Alabama’s offensive line coach Mario Cristobal enters his third season on Nick Saban’s staff, and the results have been excellent. Cristobal spent six seasons (2007-12) at Florida International University, prior to arriving in Tuscaloosa in February of 2013.
That season, Cristobal walked into an Alabama squad that was down one of its historically best units, having lost Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker to the 2013 NFL Draft. With young talent, but no cohesion or unit leaders, Cristobal was tasked with building chemistry with Cyrus Kouandjio, Anthony Steen, Ryan Kelly, Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd.
Under Cristobal's tutelage, the line helped Alabama post an 11-2 record in 2013. The Crimson Tide surrendered 17 sacks, only allowing 1.31 sacks per game. The Tide offense accounted for 454.1 total yards and averaged 38.2 points per game. The 7.15 yards per play in 2013 was good for fifth nationally and was also a school record
Last season, Cristobal faced a similar rebuild, returning. Again, by he got the men in the trenches to work cohesively, as the Crimson Tide averaged a paltry 1.14 sacks per game (14th nationally, second in the SEC). Alabama would then shatter the offensive records established just a season before, as the Tide averaged 36.9 points per game and totaled 484.5 yards offensively (206.6 rushing yards).
Cristobal's coaching had not only an impact on the line as a whole, but showed especially in impacting individual players. Right tackle Austin Shepherd, long considered "a guy," was taken in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft, after only allowing one sack last season. Left tackle Cam Robinson, now a sophomore, had a dynamic freshman season. He became the first true freshman to start at left tackle since Andre Smith (2006). Robinson allowed three sacks in 861 snaps, earning him Freshman All-American honors.
In addition to Xs and Os, Mario Cristobal is an excellent recruiter. His efforts in getting Alabama a No.1 recruiting class in 2015, earned him the Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year Award.
Cristobal was also the principal recruiter responsible for landing five-stars Minkah Fitzpatrick (N.J.), Daron Payne (Ala.) and Calvin Ridley (Fla.), along with four-stars Shawn Burgess-Becker (Fla.) and Lester Cotton (Ala.). He even brought in two solid three-stars in Matt Womack (Miss.) and Christian Bell (Ala.). Alabama’s 2015 recruiting class was littered with talented offensive linemen, including Cotton, Brandon Kennedy and Richie Petitbon.
The story entering this season is similar to years prior, as Cristobal faces another rebuild: Alabama loses Austin Shepherd, Arie Kouandjio and Leon Brown to the 2015 NFL Draft. The unit returns only Ryan Kelly and Cam Robinson as starters from last season. Below are contenders to fill the vacancies left form graduation.
Junior college transfer Dominick Jackson has size at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. He saw action in eight games last season, including four as a blocking back. He has the potential to be a successful right tackle, but Jackson needs to improve his footwork.
Sophomore Bradley Bozeman appeared in nine games (two starts) last season at center. He filled in admirably for Ryan Kelly (knee) in Alabama’s meeting with Ole Miss. Bozeman’s first career start came against Arkansas, where he led the team in knockdown blocks (three) and posted a grade of 86. Bozeman was dominant in the Crimson Tide’s game against Texas A&M. He guided Alabama’s running backs to 298 yards on the ground. Bozeman has a chance to start at right guard in the fall.
Alphonse "Shank" Taylor, a junior, split time with Leon Brown at right guard in 2014. Taylor came off the bench in Alabama’s season opener against West Virginia, but he excelled on the first-team offense. He opened holes for two 100-yard rushers, T.J. Yeldon (126, two touchdowns and Derrick Henry (113, one touchdown). Taylor also paved the way for Alabama's 538 yards of total offense against West Virginia, and he didn’t allow a sack. Shank played 12 games last season, and settled into a role on special teams. Taylor will be battling with Bradley Bozeman to start at right guard this season.
Competition for spots: Ross Pierschbacher (left guard), J.C. Hassenauer (center), Brandon Greene (right tackle), Korren Kirven (left tackle) and Issac Luatau (left guard)
It’s an open competition for spots on Alabama’s offensive line, excluding center and left tackle. Cam Robinson said his main focus is winning a national championship. The chance at a title is there for Alabama, but will its big boys be ready in the fall?