“The offensive line, I think, has improved. I thought we played the best we’ve played last week (vs Southern Miss). I think we were more efficient in the running game, pass protection was pretty good for the most part. I think we’ll be much more challenged this week, so it’ll be interesting to see if we can continue to progress.”
~ Nick Saban Sept. 24, 2019
This season thus far for the offensive line unit has been unlike any of recent memory. At this point in past seasons, the five starters have been carved into granite. This year after five weeks, there is still a bit of uncertainty in the interior.
During fall camp, it looked like Matt Womack would start at one guard but freshman sensation Evan Neal is simply too good to keep off the field. Emil Ekiyor was also looking good but a big push by FSU grad-transfer Landon Dickerson coupled with an early-season injury to Ekiyor has pushed him to the bench.
In four out of five games, the starting lineup has looked as below:
- LT Alex Leatherwood
- LG Evan Neal
- C Chris Owens
- RG Landon Dickerson
- RT Jedrick Wills
Owens missed Game 2 against New Mexico State with an injury and was replaced by Dickerson at center with Womack manning right guard. By all observations, this unit did not miss a beat. Regardless of who the opponent was, they did not yield a sack nor commit a penalty. Earmark that thought for a few moments.
Run blocking in general has had a difficult time opening up holes for the running backs, but it has improved as the season has progressed. Some of the low yardage totals could be attributed to second level tackling by opponents. Neither Najee Harris or Brian Robinson have rushes longer than 20 yards so far this season. Read into that whatever you will...
Game 1, Duke: The Tide line struggled with the Blue Devils rush, especially up the middle. The Tide gave up one sack and 4 TFL. Officially, no QB Hurries were recorded but I am not sure what game the scorekeeper was watching on his iPhone while the rest of us were watching Tua Tagovailoa run for his life.
- Jerome Ford (starter) and Najee Harris combined for 116 yards on 22 rushing attempts for 5.2 ypc.
- Brian Robinson struggled for 9 yards on 9 carries.
- urth quarter sack: Up 5Holding, Chris Owens – negated a 30 yard pass to Jaylen Waddle.
- Holding, Evan Neal – negated a 54 yard Najee Harris reception.
- Holding Jedrick Wills on a no gainer.
- Tua Tagovailoa sacked on the third play of the game: With four wideouts, Duke blitzed two off the weakside and RB Jerome Ford could not pick up both rushers. To be frank, this one was not on the OL. Tua should have called for an audible or the sideline should have called time out.
Game 2, NMSU: no OL penalties, no sacks, 3 TFL.
- Harris and Robinson combined for 125 yards on 23 carries for 5.4 ypc.
- Long touchdown runs by Keilan Robinson (74 yds) and Henry Ruggs (75 yds).
Game 3, South Carolina: Tagovailoa sacked on the first and third play of the second possession, leading to a punt. Two QBH were recorded.
- Harris 7-36; Robinson 8-33 for 4.6 ypc; no TDs from RBs.
Javon Kinlaw very good first half vs Bama. Skrong bullrush. pic.twitter.com/ZSO0al40c2— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) September 14, 2019
- First quarter sack: Chris Owens was beaten so badly by Javon Kinlaw that the defender put the Tide center on his backside (see above).
- First quarter sack: Two plays later, R.J. Roderick came on a safety blitz. With H-back Miller Forristall in the tight slot and Najee Harris in the backfield, the Tide had the numbers (6 rushers vs 7 blockers) but a stunt by two linemen drew Owens outside, Harris whiffed on the safety, and Evan Neal ended up blocking air.
- On the plus side, there were no more sacks after these first quarter gaffes.
- False Start, Landon Dickerson
- False start, Alex Leatherwood (two plays later).
Game 4, Southern Miss: no penalties, one sack, 1 QBH
- Harris 14-110; Brian Robinson 8-39, TD; Jerome Ford 8-21, TD
- Alabama was dominating this game, scoring four touchdowns on their first four possessions. At the five minute mark of the second quarter, the Crimson Tide offense stalled out with two punts in two series.
- Second quarter sack: The second of these two possessions came with one minute to go. Realize that Bama was not running out the clock. 2nd & 2 on their own 33, Tua dropped back to pass with 45 ticks until halftime. USM rushed four with a linebacker spying Tua. The Eagles got mad rushes from both ends, causing Tua to step up in the pocket and right into the arms of the linebacker. The entire line looked bad on that one.
