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2018 Alabama Football Unit Previews: Offensive Line

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Many familiar faces are back for a deep Crimson Tide OL.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia
Ross Pierschbacher (71) and Alex Leatherwood (70) are back.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Q: What are Offensive Line Coaches’ two favorite words?

A: Returning Starters

The Crimson Tide is blessed with a plethora of experienced starters and reserves across their line. Alabama has had deep offensive lines in the past but none perhaps as experienced and versatile as the this year’s group. Even with the loss of the starting center and two second-teamers grad-transferring, this line is strong.

SKEDADDLED

  • Bradley Bozeman - The former team captain valiantly held down the center position for two years. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft and is progressing nicely.
  • J.C. Hassenauer - Before running out of eligibility, Hassanuer got his chance to shine in one of the most memorable games in Alabama lore. He graded out at a team-high 90% against Georgia while replacing injured Lester Cotton at guard. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons and of this writing is still with the team.
  • Brandon Kennedy - Grad-transferred to Tennessee and is looking like the starter at center.
  • Dallas Warmack - Grad-transferred to Oregon where he is projected to start at right guard.
NCAA Football: Alabama at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

BACK FOR MORE

73 Jonah Williams secured the starting right tackle spot as a true freshman in 2016 before moving to the left side for his sophomore campaign, earning third-team AP All-American honors. He has been nothing short of spectacular from Day 1 and is talented enough to play any of the five spots across the line. The staff has experimented with him at center and that position is still a possibility for him at some point in the coming season.

71 Ross Pierschbacher - Three year starer has played both guard positions and projects as the starting center this season. The redshirt senior arrived in Tuscaloosa a little quiet and reserved. To be a center, one must be more assertive to call plays for the line amongst a stadium roar. To remedy this, Nick Saban has put him up front in the media spotlight, making him available for interviews long before he represented the team at last month’s SEC Media Days. If he does not work out at center, he likely mans one of the guard spots. Much like Williams, he can play anywhere on the line.

66 Lester Cotton seems to have locked down one of the guard spots but nothing is guaranteed. He has played both guard positions in his Bama career, but mostly on the right side. Last season, he started 13 games at right guard before missing the National Championship game with a knee injury suffered in the Clemson game. The Tuscaloosa native was also “dinged” against Fresno and was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons.

77 Matt Womack started every game last season at right tackle but missed spring practice after suffering a broken foot in March. He reinjured the same foot last week and is scheduled to be out about 6 weeks. Previous to this setback, it would have been easy to write him off but there were some struggles from his springtime replacements on the right side. But that is now a moot point with him on the sidelines. One of the more underappreciated Tide linemen, the redshirt junior graded out at 90 percent against Clemson’s vaunted defense in the playoff game. Amazingly, the 6-foot-7 330-pounder practiced some at right guard last year and according to Hassenauer, “performed very well” at that spot. The major advantages he has going for him is that he knows the playbook well, he has good technique, and does not make many mistakes. If he can get back to 100% this season, he could be the first off the bench to replace an injured or struggling starter.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

SUPER SOPHS

70 Alex Leatherwood - At most programs, this former 5-star would have been the starting left tackle the day he stepped on campus. Despite not making Alabama’s starting lineup last year, it did not take too long for him to see the field. As a freshman, he saw action in seven games often times coming off the bench and playing right tackle with the four other starters for several snaps before more substitutions were made. It was the Georgia game where he really had a chance to shine upon replacing injured Johan Williams at left tackle in the third quarter of the National Championship Game. Leatherwood played 44 snaps and graded out at 88 percent. The Pensacola native is clearly talented but needs to hone his craft if he hopes to be the next great left tackle at Alabama.

74 Jedrick Wills also saw plenty of significant snaps as a true freshman. He was often employed in short yardage situations as a third tackle. After playing mostly at tackle last season, he is getting a long hard look at right guard but is still learning.

OTHER CANDIDATES

65 Deonte Brown is in the fight for one of the guard spots. The redshirt sophomore has impressed coaches with his performance. In 2017, he participated in all 14 of the Crimson Tide’s games, blocking for field goal and extra-points as well as a reserve off the bench.

79 Chris Owens is another RS sophomore who has has performed well and is pushing for playing time at guard. He can also play center.

67 Joshua Casher - It seems like this redshirt senior has been around a long time. He has been groomed as a center and may be the first off the bench at that spot. He can also play guard.

RESERVES

76 Scott Lashley - Still waiting for this former four-star tackle to blossom. The RS sophomore may be a year away from starting, but could be the first tackle to substitute this year.

72 Richie Petitbon - A couple of springs ago, this RS junior was looking like a strong contender for a starting spot but then he tore an ACL. Others passed him by while he rehabbed. He still has value as a back-up (see J.C. Hassenauer).

60 Kendall Randolph - Former US Army All-American hopes to make a move after a redshirt freshman year.

50 Hunter Brannon was almost asked to greyshirt in 2017 but came on board last fall and took a redshirt. It is unlikely that he will be a factor this season but he is in a similar position that Bozeman was four years ago.

78 Elliot Baker - This juco transfer had a less-than-successful first year on campus in 2017-18.

NEWBIES

55 Emil Ekiyor was a little late getting to Tuscaloosa due to his high school’s late graduation. At a robust 6-2 322, he is projected as a center who likely redshirts.

75 Tommy Brown - Another redshirt candidate, this California kid will be a factor in future seasons but could see action due to Womack’s injury. He has great size (6-6.5/313) and a bit of a nasty streak in the trenches.

PWO:

61 Alex Pearman had offers from a few smaller schools but accepted a preferred walk-on offer at Alabama. The center was teammates with 2019 commits Taulia Tagovailoa and Amari Kight at Thompson High School in Alabaster, AL.

62 Jackson Roby is another preferred walk-on. He mainly played center for Huntsville High.

PREDICTED STARTERS

At the beginning of fall camp, there seemed to be many unknowns. Almost all of the Tide linemen have been experimented among different positions. At that time, no one player could be seemed to be nailed down to a particular starting role. Some of the questions coming into camp:

  • Would Pierschbacher be able to hold down the center position or would Williams be needed in that spot?
  • Could Leatherwood overtake Womack?
  • Can the staff find a way to get both Leatherwood and Wills on the field?
  • Can Lester Cotton hold off all comers at guard?
  • Will Brown or Owens find themselves in the starting lineup?

Many of those questions have been answered as the pieces are falling into place. The only real questions appear to be: what happens if a starter needs to come out of a game? Will there be straight up substitutions or will a starter slide over to another spot before someone comes in off the bench?

So without further ado, here is my projected starting lineup versus Louisville:

LT: Jonah Williams
LG: Lester Cotton
C: Ross Pierschbacher
RG: Jedrick Wills
RT: Alex Leatherwood

Poll

How does this unit compare to the 2012 OL of Cyrus Kouandjio, Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen, D.J. Fluker (subs: Ryan Kelly, Arie Kouandjio, Chad Lindsay, Austin Shepherd)?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Not even close.
    (45 votes)
  • 65%
    Maybe second best of the Saban era.
    (252 votes)
  • 17%
    Better.
    (68 votes)
  • 4%
    I am an indecisive so-and-so. I’ll give you my "other" thoughts in comments.
    (18 votes)
383 votes total Vote Now