Ross Pierschbacher and Johnny Dwight could not be more different. Both are redshirt seniors who play for the Crimson Tide but comparisons tend to tail off after that.
Pierschbacher was a highly recruited 4-star offensive tackle from Cedar Falls, Iowa. He spurned the home state Hawkeyes to head 800 miles south to Tuscaloosa. After a redshirt year he became a starter at left guard and was named to many SEC All-Freshman teams. As a sophomore, he was named second team All-SEC, playing both left and right guard. Last season he was first team All-SEC, again at left guard.
Two springs ago, Alabama All-American center Ryan Kelly was tuning up for the NFL Draft. Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, the Tide was trying to find his replacement. For much of the spring, it was Pierschbacher manning the center. In the fall of 2016, it was Bradley Bozeman who emerged as the anchor for the middle of the Bama line. Two years later, Alabama is in a similar position trying to find their next center with Pierschbacher as the prime candidate.
To be a successful center, one must be able to read defenses and shout out assignments to his fellow linemen above the roar of 100,000 screaming voices while delivering an accurate snap to his quarterback. The main reason Pierschbacher likely did not win the spot sooner is his quiet demeanor. The Tide staff has worked with him to be more assertive and have looked to him to be a leader. With 42 career starts at guard, can he transition that experience over to center?
It has been so long that Alabama has not had a particular player inked in at noseguard that one of the originals, Josh Chapman, is now on the staff in Tuscaloosa (Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach). Whether it was Chapman, Terrence Cody, Marcell Dareus, Jesse Williams, A’Shawn Robinson or Daron Payne, there always seemed to be an answer heading into spring. With Payne moving on to the NFL, it is a problematic issue that needs to be addressed.
Of the six defensive linemen signed for the Class of 2014, (Da’Shawn Hand, Josh Frazier, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Johnny Dwight, and OJ Smith) only Dwight remains. For four years he has been buried in the depth chart. Over the first three seasons, he in participated in one game. Last season, he played in six games, collecting a sack against Fresno State and a quarterback hurry against Arkansas. He will be looked to for much more in the coming campaign with the hopes of him being the starting nosegaurd.
The biggest responsibility of a good noseguard is to wreak havoc. The ideal NG will clog the middle, collapse the pocket, bat some passes down, and make running backs peel outside where the linebackers get all the glory. There is not much about Dwight’s performances to date that gives the appearance that he can achieve these sort of tasks. At 6’3” 301 lbs, he has the right physique but does he have the strength and push?
On Saturday, Dwight may just face his toughest challenge of the year against Pierschbacher with Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee all breaking in new centers.