After weeks of spending all of our effort on studying the new defenders (which, as we all know, wins championships), it’s time to begin looking at how Alabama will score points in the future. While the skill guys will get some love in due time, the big men up front are who will make it all possible, so let’s start with them.
I will, as usual, speak freely with terms such as SPARQ and Z-score when discussing athleticism, so if you don’t know what those are, look in the box below for some guidance.
For continuity within this series, I will always use 247sports.com ‘s composite rankings for a player’s star rating and national and state rankings. All heights, weights, and other athletic tests come from espn.com, who integrates their data with that of Nike’s Combine results.
This year, Cam Robinson is is vacating the left tackle spot that he has held down for the last three years, while Korren Kirven is graduating to leave right guard open for competition (though that competition never truly settled all of last year either.) Ross Pierschbacher, Jonah Williams, and Bradley Bozeman all return as starters to hold down much of the line with a veteran presence, while guys like Lester Cotton, J.C. Hassenauer, and Dallas Warmack return with ample experience in backup roles.
While it will be difficult for any true freshman to crack the rotation this year, there are still open vacancies, and it is far from an impossible task.
The final of the trio of recruits in this class hailing from Madison, AL, Kendall Randolph is, if you didn’t already know, the little brother of former Tide basketball star Levi Randolph.
At 6’5” 285, Randolph is a bit on the lean side for an Alabama offensive lineman. He did not participate in any Nike combines, so I can’t speak for his athleticism.
He has experience playing both left tackle and right guard, and likely has the versatility and attitude to play any of the 5 positions on the line.
As you’d expect from a lighter lineman, Randolph has exceptional lateral agility. He can kickstep and backpedal with the best of speed rushers, and then change directions to keep them at bay if they try an inside counter. In the run game, he’s great at blocking for outside sweeps, as he’s quick enough to cut in front of the defensive lineman in front of him, and then seal him off from ever getting to move towards the sideline.
He’s built so that most of his bulk is in his lower body, so his center of gravity is excellent, and as such, so is his balance. You rarely see him toppling over due to overreaching or getting knocked down when he’s overpowered.
He is not an aggressive player at all. Offensive linemen, especially those in an offense committed to running the ball, need to have a mentality of wanting to hit the defender as much as the defender wants to hit the ball character. Randolph just does not seem to have that streak.
He also lack energy in the handfighting aspect of the game. Though he does a great job of keeping his feet moving, his hands often lock up as he continues to block. Better defensive linemen will be able to use the delay to gain advantage, and he’ll be more prone to garnering holding calls.
Randoph will almost assuredly redshirt this year. Alabama already has a good bit of depth from the last two recruiting classes waiting to get their chance, so I don’t see him being able to get any playing time this year. In the long run, I see him being a player that can fill in at any position, like Bradley Bozeman was before his versatility ultimately landed him a starting gig.
To preface, I’m nowhere near as high on Leatherwood as many recruiting services are. His massive frame (6’6” 327), coupled with raw power and serviceable speed and nimbleness gives him a truly elite z-score of 2.19, putting him in the 98.5 percentile. This body type alone has boosted him tremendously in the recruiting process, and he has a lot of potential in that regard.
He reminds me A LOT of former Tide right tackle, DJ Fluker. For good and for bad.
Leatherwood is massive, and you really don’t even appreciate that until you turn on a video and watch him effortlessly pick up toss hapless defensive linemen to the ground. In his sheer size alone, it is rare for him to ever be pushed backwards. He can rotate an engaged lineman to either side to allow his running back to pass with ease, and continue to hold his ground even while shifting directions.
He has a decent if not great backpedal, allowing him to hold his own against much faster speed rushers. He’s also been coached to keep his feet moving even after a block has been initiated... An issue that I see plague many high school linemen.
He has next to no lateral quickness. He’ll be unable to be an effective pulling lineman and will likely struggle to pick up stunts and crosses from pass rushers in college without over extending his reach and getting off balance.
He does not have an initial “punch” that I like to see with offensive linemen. He absorbs the defender’s hit and then looks to overpower, rather than initiating and jolting the defender before he has time to react. He also has a tendency to block with his hands outside of the defender’s shoulders, which could lead to a lot of holding calls in the future.
He may be able to get a little time in a blowout game, but I expect him to redshirt too. He has work to do on his balance, footwork, and weight before he’ll really be ready to live up to his potential.
The monster from Kentucky is the most athletic lineman the Tide has ever signed under Saban. His 5.19 forty yard dash and 4.75 shuttle are fairly impressive in their own right for a 320-pound player, the 49 ft. powerball toss is one of the best I’ve ever seen. That kind of strength is unparalleled, and he can move, too.
He can also play defensive line and kicker(!?)
I mentioned above that Alex Leatherwood lacked an “initial punch.” If you don’t know what I mean by that, go watch some videos of Wills. He attacks the defensive lineman, and his first shove will send tremors through the body of the struck defender. This can disrupt attacks and any semblance of timing of the moves the defender may be trying to put on him. He’s also got very active hands after he’s been engaged, and will continue to shove, swat, and punch the defender to keep the upper hand.
When pulling around and lead blocking in space, he can cover a lot of ground quickly and hits like a truck. He does a good job of keeping his eyes open and blocking the best man for the running back to get a lane, rather than just the first person he sees.
If I were to sum up every video I watched of him in one phrase, it would be: Wherever Jedrick Wills is, carnage follows.
He sometimes gets lazy with footwork, and stops driving with his legs after initiating a block. You can see the same in his pass blocking. He’s got the athletic ability to move backwards or laterally very well, but just... stops moving his feet sometimes. It’s a correctable issue, but one that can cause major issues in pass blocking in the future.
Like Leatherwood, I think Wills will end up redshirting this year to improve his pass blocking, but I think he has a better shot at getting a reserve role.
Ultimately, I think he’ll be a better fit at guard than tackle, though I’m sure he’ll get ample opportunity to try both.
The second major JUCO player this year and yet another year in a row that Nick Saban has snagged a top JUCO offensive lineman, Elliot Baker looks to do what Charles Baldwin failed at last year: stay on the team and earn a role.
As with all JUCO players, he has no SPARQ data. He also plays both left and right tackle interchangeably.
Note: after I wrote this, AL.com published the article that Baker ran an exceptionally poor 6.12 forty. Yuck.
Baker is one of the best overall pass blocker’s I’ve watched. He’s highly precise with his footwork and always stays balanced and between the rusher and his QB, without every having to reach too far and extend his body out past his hips. He has light feet and can backpedal with any speed rusher.
He has very active hands and will continue to push and shove, rather than getting locked into an engagement.
He is adept at working in cohesion with his linemates, and can effectively double team when needed or pass off his man to pick up a stunt blitz. He’s a high energy and vocal player who tends to rally his teammates into action.
As is often the case with a 6’7” lineman, he can struggle with downblocking in power situations against shorter, stouter defenders. He is willing to get low, but his body looks nearly parallel with the ground when he does, meaning a smart defender will likely be able to push him into the ground and gain the advantage.
He also struggles when lead blocking in space, often not being able to find or get to an incoming tackler in time.
He’ll be given every shot to win the other tackle job across from Jonah Williams. Though he isn’t a perfect prospect, I think his pass blocking prowess will be too good to pass up, and he’ll open as the starter against Florida State.