An offensive line can absolutely make or break an offense, and Alabama has consistently managed to field some of the better units in the country during the Saban era. The talent is on hand to dominate this season, but alas, there will be very little continuity as up to four spots will feature different names than the group that played Clemson in January. As always, communication is key. If the Tide is to have another productive offense, this unit will have to jell quickly.
LT Cam Robinson (Jr.)
There is a reason that Alabama fans everywhere were holding their breath following the offseason arrest of Robinson. The rare true freshman who came to Tuscaloosa ready to play, Robinson will likely be the first offensive lineman off the board next April. He has rare feet for a man of his size, and sufficient power to do things like this:
If Alabama is to have a chance to add to the trophy case in 2016, Robinson will need to have a healthy and productive campaign. He may be the single least expendable player on the roster.
LG Lester Cotton (So.)
Lester came to Tuscaloosa as something of a local legend, a massive specimen at six-foot-four and over 320 pounds who played his high school ball just off campus at Tuscaloosa Central, his football field situated across 15th St. from our friends at Druid City Brewing Co. A strong and powerful drive blocker in the mold of Tide great Chance Warmack, Cotton acquitted himself well in mop-up duty last season. Running behind Robinson and Cotton should be a treat for Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.
C Ross Pierschbacher (RS So.)
Pierschbacher was a recruiting coup for Saban and company in the class of 2013. The number one player in Iowa and #74 overall, he had originally committed to the home state Hawkeyes. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Pierschbacher started all 15 games at left guard and allowed only 1.5 sacks.
In the spring, Pierschbacher was asked to move to center, and he seems to have embraced the opportunity. Almost identically sized to Tide greats Barrett Jones and Ryan Kelly at six-foot-four and just over 300 pounds, he is a natural fit as an excellent technician who enters his third year in the system. A heady player, he should be well suited to take the leadership role required of the position.
Ross shared some of his thoughts at Media Day:
RG Bradley Bozeman (RS Jr.)
The right guard spot will be perhaps the most hotly contested position on the roster save for quarterback, but for now local favorite Bradley Bozeman is penciled in. A three-star recruit hailing from Roanoke, AL, Bozeman never wanted to go anywhere else. He committed to Alabama before his junior season of high school and never wavered. When his senior season was derailed with an ACL tear, Bozeman accepted Alabama's offer of a grayshirt before a scholarship opened up for him and allowed him to enroll immediately. What Bradley lacks in natural ability, he more than makes up for in work ethic and attitude. Listed at six-foot-five and 312 pounds, he and Cotton would form one of the largest guard tandems in the country.
RT Jonah Williams (Fr.)
The most heralded OL recruit to come to Tuscaloosa since Robinson, Williams enrolled early and has apparently locked up a starting job at right tackle. He has prototypical size for an NFL tackle at six-foot-five and right around 300 pounds, He's also quite nimble, playing in a zone-based spread system on a Folsom High School team that has been called one of the best in Northern California history. Jonah certainly has all of the measurables, but he is, in fact, a true freshman.
Wait, he played where?
Sorry, couldn't resist....
Four of the five slots seem fairly settled, but there will be a battle at right guard. Here are the other candidates, who will also serve as the top reserves at guard should they come up short in the battle for the starting job:
OG Alphonse Taylor (Sr.)
"Big Shank" needs no introduction to Alabama fans. His story is well known: started all 15 games at RG last season, showed up to spring practice over his reported Saban-prescribed weight of 335 pounds and was subsequently demoted, then had what appears to be a minor run-in with the law. There is a decent chance that he climbs out of the doghouse and ends up starting over Bozeman.
OG Josh Casher (RS So.)
Another four-star prospect, Casher hails from Mobile. Like J.C. Hassenauer, he was a center in high school and thus adds additional versatility. Casher will definitely be in the mix at OG this season.
OG Brandon Kennedy (RS Fr.)
Kennedy is a local product from Wetumpka, AL. He played center in high school and thus adds versatility to the group. Brandon actually started at RG for the A-Day scrimmage. A four-star prospect, he should see significant time before he leaves Tuscaloosa.
OG Dallas Warmack (RS Fr.)
A familiar name to Alabama fans, four-star Dallas followed in his older brother's footsteps in making the trek from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa to pursue his education and NFL dreams. Dallas is a bit smaller than Chance was, weighing in at about 305. He has a ton of ability and profiles as a future starter.
C J.C. Hassenauer (Jr.)
Hassenauer cam in with much fanfare as the top-ranked center recruit in the 2014 class. After receiving some playing time as a freshman and sophomore, he was widely assumed to be the leading candidate to start at center this season. The move of Ross Pierschbacher has relegated J.C. to the bench for now, but he still has loads of potential.
OT Korren Kirven (RS Sr.)
Kirven came to Alabama as a defensive line prospect before converting over to offense before his junior season. He will likely serve as the top reserve at tackle this season after filling in for the injured Cam Robinson in the spring. He adds a veteran presence to the group.
OT Matt Womack (RS Fr.)
Matt is a extremely tall at six-foot-seven, so he will be spending the entirety of his career outside at tackle. A four-star prospect, Womack's recruitment made headlines as LSU was punished, unfairly by most accounts, for illegal contact after Womack reneged on a verbal commitment to join the Tide instead. He will look to compete for the inevitable opening at tackle in 2017.
Alabama certainly doesn't lack numbers in the offensive line group. These young men probably won't see much time this season, but many will have an opportunity in years to come:
Malik Martin (So.)
Jacob Probasco (Fr.)
Will Davis (Sr.)
Deonte Brown (Fr.)
Richie Petitbon (RS Fr.)
Scott Lashley (Fr.)
Chris Owens (Fr.)
The Bottom Line
All of the pieces are there for Alabama to consistently win the line of scrimmage. Last season the depth at OT was basically non-existent, requiring natural guard Dominick Jackson to play a position in RT that he really never had the feet to play. This season, all of the starters will be playing positions for which they are well-suited. It is always concerning to start a true freshman, even a five-star early enrollee, and thanks to the unexpectedly abbreviated tenure of juco transfer Charles Baldwin, the depth at tackle is only slightly better with Womack and Kirven a year older. In fact, tackle depth is probably the single greatest concern for this team save for determining the starter at QB.
There are no such issues inside, as Alabama could plug and play any number of the outstanding prospects at guard and even has two great backups at center in Hassenauer and Casher. In fact, should something happen at one of the tackle spots, the answer may well be to move Cotton outside. Lester projects as a guard, but his size and skill set should allow him to be successful at either spot in college.
Barring catastrophe, it should be fun to watch this unit come together. If the whole can equal the sum, this will be the best unit we've had in Tuscaloosa since the vaunted 2012 group.