In 2017, Nick Saban signed 5 offensive linemen. In 2016, he did the same.
As such, 2018’s class was afforded the luxury to cut back on the offensive linemen a little in order to focus on other positions (namely, defensive back). Center Emil Ekiyor and guard/tackle Tommy Brown are the only two additions along the line this year, but trust me, they are big additions. 654 pounds of addition, to be exact.
Since there are only two players in this position grouping, I figured we would go ahead and juxtapose the biggest men on the team with one of the skinniest: punter Skyler DeLong.
With the NFL combine going on right now, there’s always a lot of discussion on how much emphasis to place on a player’s “measureables” when trying to scout them for the next level of football. Personally, I love numbers. But no number tells a full story without being taken in it’s proper context.
As for the measureables, though, I use SPARQ. It’s a Nike creation where high schoolers participate in combines, then Nike uses a formula to combine 5 different variables to create a metric, or a SPARQ score. A few years ago, I took that a step further and normalized SPARQ scores for each position using standard deviations to get a Z-score.
Once the prize commit of the Michigan Wolverines, Ekiyor flipped to Alabama last fall and never looked back. At nearly 340 pounds, he’s a monstrous interior lineman, but he’s a lot more than just a big body. A 5.18 forty is pretty good for someone that big, as is his 4.78 shuttle. So he can move a lot better than you’d expect.
But the 50ft. powerball toss is unbelievable. It’s the highest number of any Alabama recruit since I started keeping track in 2012, and that is a display of just ridiculous strength and upper body explosiveness.
All of those numbers show up in his 2.36 Z-score, which means he’s more athletic than 99% of all college football players. He’s behind only Dylan Moses, Jedrick Wills, Nigel Knott, Tony Brown, O.J. Howard, and Landon Collins, while being tied with Derrick Henry, for Z-scores of previous Alabama recruits. That’s good company.
Though listed at nearly 340 pounds, he carries it fairly well, and looks more like he actually played his senior year around 320-325. Regardless, he’s still HUGE. Though he’s got some experience at left tackle (as all elite high school offensive linemen do), he’s definitely an interior lineman, and is already experienced in the nuances of playing center. His high school offense operated both in shotgun and under center, so he won’t have to adjust to a new type of snapping in college.
While you’d expect someone of his size to be best at man blocking, he actually seems most comfortable in a zone blocking scheme. He excels at keeping his head up and picking the best targets in the open field the clear a path for the running back or shutting down a late stunt in pass protection.
On pulling plays, he has the quickness to get outside quickly and pick up a scraping linebacker, and the speed to get down the field and knock a safety on his butt.
And, with his size, it goes without saying that he’s tough to move anywhere in power running plays up the middle. He’s worked a lot on his feet since his junior year, and he does a good job of continuing to drive them forward while blocking a defensive lineman straight up.
Most of his issues stem from a lack of focus on technique and leverage— which really is something that you don’t see often in high school linemen anyway. He gets caught bear-hugging defensive linemen with his hands on their shoulder pads, rather than getting both his hands inside of theirs and into their chest. Because of that, you’ll also often see him getting bent backwards, rather than staying lower than the man he’s blocking.
He also doesn’t display much explosiveness off the line. He more wrestles the lineman in front of him, rather than firing off into him and knocking his opponent backwards with his initial punch.
Lastly, his backpedal still needs some work. He’s improved his foot speed a lot since his junior year, but there’s still only so fast someone that size can go. Fortunately, this is nowhere near as important a quality for a center as it is for a tackle.
With Bradley Bozeman’s graduation, the only open spot along the offensive line this year will be center. Brandon Kennedy has been the primary back-up there, but we really haven’t seen him in real time yet, plus he’s coming off of a major injury. Sophomore Chris Owens and senior Josh Casher have also spent time on the depth chart as centers in the past.
All of those guys will be ahead of him, but I still expect Ekiyor to come in and compete for the starting job there all summer. He may not get it, but I do expect it to be a tough battle for the vets. Ultimately, though, I think he’ll end up redshirting due to the depth along the line already.
Ranked only a few spots behind Ekiyor, Brown is a much different player; towering over all the competition at 6’7” and a massive wingspan. His athletic numbers are a little more normal for a high school lineman. He didn’t test in the powerball though, so we don’t have a SPARQ score for him. Though if I had to guess, he’d end up somewhere around a 0.1-0.2 Z-score.
Many project him as a guard, and he certainly plays guard well. Though I really like his length better for tackle. He played both during the UnderArmour All-America game in January, and performed admirably in both roles.
There’s a lot to like about Tommy Brown. His hands and feet are lightyears ahead of what I usually see in high schoolers. Rather than “wrestling”, as I mentioned above about Ekiyor, Brown is more involved in a boxing match every play. He’s repeatedly punching and shoving the defensive lineman to keep him off
balance, and does a great job at redirecting a defensive lineman’s attempt to go low into shoving them into the dirt.
He also displays great footwork. He keeps his feet under him to keep him upright when backpedaling with rushers trying to get around the edge, and never gets off balance. He can take on a bull rush because he keeps his feet moving and pliable, rather than trying to brace against it and getting knocked backwards and off balance.
He does a good job using his size in the running game as well, and, despite the 6’7” height, he can get low and explode into the pads of the man in front of him in short-yardage situations.
There isn’t much to say here. He isn’t the fastest guy in open space, and isn’t best suited for use as a pulling lead blocker. And while he compensated in high school, his height may cause some leverage issues in the short-yardage run game against SEC defensive linemen. Or it may not. We’ll find out soon enough.
In a normal year of 2-3 linemen leaving due to draft/graduation, I’d give Brown as good a chance as any to be a starter as a true freshman. But with Jonah Williams and Matt Womack returning at left and right tackle while also being backed up by sophomores Jedrick Wills and Alex Leatherwood, both of whom played exceptionally as freshmen, it’s hard to see Brown having a spot for a couple of years. As such, I think that he redshirts too.
Did you really expect a punter to have a SPARQ score?
In any case, I think Saban has found a type when it comes to punters: 6’4” and skinny as a rail. DeLong enrolled early, and has even taken the #10 jersey.... the very one vacated by his predecessor and rightful Heisman winner, J.K. Scott.
That’s where the similarities end, though. Where Scott had a punting motion reminiscent of a swinging trebuchet, DeLong hits the ball lower and with a quicker kicking motion. He puts a lot of spin on his punts, which can lead to funky bounces and mishandled catches. He is also adept at dropping the ball nose-down to make a knuckling backspin when he’s trying to pin the other team on the goal line.
He’s extremely accurate with both his distance and aiming to the sides, and has a feel for making the ball do exactly what he wants.
However, his short-swing kicking style also limits the distance or hangtime (he can get one, but not both). There isn’t as much of a powerful swing like we saw the last 4 years with Scott, so we probably won’t often see the 55 yard boomers that take out the nearest blimps. I figure he’ll usually hover around 41-42 yards per punt, with the best ones hitting about 50. At the same time, I don’t expect to see as many shanks as we saw in the Scott reign.
He also is a pretty consistent kick-off man. He generally hit the ball about 5-yards deep into the endzone. So moving it back in college will have him placing the ball just in front of the endzone until his college work-out regime puts some more power behind his leg.
With no other recruited players on the roster at punter, I fully expect DeLong to win the job as a true freshman while competing with kicker Joseph Bulovas to be the kick-off man as well.