The Alabama Crimson Tide won 14 straight games and did not suffer a defeat until the last tick of the clock on the 2016 season. Aside from missing out on another Big Beer Tap trophy, the campaign was a highly successful one. 126 other FBS teams would gladly trade positions with Alabama.
Without too deep of analyses, it is difficult to quantify rankings of offensive lines. However, related stats often tell the story.
Despite the cries of “RTDB” from fans, the Tide offense amassed 3,675 rushing yards for an average of 245.0 per game - 12th best in the nation. Damien Harris quietly finished with 1,065 yards, while Jalen Hurts collected 954 and Bo Scarbrough had 812. While all of these young men are fine athletes, they could not have done it without the offensive linemen doing their jobs.
A few more stats for you: Alabama was 35th in sacks allowed but 14th among P5 teams (out of 66) with 1.6 per game. The Crimson Tide faced four teams from the top 10 in defense in 2016: #5 Florida, #8 Clemson, #10 LSU, #12 Washington. (Alabama, of course, was the top defense this past season.)
The Cam Rob era is over. Alabama’s All-American left tackle Cam Robinson started 44 consecutive games for the Crimson Tide and leaves some big shoes to fill. Also gone are Korren Kirven and Alphonse Taylor who shared time at right guard.
The good news is that the Tide return three starters and seven reserves who saw game action in 2016.
Jonah Williams, tackle, rising So. - The hole left at right tackle after Dominick Jackson’s departure was quickly filled by this five-star true freshman and he did not disappoint. After such an excellent season, there is talk that he might flip over to the other side and command the ever important left tackle spot. Regardless if he is on the right or the left, expect Williams to be on the field for the first offensive possession against FSU.
Bradley Bozeman, center, RS Sr. - Already a senior, it feels like we were just getting to know the Roanoke, Alabama native who almost had to take a greyshirt. Fortunately for Tide fans, they get one more season of his football smarts, leadership and stability in the middle.
Ross Pierschbacher, guard, RS Jr. - As the only two-year starter, Ross is the most experienced of this young unit. Originally recruited as a tackle, he moved to guard out of necessity in 2015. He kept his left guard position this past season but is flexible to play other spots and may be moved around this spring/summer in order to assess the best starting five assemblage.
Lester Cotton, guard, Jr. - Started two games at left guard and three games at right guard; played in the most games (12) of reserves in 2016, and 18 overall at Alabama. He can also play tackle. His starting experience certainly gives him an advantage. However, he was benched after the first two games in favor of Alphonse Taylor. Cotton returned to the starting lineup after Taylor suffered a concussion against Arkansas in week 6, but a reported concussion of his own vs. LSU (game #9) limited his playing time from there on out. (I say “reported” because he did play in garbage time the following week vs. MSU. Hmmm...) A misdemeanor arrest last month did not help things but it won’t keep him off the field.
Dallas Warmack, guard, Jr. - 16 career games. Chance’s kid brother played in 9 games in 2016, tied for second most among reserves. He is in the mix for guard.
Deonte Brown, guard, RS Fr. - Former 4-star took a redshirt in his freshman season.
Richie Petitbon, guard, RS So. There was some buzz around Petitbon this time last spring but a torn ACL quashed any plans he had about starting. After surgery and rehab, he was able to practice with the team last fall and got some valuable snaps late in the Mississippi State game in week 10.
Brandon Kennedy, guard, RS So. - This former 4-star participated in 7 games during this past season.
Chris Owens, guard, RS Fr. - An early enrollee from a year ago, he redshirted this past season. Former 4-star.
Scott Lashley, tackle, RS Fr. - After a redshirt season, some observers in the press believe that he is the answer at tackle.
Matt Womack, tackle, RS So. - Womack played well when given the chance last season (nine games at tackle). He is also getting some good talk this spring.
J.C. Hassenauer, center, Sr. - 17 career games played at Alabama. Originally signed as the heir apparent to Ryan Kelly, Hassenauer has not quite lived up to that hope. There is not much reason to think that will change this season. It is possible he could transfer or just be content to ride out his last season at the Capstone. A back-up center still holds value as insurance.
Josh Casher, guard/center, RS Jr. Played in five games this past season, and one game the season before. Played 32 snaps at right guard against Mississippi State. Can also play center.
Depending on whose blog/tweets you read and which way the wind is blowing, most of these linemen are in the lead for the two (three? No guarantees) openings.
If you can stand to listen to Gary & Verne babble incessantly on one last time, you can see many of these guys opening up holes for Derrick Gore in garbage time against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Here are some of the other reserves against the Bullies.
Two of the nation’s best tackles for the 2017 class are currently enrolled at Alabama and participating in spring practice:
Elliot Baker, tackle, Jr. - The nation's No. 1 junior college offensive lineman, Baker is a prime candidate for one of the starting tackle spots. However, he may need to make Scott Cochran’s acquaintance and hone his skills for a year. Elliot can play tackle or guard but is built like a tackle. He has three seasons to play two.
Alex Leatherwood, tackle, EE Fr. - Barely 18 years old, this top-ranked high school OT will also be in the fight. However, he may need to work on his technique to crack the starting lineup. But make no mistake, he is a strong and powerful young man who will start someday soon.
(Incoming freshmen Jedrick Wills, Kendall Randolph, and Hunter Brannon will join the team later this summer.)
Depth Chart Projection
It is crazy early to be predicting the starting line-up. A year ago it looked like Pierschbacher would be the center and Bozeman was going to be a guard or back-up.
Players will again be tried at different positions and there is no guarantee that returning starters automatically retain their spots. The goal is to get the best five on the field together. This unit makes for the most fiercest of position battles for there are no rotations nor substitutions to get a breather. The starting five are in the game until the final result is no longer in doubt (good), injury (bad), or a lineman is just so godawful bad he has to be yanked (ugly).
The cop-out prediction is to just state that Pierschbacher and Williams will be starters somewhere. But let’s go bold here.
(Depth Chart is for currently enrolled players only)
RT Matt Womack
RG Lester Cotton
C Bradley Bozeman
LG Ross Pierschbacher
LT Jonah Williams
RT Scott Lashley
RG Dallas Warmack
C J.C. Hassenauer
LG Brandon Kennedy
LT Alex Leatherwood
RT Deonte Brown
RG Chris Owens
C Josh Casher
LG Richie Petitbon
LT Elliot Baker
So, there are my blindfolded dart-throwing predictions. What are yours?