- Other than the sack, it was a solid day for the Alabama OL.
Game 5, Ole Miss: Two sacks, 2 QBH, 2 penalties
- Harris 9-71; Brian Robinson 10-60; Keilan Robinson 5-20; no TDs from RBs
- False Start, Landon Dickerson
- Ineligible downfield, Alex Leatherwood – negated Jerry Jeudy 12 yard reception.
- First quarter sack: Similar to the SC game, the Tide gave up a sack on the second possession. With nobody across from him, the Jack linebacker shot into the backfield before a pulling right guard Evan Neal could catch up to him. Najee was outmatched and Forristall was beaten at the other end. With the pocket collapsing, Tua stepped up and was met by the nose tackle who Owens decided to stop blocking. This sack came on first down but it still put Alabama behind the chains and they ended up punting.
- Fourth quarter sack: Up 52-24, the Tide needed to put this game away and Tua was still in the game. This sack could have given OM a spark but the Tide QB connected with Forristall on the next play for a 19 yard score.
As you probably noticed, Tua has been sacked six times so far. In actuality, that number is not as bad as first perceived. Among the top 11 rated quarterbacks in FBS, only Jake Fromm (1) and Jalen Hurts (3) - both of whom have played in only 4 games - have a lower average of times sacked per game.
Outside of the holdfest in Game 1, the OL penalties have been false starts and Leatherwood wandering a tad too far downfield.
Oddly enough, back-up QB Mac Jones has just as many touchdowns on the ground as Najee Harris - one. Brian Robinson has two, and the duo have no rushing scores against the two SEC teams they have played.
Cole Cubelic may be a former Auburn Tiger but he knows good offensive line work when he sees it. Dickerson and Wills are two of his favorites.
- The bookend tackles of Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills have been as good as advertised. Wills in particular has really been shining bright. That is advantageous for the Tide seeing how right tackle is the spot that is protecting the blind side of left-hander Tagovailoa. A for Wills.
- Leatherwood has been solid but has not been mind-blowing spectacular. He has had a few penalties. B (needs improvement).
- Deonte Brown’s return is a sight for sore eyes. Back from his six-game suspension dating to last season, he entered the Ole Miss game late in the second quarter playing 34 snaps and looked very good playing both the right and left guard positions. The junior will continue to push for playing time and potentially return to the starting lineup. A for Game 1 but it is still early.
- The grad-transfer of Landon Dickerson has been a blessing to this squad. The redshirt junior can play any position along the line but has been mostly lining up at guard and some center. Should Brown continue his performance, Dickerson could get moved to center sending Owens to the bench. Dickerson brings leadership and a tenacity to this unit who at times can seem placid. He was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the South Carolina win. However, he has had a few penalties this season. A-
- Pass blocking as a whole has been very good. A
- Depth - Holy cow, does Bama have some horses in their stable. Matt Womack and Emil Ekiyor could be starting for most P5 teams. A-
Evan Neal has been good but he is still learning. B-
- Technically, nobody had been “bad”. However, center Chris Owens has struggled at times. C
Brown’s return creates an intriguing personnel situation as Bama goes through bye week practices preceding a trip to College Station. Neal, Owens and Dickerson have all shown improvement in recent weeks, but Dickerson has proved that he can move center if needed. The practices leading up to the Texas A&M game will be crucial for nailing down the interior lineup. And don’t forget about senior Womack, who could figure in the battle.
- Run blocking is still a work on progress but getting better. B-
- Leadership: It seems odd that the guy who has been on campus only a few months, Dickerson, is the outspoken leader of this unit. I’d like to see juniors Wills and Leatherwood be more assertive. C+
Moving Kendall Randolph to tight end certainly gives the Tide an extra push in short yardage situations.
If asked to grade this unit several weeks ago, the report card brought home might have been followed by a whooping. Though tempted to give them an “I” for Incomplete, this group earns a solid B.
Give us your grade. Sorry, Gumps. They haven’t been an A+. Nor have they been anything below a D, trolls. No refunds.
Grade the OL through 5 games:
This poll is closed