Chip on Their Shoulder
This is the week that Alabama has had marked on its calendar since November 10, 2012. On that day, Johnny “Football” Manziel spent the first quarter doing what he wanted with the Alabama defense and burst into the spotlight as a Heisman candidate. Alabama was in recovery mode the rest of the game and could not overcome the fast A&M start. Alabama which averaged 227.5 yards per game on the season only ran for 122 on 31 carries. Eddie Lacy had 16 carries for 92 yards and one touchdown while T.J. Yeldon had 10 carries for 29 yards and a costly fumble. The struggles in that game were corralling Manziel early and critical play calling late in the game causing an interception on the goal line which should have won the game.
Fast forward nearly 10 months to Sept 1st and Alabama starts on what is expected to be another BCS type season while Texas A&M figures in to be a legitimate contender and potential spoiler to Alabama’s 3-peat. The result of the opening games – more questions for Alabama and Manziel seems to have picked up where he left off (albeit in the second half against Rice). There are some questions with the Aggies defense but there are certainly more questions surrounding the Tide’s offensive line.
After sending three offensive lineman to the NFL the Crimson Tide seem to be in a rebuilding year up front. Much like that of the 2011 season where there were several questions surrounding the “bookends”, D.J. Fluker, Alfred McCullough, Austin Shepherd, or then Freshmen Cyrus Kouandjio? That group turned out fairly well, they not only helped to send the Jr. RB Trent Richardson to the Cleveland Browns but also earning a BCS title.
The rebuilding of this offensive line consists or three new starters –G Arie Kouandjio, C Ryan Kelly and RT Austin Shepherd – but they are filling the shoes of three All-Americans. And, just because there is some experience returning in guard Anthony Steen and tackle Cyrus Kouandjio there is no guarantee that the holes will open for Yeldon and the iron curtain will protect QB McCarron. This was proven in the first game of the season. This was evident with an offense that gained just 206 yards and scored two touchdowns against Virginia Tech.
So was it just a lack luster performance by the Crimson Tide, or was it that Virginia Tech’s defense was underrated? I believe it was a little of both. The Hokies returned most of their defense this season after being ranked 17th in the nation last year and they caused some confusion for the Tide offense with a number of unexpected looks and schemes. “Everybody’s acting like Virginia Tech’s not a good team just ’cause they’re not ranked. They had an unbelievable defense,” McCarron said. “Coach Foster did a great job of throwing things at us that we hadn’t seen from them so it’s not like they’re some regular old team.
Jr. Cyrus Kouandjio returning as the rock on the edge seemed to have gotten better with every game during his sophomore season however his play against Va Tech left plenty to be desired. He was penalized twice for holding and noticeably struggled against Virginia Tech’s defensive ends. While Sr. Anthony Steen performed well but still not up the standards set by last years dominate front.
Steen understands that the performance of the offense was “not focused” resulting in a not what the Alabama offensive line is about, but there is plenty of room for growth stating “After Virginia Tech everybody is talking about being disappointed in us, and we’ve got a chip on our shoulder”. “We’re ready to get out there and try to prove something.”.
Center Ryan Kelly has been working with former center William Vlachos, who is now helping with the O-Line, on calling out assignments and responsibilities. “There were some points where I didn’t put the offensive line in the best situation to make plays,” Kelly said. “People are going to try to do what Virginia Tech did. It’s important we try to correct what we didn’t do in the game and stick to our basics.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban, responding to questions surrounding the offensive line’s struggles last week used the word “communication” three different times. He called it the “most important thing” for the group’s development. Saban has said from day one that players who play consistently and mentally tough, week in and week out will be on the field.
What is it going to take to make this offensive line gel? “We need to have faith, trust and confidence in what we’re doing, but we need to communicate it and have trust in that, too – and each other, so that we can all play with confidence,” Saban said. “And I think that’s going to take some time to develop, but I also think that we’re capable of doing it much better than we did.”
Communication, time to develop, confidence and a nice big chip on your shoulder probably wouldn’t hurt either. “I feel like they came out this past week and really improved, did a great job communicating” McCarron said. “They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder”.
The Alabama offense has the opportunity to redeem themselves on Saturday at 2:30 CT on a very loud on Kyle Field and the opportunity to work on their communication as the A&M fans will surely be the 12th Man.
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