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Alabama Spring Football 2016: Offensive Line Shuffle

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Spring is a time for change. For the Crimson Tide, it also means experimentation to cope with the change.

Ross Pierschbacher and Cameron Robinson to anchor the Tide offensive line.
Ross Pierschbacher and Cameron Robinson to anchor the Tide offensive line.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like every season, the Tide is replacing two or three starting offensive linemen. In seasons past, the remedy has been a next-man-up approach. However for the coming campaign, Crimson Tide fans might see some experimentation that results in some surprise starters.

Departures

Ryan Kelly

You never know how important a center is until you lose a good one. With all apologies to Barrett Jones, Kelly may have been the best Tide center since Dwight Stephenson. Not only was his play on the field exceptional, he was a fine leader and smart playcaller across the line - not easy qualities to replace.

Dominick Jackson

Although some Tide fans want to disparage Jackson for his flaws, he was after all a starting tackle on a National Championship team. People tend to forget Jackson's excellent run blocking ability. For the Tide, he was a strong and big lineman, who was playing tackle despite guard being a more natural spot for him.

Returning Starters

Cam Robinson

Have you heard about this guy? CamRob has been a fan favorite from the day he signed out of the Bayou state. He was the starter at left tackle as a true freshman and reclaimed that role this past season. Robinson recently had shoulder surgery and will likely miss all of spring practice. He has been participating in drills but wearing a black/no-contact jersey.

Ross Pierschbacher

After a redshirt season, Pierschbacher combined with Robinson in 2015 to create one of the best guard-tackle combos in the nation. He only gave up one and a half sacks for the entire season and had 33 knockdown blocks. He is a versatile offensive lineman who can fill a multitude of roles. As well as his guard position, Ross has been practicing at center this spring.

Alphonse Taylor

Taylor started all 15 games at right guard this past season, quietly finishing with a team-high 57 knockdown blocks and missed only 12 assignments. The senior started all 15 games last season and two games the season before.

Returning Contenders

J.C. Hassenauer

This former 4-star was brought in explicitly to replace Ryan Kelly at center. However, his play was less than exceptional when subbing in this past season. Upon entering the second quarter of the Texas A&M game, his movements unintentionally drew two false start penalties on teammates during Bama's first possession with him at center. Although Bama went on to defeat the Aggies 41-23 in a game that featured three interceptions returned for touchdowns, Hassenauer struggled at times.

Korren Kirven

This senior started out his Alabama career on the defensive side but due to the depth along the defensive line and a need on the offensive side, he willingly moved to offense before last season. A sprained knee late in fall camp stagnated his campaign to win a starting role at right tackle. After recovery time, he first saw the field in Week 4 against ULM and later got a start versus Charleston Southern, filling in at right tackle for Dominick Jackson. In a recent press conference, Nick Saban complimented Kirven on his progress.

Brandon Greene

It may surprise most Alabama fans to know that Greene is the most experienced offensive lineman seeing action in 39 games over his career. Although the vast majority of his participation has been as a tight end, he has mostly been used as a blocking tight end/third tackle. Three straight years, he has started out as a tackle and then moved to tight end. His one career reception was a memorable one made on the first play of overtime against LSU in 2014. He is still in the mix for the right tackle job.

Bradley Bozeman

Bozeman began his career with the Tide agreeing to a greyshirt that eventually reverted to a full fall scholarship due to attrition of another. As a redshirt freshman, he played in nine games with two starts (Arkansas and Texas A&M) filling in for injured starting center Ryan Kelly. He was neck and neck with Alphonse Taylor for the right guard spot this time last year and may be in the same position this fall. He has served on the field goal and extra point teams, playing in all 15 games in 2015.

Lester Cotton

After playing in four games last season, Cotton looks ready to step it up to the next level. With Cam Robinson on the sidelines, he has spent most of the spring on the first line at left tackle. He could play either tackle position or guard and is a dark horse favorite among some observers to become a starter for the upcoming campaign.

