lighthouse is expecting Lindsey to settle in as the second string Center if one of the young pups can show enough ability to man the LG position.
Isaac Luatua – 6’2, 313 Sophomore
This is where it gets fun. If you project Lindsay as the backup center, then perhaps there is an opportunity here for Luatua to emerge at the Left Guard position. The big Samoan has not been able to get much time on the field so you’d have to consider him to be a dark horse candidate for the Left Guard position at best. Luatua’s size and strength should project pretty well for the position but we think mobility must be a bit of a question. Honestly, this is a HUGE spring for Luatua as this is his opportunity to stake a claim as the backup to one of the guard positions. If he fails to make a move this spring, he could very likely end up being passed up by bigger guards like Alphonse Taylor or Brandon Hill.
Alphonse Taylor – 6’5, 340 Redshirt Freshman
Oh baby, does size ever matter! As soon as big Alphonse Taylor stepped onto campus there was a vociferous battle amongst the coaching staff to get this big man on their side of the ball. The defensive staff wanted Taylor to line up as a massive nose tackle to become an even more athletic Terrance Cody. However, Taylor’s athleticism and ability to move translated so well that he projected as an absolute wrecking ball at Guard and that’s finally where the big ‘un landed. If you think the spring is important to Luatua, it’s even bigger for Taylor. If Taylor can show off some solid blocking techniques and is able to earn the trust of the staff by knowing the plays, Taylor’s upside as a guard simply cannot be ignored. Rumor has it that Taylor was very impressive on the scout team last season so the big man is primed and ready to make a run at the starting gig. If Arie K isn’t healthy, then we are anointing Taylor to be the dark horse winner at the LG spot. Tune in August 31st to see if we are right!
Ryan Kelly – 6’5, 290 Sophomore
Last season there were two kids who really acquitted themselves well during their time on the second string line. One was Austin Shepherd and the other was Ryan Kelly. Kelly’s ability to step in at center was so impressive that it allowed the coaching staff the flexibility to move Barrett Jones to virtually any position along the offensive line had an injury necessitated a move. Thankfully, the 2012 starting offensive line took nearly every snap they needed to together so Jones never had to leave his center position. Now that Jones is gone, Kelly becomes the key component of the 2013 line and will be looked upon to provide leadership to the young pups. Kelly is quick out of his stance and while he’s a little tall for a center, Barrett Jones showed that having a good amount of height can be a plus at the position. Kelly is a lock to be the starting center and should eventually be a strength at the position.
Chad Lindsay – 6’2, 290 Junior
Yes, Lindsay is also listed on our board at Left Guard so you can see where his time might be better spent backing up Kelly at center. Additionally, there will be two teams playing on A-Day so Lindsay’s reps will most certainly come as the starting center for one of the two teams. Taking the majority of reps at center means Lindsay won’t be able to stave off a hearty challenge from Arie K, Luatua, Taylor or Hill so this is why we think Lindsay settles in as the #2 center and is eventually bumped down the depth chart at LG.
Anthony Steen – 6’3, 303 Senior
When Steen first showed up on the scene, he was replacing Mike Johnson during the 2009 Auburn game and it was a total train wreck of a debut. Steen allowed Nick Fairley to blow by him twice on his way to game changing sacks so Steen’s future as a key component of the Bama OL was more than doubtful. Three years later, Steen is the most experienced offensive lineman on the team and will be counted on to provide a vocal veteran leadership to his three new linemates. If Steen isn’t the strongest player on the team then he’s certainly in the top two or three and the word on the street is that he’ll blow out the NFL combine when he gets to compete up there. Steen’s initial punch is strong and devastating which allows him to be the perfect Guard in a tandem blocking scheme. While Chance Warmack was a better pulling guard, Steen acquitted himself fairly well whenever he was asked to pull and he’s continually gotten better and better at doing so. Steen has become the consummate Bama guard and should be drafted in the middle rounds next year.
Arie Kouandjio – 6’5, 311 Junior
Yep, welcome back to the discussion, Arie! If Arie’s health limits his ability to be a full time starter, his smarts and size will certainly allow him to be the swing guard for the team. Basically, if there were to be an injury at RG or LG, you’d see Arie come in and fill the position. If forced to guess, the Lighthouse would project Alphonse Taylor as the starting LG with Arie K becoming the swing Guard for the 2013 team simply due to the injury concerns with Arie.
