One of Alabama football’s biggest concerns heading into 2014, or is it?
With the SEC Media Days starting this week, which has traditionally signaled the start of the upcoming season, there is no doubt that the Alabama football coaching staff has been hard at work recruiting and planning for the 2014 season as well as future seasons. On the recruiting front the Crimson Tide is already listed as having the top class (again) for 2015 with star players committed to the Tide from coast to coast. While evaluating and working to get the next top prospect is always on Coach Nick Saban’s mind he is also working with the staff in order to have another successful season and find players that want to compete.
There are many positions where the 2014 Alabama football team will have returning talented players, and some positions where new talent will need to be evaluated in order to fill a starting role or as a backup. Skill positions such as the receivers, and running backs as well as the quarterback are traditionally thought of to be the important positions on the offense. While that is very true and those are the players responsible for scoring the points, they wouldn’t get very far down the field if it were not for the key of the offense – the O-Line.
Although the line consists of several positions they must perform as one cohesive unit to be effective and successful making football the great sport that it is. Every player on the field has their responsibility and each one is vital to the success of the team. Nick Saban and his staff have preached this philosophy every year they have been at Alabama and this year is no different.
New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and o-line coach Mario Cristobal have their work cut out for them this season and it’s probably one of the Crimson Tide’s biggest concerns. Not from the standpoint that there are young players or where they have several huge holes to fill but more from the standpoint of how will they utilize all the talent that’s there and get them to work together. Not only does the Crimson Tide offense have several returning starters across the board, but the line and QB are really the only positions where there are question marks.
Alabama welcomes back three starters along the offense line, including right tackle senior Austin Shepherd, junior center Ryan Kelly, and senior left guard Arie Kouandjio. But that’s where the more secure spots stop. During the spring, early enrollee and true freshman Cam Robinson took a significant step forward at left tackle to replace Cyrus Kouandjio and Leon Brown played at right guard during the Sugar Bowl in January and in the spring. Those are really the only two holes to fill on the line but there is more to filling a gap.
That’s not where the possibilities stop though. Not only did the Crimson Tide get the top rated recruiting class in 2014 but it also got the top ranked offensive lineman class with six top rated recruits heading to Tuscaloosa as part of the class. Robinson was mentioned above then there is the top-ranked juco offensive tackle Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo) who should compete for a starting spot against sophomore Grant Hill who saw some playing time last season. Others in the class that should make the competition even higher is Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls) who was the No. 3 offensive guard, Josh Casher (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul’s Episcopal) as the top-ranked center, J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge) as the second-best center and Montel McBride (Plant City, Fla./Plant City) ranked as being in the top 30 at guard. The competition should be great all down the line but as mentioned before it’s about cohesion and how this new group can gel and work as one unit.
Alabama has become known for producing offensive lineman that are of the NFL caliber and rightly so with names like Fluker, Warmack, Kouandjio, Jones, Carpenter, Smith etc .. all becoming top draft picks. The Crimson Tide has produced eight drafted offensive linemen, including five first-round selections, over the past seven years. Who will become the next Crimson Tide player to carry on the tradition of O-Line University?
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