Dallas Warmack

The apple doesn't fall from the tree in this family. Although this rising sophomore is about 20 pounds lighter than older brother Chance, Dallas is a strong tenacious blocker with football smarts. He saw action in seven games as a true freshman and is among the candidates for a starting spot at guard.

Others Returning

Richie Petitbon - This highly-touted guard took a redshirt last year and has reportedly put on 10+ pounds in the meantime. He may need another year.
Brandon Kennedy - Another redshirt freshman who could be battling for playing time. He has been taking reps at center but can also play guard.
Matt Womack - So far, Womack is best known for his massive size (6-7/320) and for flipping to Bama, getting LSU in recruiting hot water in the process. There is no doubt he is big, but is he too big to move all that weight around? The redshirt freshman has been seen taking reps at right tackle this spring.
Josh Casher - To this point, this third year linemen has not given much indication that he will crack the starting lineup anytime soon. His only playing time in two seasons has been against Charleston Southern. A former 4-star center out of Mobile (St. Paul's), Casher has worked at guard for the Tide as well.

New Guys

Charles Baldwin

Coming in as one of the highest rated juco players in the country, many observers have already plugged Baldwin in at the right tackle position. But this battle is far from won. He is strong, powerful, and quick off the line but needs to perfect his technique. When asked about Baldwin at his press conference his week, Nick Saban said he is "a very good athlete. He's got a lot of ability. He's got a lot to learn. He's got a long way to go. We're going to continue to work with him, to get him to do things right, to get him to buy into doing things the way we need him to do them so he can have success here."

Jonah Williams

Being an early enrollee has its benefits and should give this 5-star an advantage. He is the complete package, but at 280 lbs, he needs to bulk up to match up against the defensive linemen of the SEC. Williams plays tackle but could easily slide inside and move to guard in college as well.

Chris Owens - Another early enrollee, this guard likely redshirts.
Deonte Brown - Another potential redshirt guard.
Scott Lashley - Likely redshirt tackle.

[For a complete look at the incoming OL, check out Meet the New Guys: Offensive Line]

Projected Starters

For what it is worth, below is how they have been lining up for drills in spring practice.

Pos First Group Second Group Third Group
LT Lester Cotton Charles Baldwin Jonah Williams
LG Bradley Bozeman Dallas Warmack Chris Owens
C Ross Pierschbacher J.C. Hassenauer Josh Casher
RG Alphonse Taylor Brandon Kennedy Richie Petitbon
RT Korren Kirven Matt Womack walk-on

This may be the deepest Bama has been at O-line in Saban's tenure. It is way way early to be projecting the five starters who actually line up in Arlington against Southern Cal in September, but here goes a wild blind stab anyway.

Left Tackle - As long as he is healthy, Cam Robinson will man the left tackle position.

Left Guard - This may be a battle between Dallas Warmack and Bradley Bozeman. It's too soon to tell but I am gonna go with Warmack for now.

Center - J.C. Hassenauer may appear to be the heir apparent, but he has not come in and taken over as one would hope. My gut tells me Ross Pierschbacher's move to center is not just for emergency situations. He has the smarts and definitely has the skills to anchor an inexperienced line that will need some leadership.

Right Guard - Alphonse Taylor has a tenuous hold on his starting spot but should retain it unless someone absolutely kills it in practice. In addition, he may be asked to swap over to the left side.

Right Tackle - Leon Brown and Dominick Jackson were the last two offensive linemen that Bama brought in from the juco ranks, and both were reserves in their first season only to start as seniors. I am of the belief that Charles Baldwin will break that trend. Early enrollment is a great advantage for him. Lester Cotton is also a strong contender.

Ones to Watch

The staff is very high on Korren Kirven. He has good size, strength and a grasp of the playbook. He could surprise.

Although he is fresh out of high school, early enrollee Jonah Williams has all the skills to be a starter someday real soon.