Grant Hill – 6’6, 300 True Freshman
Andrew Bone of Tidesports first spotted Hill in Huntsville and instantly predicted he would one day be an NFL first or second rounder. Yes, he’s that good. Hill is a blue collar strong man from similar mold as Anthony Steen so it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to see Hill garner a backup spot at one of the Guard positions. I’m certain that the staff would likely prefer that Hill take a redshirt this year but the simple truth is that Hill may actually be one of the four or five best guards as soon as he walks onto campus. If Grant were coming in as an early enrollee, you’d almost think he’d certainly see the field at some point but since he’s not enrolling until the summer the odds are against him.
Austin Shepherd – 6’5, 312 Junior
While Shepherd’s measurables likely won’t blow you away, he was one of the most consistent players on the second string line. Shepherd was always able to maintain his blocks and generate a push while his fellow second string linemates oftentimes did not. This will be Shepherd’s fourth year at the Capstone so he has a massive leg up on his RT challenger, Leon Brown. Shepherd’s knowledge of the playbook, game experience and overall strength should put him atop the depth chart at the Right Tackle position, in our opinion. We project Shepherd as the starting RT against Virginia Tech but the real question will be whether or not he can maintain the starting spot throughout the season because Leon Brown wasn’t signed out of the Juco ranks to sit on the bench.
Leon Brown – 6’6, 313 Junior
Leon Brown comes in as an early enrollee this spring from the Juco ranks as the 4th ranked Tackle on the Juco board. Brown projects as a very athletic but very raw tackle so it will very interesting to see how this translates during spring drills. Will his athleticism overcome his lack of technique and experience?? Many pundits predict that Brown will win the Right Tackle starting gig but there have been bigger and better young lineman than him who were more refined and yet they didn’t start (Fluker and Cyrus K to name two) right away. Granted, Brown is two years older than Fluker or Cyrus were when they stepped foot onto campus but in our opinion Fluker and Cyrus K were further along in their blocking techniques. So while it will be apparent that Leon Brown is a much more athletic tackle than Austin Shepherd, we think Shepherd’s strength and experience will win the job. Typically Saban’s Juco guys start right away, though, so this will be a tremendous battle to watch during A-Day.
Brandon Hill – 6’6, 370(?) True Freshman
Sweet mercy, this is one massive…MASSIVE…young man. When Hill reported as an early enrollee, it was said that he weighed around 400 lbs. Rumor has it that he’s lost quite a few lbs since then (I’m guessing the 4th quarter program helped just a wee bit) but we are still going to list him as being the broad side of a very sturdy barn. Hill is a year older than your typical true freshman but we think his size will force him to redshirt this season while his body adjusts to big time college football. But, between the two Hills (Brandon and Grant) the future appears alive with the sound of…..pain.
This is the first time since 2009 that Alabama has been forced to replace three or more offensive linemen so replacing the likes of Fluker, Jones and Warmack is going to be an impossible task. Additionally, I’d submit to you that Alabama actually lost four of their six offensive linemen since big Michael Williams essentially served as a third tackle – he was especially productive in the running game. More than any other position on the team, the offensive line will determine the success or failure of the 2013 team. Finding five starters and acquitting new OL coach Mario Cristobal into the Bama playbook will be the most important spring objectives for Saban & Co.
While Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen are two very solid NFL caliber players to build a foundation on, young guys like Ryan Kelly, Austin Shepherd, Arie Kouandjio, Alphonse Taylor and Leon Brown are going to have to step up and become big time players over the next month or so. Size and athleticism abounds among the reserves but experience is in an extremely limited supply. When you sit down to watch A-Day, keep an eye out to see which 10 linemen (5 on each team) are the starters. With the LG and RT positions as wide open as they’ve ever been, the practices leading up to A-Day will essentially be a daily regimen of hand to hand combat with the victors taking center stage on A-Day. If you think the offense will open up this season (and we do), then having a sturdy OL to protect AJ will be more imperative than ever this season. More dropback passes in 2013 will mean more blitzes and more opportunities for an inexperienced offensive line to get exposed by SEC defenses. How quickly Cristobal can turn these three new lumps of clay into a fortified line? I can’t wait to find out!