Alabama football position outlook: offensive line
With great strength, prowess and consistency, the Alabama Crimson Tide offensive line has become perhaps one of the strongest position groups since head coach Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007.
During the Tide’s 2009 championship season, the offensive line was forced to replace three starters but managed to block for an average of 215 rushing yards per game. The following season, the Tide returned four starters on the line, but only managed to rush for 183 yards per game.
Last season, the line replaced James Carpenter at left tackle and improved to 214 yards per game on the ground. More impressive than that improvement is the number of sacks the Crimson Tide allowed – 17. That number was the lowest for any Alabama offensive line during Coach Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa.
This season the Tide will be faced with the task of replacing former center William Vlachos and right guard Alfred McCullough. Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones moved to the center position during the spring and seems to have picked up the position quite well. The fifth-year senior has played every position on the offensive line during his time at Alabama. The transition to center may come with a learning curve but should not be much of a problem for Jones.
Senior Chance Warmack is back after a phenomenal 2011 season. The 6-foot-3, 320-pound left guard should continue to be a force on the left side of the Crimson Tide offensive line. Warmack likely could have gone to the NFL at the end of last season, but he chose to return. A strong performance in 2012 could provide Warmack with the opportunity to be taken in the first few rounds this season. More importantly, Warmack has the opportunity to be a leader and gives the Crimson Tide offensive line consistency at the left guard position. With another year to teach and mold a replacement for Warmack, the transition to a new left guard next year might not be as bad as it might seem.
Sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio enters the 2012 season as the favorite to start at left tackle. The 6–foot –6, 322–pound specimen learned quickly in 2011, but a knee injury sustained against Tennessee put an abrupt end to his season. His recovery process continued into the spring as Kouandjio struggled to return to playing shape. Eventually, he hit his stride and began to look like the left tackle offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland needs him to be in 2012.
Replacing Alfred McCullough at right guard will likely be junior Anthony Steen. He has experience over the course of the last few seasons, but this will be his first chance to step into a starting role and make a major impact.
Next to Steen on the end of the line is junior left tackle DJ Fluker. One of the Tide’s best run blockers in 2011, Fluker’s experience on the offensive line should help the Crimson Tide offense prosper on the ground during the 2012 season, even with new faces in the backfield.
Behind the starting rotation are a number of players that could make a positive impact if given the chance this season. Austin Shepherd, Arie Kouandjio , Kellen Williams, Ryan Kelly, Isaac Luatua and Chad Lindsay are all players who will likely be featured on the Crimson Tide two-deep depth chart.
True freshman Alphonse Taylor spent time with the interior defensive lineman for some of spring practice, but he was eventually moves to the offensive line on a trial basis. Taylor is a massive prospect, and his experience playing on the offensive line garnered a lot of praise from veterans on offense during the spring. Whether Taylor will remain on offense or will return to the nose tackle position remains to be seen, but he has already made a lasting impression with both units.
The 2012 version of the Alabama offensive line has a chance to be one of the best units in the country. As a whole, the line has a combined 95 starts entering this season and should be able to provide the strength and experience the Crimson Tide offense will need as it develops cohesion early in the season.
The newness of the center position to Barrett Jones should not be much of a factor, and the addition of Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio to the first-unit should not impact the offensive line in a negative manner. There are certainly areas of concern for Alabama as it prepares to defend its title in 2012, but rest assured that the offensive line is not one of them.
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