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Alabama Football Recruiting 2015: Previewing the Offensive Line

Alabama's Offensive line has really struggled as of late, I'm breaking down the new recruits coming in next year

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, Alabama fielded one of the best offensive lines of all time. Four of the five went on to be drafted into the NFL, and none were picked past the second day of the draft. Although matching that line's success every year would be near impossible, most of the lines from 2008-2011 were also impressive, especially at run blocking. Offensive line coach Joe Pendry created an identity. A line that prided itself in beating down the opponent's defense. In 2011 and 2012, Jeff Stoutland continued that identity, pieced together a line, and kept those players together to create that vaunted 2012 line. In 2013, Mario Cristobal took over. Things haven't been the same since as the line seems to have lost its identity, going from a physical, mauling line to more of a finesse group that can't seem to convert short yardage situations.

Rant aside, I'm not here to talk about the line coaches, but rather the individual players. Arie Kouandjio, Leon Brown, and Austin Shepherd are all seniors, and will be moving on at the end of the season. Ryan Kelly is a junior, and likely will return for his senior season, but that will be his last year. And Cam Robinson, of course, will be a starter for the next 2-3 years, and barring regression, could possibly be the best O-lineman to come out of Bama since Chris Samuels.

Behind these guys is a solid amount of theoretical depth. Redshirt freshman Alphonse Taylor has been getting valuable experience splitting time with Leon Brown at RG, as has the redshirt Freshman center, Bradley Bozeman. Sophomore G/T Grant Hill also played with the starters (and played great) a good bit last year, but has mysteriously disappeared so far in 2014.

The 2013 class, spearheaded by CamRob, added quite a few high ceiling lineman to the team. JUCO Dominick Jackson has got a little playing time this year, and has been a monster in run blocking. Centers J.C. Hassenauer and Josh Casher were the #1 and #2 centers in their class, and Ross Pierschbacher looked even better in the All-American game to my eyes than Robinson.

Last Name First Name Position State Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
Casher Josh C AL 4 280 2 6010 290 5.49 4.66 24.0 69.93 0.97
Robinson Cameron OT LA 5 4 1 6050 330 5.27 4.87 27.3 41.0 97.50 2.16
Pierschbacher Ross OT IA 4 74 6 6040 269 5.21 4.56 23.0 81.57 1.47
Hassenauer J.C. C MN 4 172 1 6030 292 5.20 4.37 29.1 34.5 90.99 1.88

This class has exceptional potential, so I couldn't go without mentioning them. Jackson didn't do any tests coming out of a JUCO, so I left him off. Just look at Robinson. A 97.50 SPARQ for an offensive lineman is almost unheard of, and Ross and J.C. aren't far behind. Not only does this group collectively have absolutely insane SPARQ scores (in case you forgot, here's what SPARQ and Z-Scores are), they also have some of the coolest names in recent memory. I can't wait to hear Verne Lundquist trying to pronounce these guys' names.

The Newcomers

Last Name First Name Position State Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
Kennedy Brandon OG AL 4 270 15 6025 285 5.26 4.60 28.0 26.5 51.09 0.15
Petitbon Richie OG DC 4 63 4 6040 304 5.55 4.72 22.0 37.0 68.23 0.89
Cotton Lester OG AL 4 48 1 6040 325 5.34 5.00 21.5 44.0 81.30 1.46
Warmack Dallas OG GA 4 213 8 6020 306 5.54 5.08 22.2 37.5 65.40 0.77

Brandon Kennedy

Listed anywhere from 275 to 298 pounds, Brandon Kennedy weighs in a little lighter than the average Alabama road grater we've come to expect. The Weptumpka standout is constantly praised for his intangibles, and he currently holds a 4.0 GPA. He has played both tackle and guard in his sophomore and junior seasons, and has made the switch to center this year. Upon watching his film, Kennedy doesn't flash or display any standout traits, but does have very good footwork and serviceable power. He seems to be a high effort-type player, always chasing the play after the runner goes by and making sure to finish every block. Almost any time Kennedy locks on to a defender, that defender ends up on the ground. He also shows high effort and intensity as a defensive lineman.

As evidenced by his Z-Score of 0.15, Kennedy is a very average athlete. He's a bit on the small side, and not all that fast or strong. You can see this translate into his game, as he sometimes struggles to stay directly between the defender and the intended target. This leads to him blocking at odd angles, which can easily turn into obvious holding calls at the next level.

