I was tempted to highlight Tua Tagovailoa again because, let’s face it, those plays are just fun to re-watch and break down. But I wanted to look elsewhere.
Alabama returned three starters from last year’s offensive line, but only left tackle Jonah Williams is playing the same position as he did in 2017. Ross Pierschbacher moved to center, and Lester Cotton flipped to left guard.
Right tackle Jedrick Wills and right guard Alex Leatherwood are the new faces, though both played last season, with Leatherwood stepping in for the injured Jonah Williams at left tackle in the national championship. Wills and Leatherwood spent the spring at right guard and right tackle respectively, but they swapped positions in fall camp.
The talent is there all along the line; it’s just consistency that’s needed. The Alabama offense has put up impressive amounts of yards and points through two weeks, and the offensive line has been solid. Still, it has struggled at times.
I’m just focusing on the new guys, Wills and Leatherwood, here.
1st and 10: The offense comes out in the shotgun with Damien Harris (#34) on Tua Tagovailoa’s (#13) right, and they run a counter with left tackle Jonah Williams (#73) pulling to the right. Leatherwood (#70) chips the defensive tackle before moving on to the second level where he easily turns the 213lb linebacker and drives him into the backfield. Wills (#74) walls out the defensive end, and Harris has a big hole.
2nd and 2: It’s the very next play, and Bama’s still in shotgun. Leatherwood and Wills initially double team the defensive end. Leatherwood is supposed to move up to the second level, but he releases just a little too soon. Meanwhile, Lester Cotton and Ross Pierschbacher aren’t generating any push in the middle and left side of the line. Damien Harris doesn’t have much running room, and he gets tripped up from behind by the lineman who beat Leatherwood and Wills.
1st and 10: Tagovailoa’s in the pistol with Josh Jacobs (#8) behind him. Hale Hentges is on the left side of the line, and he’ll stay in to block. Irv Smith motions left to right and goes out for a pass. Wills handles the defensive end well, getting a hand in the defender’s chest. He carries him upfield; and, though the end does get close to Tagovailoa, it’s not close or fast enough. Ross Pierschbacher (#71) passes the nose tackle to Leatherwood, who looks likes he’s leaning a little too far forward. The defenders rips past him, but Tagovailoa’s already rifling a beautiful ball on a corner route to Smith.
2nd and 10: Najee Harris (#22) is to Tagovailoa’s left, and Jacobs is to his right. Tagovailoa has the option to give it to Harris who’s going outside or keep it. You can see him check the inside linebacker and then snap his head over to the unblocked edge rusher, and both defenders play Harris. Tagovailoa keeps it and takes off to his left. Both Leatherwood and Wills have pulled in this direction. Leatherwood gets over in time to shove his man out of Tagovailoa’s way, but Wills overruns it and misses his man. Instead of an easy 5 yards at the least, Tagovailoa is dropped just shy of the line of scrimmage.
2nd and 10: Here’s another one for Wills. He kicks out and meets the defensive end, who gets his arms inside Wills’s and gets lower than him. It doesn’t matter. Wills just casually turns him and flings down into the ground. It’s nothing fancy and doesn’t impact the play; I just love seeing that power.
1st and goal: And again. It’s a different defensive end, and he’s lined up farther outside. He meets the same fate. Wills gets a good first punch on the end, and he uses this and the defender’s own momentum to fling him to the ground. Wills promptly squats over him, making sure he’s done for this play. Leatherwood does a find job here, too. He makes first contact against the defensive tackle, wins the hand-fighting, and keeps him at arm’s length.