Yesterday we looked at the returning guys and their contributions on the offensive line. This time we'll take review the incoming players and where playing time may be available. Nota benne: This is all half-hearted speculation, so don't quote me on this in any Saban pressers -I prefer to not have my ass chewed, thx.
The coaching staff recruited the lines hard in this class, and it shows. The players Alabama signed aren't just guys (although, you never know who's actually going to be "a guy" versus "the guy."). Rather, there are potential play-makers at every spot on the line, where depth has been a concern since Saban took the reigns in 2007.
First among them is of course, Cam Robinson: The consensus all-everything, can't miss, tackle that we poached from Les Miles' backyard. Even better, he plays the LT spot now conveniently vacated by Kouandjio. Did we mention he's an early-enrollee? He will be in the mix for starter.
At center, JC Hassenauer is a true prospect at his position. Perfect size, nasty and smart. However, with Kelly and Lindsay above him -and both much improved, I'd expect Hassenauer to take a redshirt for '14.
Ross Pierschbacher (and I still have no idea how we pried this guy out of Iowa), is considered the best guard in the country. There is some speculation that he could fill in at RT, but for now, take it as doctrine that he will play his position, and be a run-blocking force for years, probably at RG.
JUCO OT Dominick Jackson. This kid has a Fluker wing-span on a Kouandjio frame. A true pass-blocking tackle, he figures to press for snaps at right tackle, where he almost certainly has supplanted Leon Brown just by sending in his LOI.
Josh Casher is the consensus Number Two Center in the nation. Although smaller than Hassenauer, he looks to compete for PT in '15 and beyond. Neither Casher nor Hassenauer figure to be swapping positions (although, you like Hass's size as spot-starter/emergency option at Guard). Casher, like Hassenauer, will probably take a redshirt.
Montel McBride is an interesting guy at Guard. Great size, even if the footwork needs a little help. All around a very good run-pass, balanced player. Nevertheless, it's likely a redshirt year for McBride.
Playing time may be hard to come by at some spots; yet others are completely up for grabs, and veterans should be wary:
- Cole Mazza is firmly entrenched at his spot, and is an excellent long-snapper.
- You can likewise pencil in Arie Kouandjio at left guard. Pierschbacher, Bozeman or Taylor look to be backing him up as they compete for RG. I'm not buying the narrative that Arie struggled last season, given what we know about his injured brother, and the rotating injuries/inconsistencies at center (especially early). For half the season, he was the left side of the line.
- Center will remain a rotation of Ryan Kelly and Chad Lindsay. Who starts will depend on injury luck and consistency. No position was less consistent last season, although both improved as the season progressed.
- Austin Shepherd figures to be lightly pencilled in at RT, with (possibly) Leon Brown battling for starts Candidly, however, Brown is probably out of the mix given his rumored issues, and it looks to be Shepherd's spot going into Spring. Don't overlook Dominick Jackson getting time here or even winning the starting job. You don't sign a JUCO tackle to sit him.
- Left Tackle is going to have stiff competition between Brandon Greene and Cam Robinson. Dominick Jackson may vie for reps, as well. Brandon Hill looks to be the odd guy out. I honestly couldn't tell you at this moment who I like to win. Robinson certainly helped himself enrolling early, and I'd be stunned if he took a redshirt. Even if he doesn't win the job, he'll get on the field this year.
-Right Guard may also see a chance for Pierschbacher to earn a few starts. The position is relatively deep, with Isaac Luatua, Alphonse Taylor and Bradley Bozeman all returning, but there's no one who instantly stands out a la Carpenter, Warmack etc (yet). Luatua is the only guy who is a known commodity. Were Pierschbacher not on the incoming roster, Isaac would probably be your starter with a bullet, and my money is on him ultimately winning the job. Like Robinson, however, don't be surprised to see Pierschbacher get some PT, even if he doesn't win the job (or even spelling AK at left guard).
2014 will be interesting with an influx of veterans who were last seen getting their s*** pushed in by the Sooners, and new talent, that will hopefully just have one line coach during their career. Turnover at OL Coach has certainly done no one any favors. The final prognosis going into spring is that 2014 may very well play out like the early stages of 2013, as coaches experiment with rotations, and Alabama tries to find chemistry and identity on a unit that has largely defined the Tide's identity under Saban. Expect to see a lot of jersey numbers hit the field on A-Day, as at least two or three starting spots are up for grabs.