In all likelihood, Kennedy projects as a swiss army knife guy, with the mental ability to play any position, but the athletic and size limitations may keep him as a career second stringer. Of course, Barrett Jones proved us all wrong as an under-athletic, over-achieving technician.

I couldn't decide on just one play to highlight, so here's the entirety of Brandon Kennedy's Junior highlights.

Dallas Warmack

Little brother of former first rounder, Chance Warmack, Dallas is just as stout as his predecessor. I came into this expecting Warmack to be a little over rated based on his brother, but that wasn't the case. The Under Armour All-American mostly plays left tackle, but is projected as a guard at the college level. And oh boy is he aggressive. He as most at home as a pulling guard, and strikes unsuspecting defenders with the force one would normally expect of a linebacker. He's a powerful guy in trenches, but looks to be at his best in open space, looking for targets to decleat. As a pass blocker, Warmack is very stout with a low center of gravity, and will not get pushed backwards into the QB.

His backpedal and kickstep, however, are painfully slow. There is a very good reason Warmack is not projected to stay at tackle. At the interior of the line, he can play to his strength and keep power rushers at bay. Warmack also looks to carry a good bit of sloppy weight right now, and could probably stand to lose quite a few pounds.

With a 0.77 Z-score, Warmack is a pretty good athlete, and with a little conditioning, I think he has the natural ability to be an elite athlete at his position. All in all, he is pretty much a clone of his older brother, and plays a very similar game to Chance.


Richie Petitbon

The 6'4" 300-pound senior out of Washington D.C. is one of the top guards of the class of 2015. He (along with Lester Cotton, who I'll talk about next) was a standout at the offensive line drills at Nike's The Opening camp over the summer. Petitbon plays angry, and fights in the trenches with a scrappy aggressiveness. His upper body looks powerful and he has a jabbing initial punch that redirects pass rushers and stonewalls linebackers.

Like Warmack, Petitbon needs some work with his footwork, and looks a little slow in his backpedal. I also happened to see a video from The Opening, where Tennessee commit Khalil McKenzie bull rushed through Petitbon three reps in a row. Outside of that though, Petitbon had a very solid camp there. He will also need to watch himself in regards to personal fouls and roughness-type penalties.

Petitbon

Here, Petitbon (#74) exemplifies both his hustle and aggressiveness, blocking multiple defenders, and finishing off his rampage by throwing a poor linebacker onto the ground with one arm.

As an NFL doppleganger, his play reminds me a lot of former Missouri tackle, and 2014 second round pick, Justin Britt, and their measurables are also quite similar.

Lester Cotton

Cotton is the crown jewel of this offensive line class so far. The #1 ranked guard in the nation has gotten plenty of hype over the last year, and has attended and exceeded expectations and turned eyes at every camp he's been to, including The Opening. Cotton is the prototypical guard, with a a huge, powerful frame, and an impressive 1.46 Z-score. He has powerful, tree trunk legs and uses them to drive defenders backwards, generating all of his power from the lower body. He has serviceable footwork, and is a decent pass blocker, showing multiple instances of blocking one man, then passing him off and picking up a stunt blitzer.

Cotton doesn't show many weaknesses in his game, and has a very good chance of being an early contributor for Alabama, especially with two senior guards leaving this year. I don't really have a good comparison to an NFL player for him off the top of my head, but hopefully Cotton will be one of those players down the road that we compare other new players to.

Other prospects to keep an eye on

Although four players have already committed to this class, and most seem to be pretty solid locks to stay, you never know when a high school kid could change his mind. There are also no true offensive tackle prospects of the four committed, so Saban may look to add one of those. Watch out for Isaiah Prince, the 6'7" tower of human being from Maryland is the 8th ranked tackle in the class of 2015, and has narrowed his choices to Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, and Maryland, and has scheduled a visit to Tuscaloosa on January 16th. It may be a long shot, but the top ranked tackle, Martez Ivey, plans to visit Tuscaloosa in February, just before National signing day, so a late push is not out of the question

Let's face it, the 3.04 yards per carry outing by Yeldon and Henry against Arkansas was pretty putrid. Both backs have developed tendencies to dance and hesitate behind the line of scrimmage, and I don't think either one used to be like that... It's a habit developed from no room to get a running start. The offensive line woes have been quite real this season, even before Ryan Kelly was injured. Hopefully between the outstanding 2014 class and the upcoming 2015 class, the line can be shored up for years to come.

As always, thanks for reading, and let me know in the comments what you think, whether it be about the future prospects, SPARQ things, or the current line situation, the offensive line is one of my favorite position groups to discuss. In the meantime, let's go take down the Aggies.