With the afterthought that is National Signing Day in the rear view mirror, College Football is officially hitting the first wave of #content drought until spring practices start up. So to stem the withdrawal symptoms for as long as possible, I’ll be taking a long look at every single new player that Alabama is adding to their roster for 2020 and giving you all the info you need to impress your friends.
Now, watching high school prospects is a little different from watching college players preparing to go to the NFL draft. Actual film is tough to find, so you’re usually going to be watching only highlights, rather than every single play— good and bad.
As such, I’m typically looking at a player’s “style” and making inferences, rather than his true strengths and weaknesses. For example, every running back is going to have a highlight film of a bunch of touchdowns, but I’m looking at how he makes it happen. Does he just outrun everyone? Or does he run through three defenders? How often does he repeat that? If he doesn’t have a single highlight of him trucking a defender but a bunch have him breaking their ankles, then I assume he’s shifty, but may need some more work on breaking tackles.
The other half of the analysis is a player’s “measurables.” It’s a subject that takes a lot of flak at times, but I look for a player’s size, speed, power, and explosiveness and try to make inferences on his play style. As always, someone being extremely athletic does not mean he’ll be a good player, or vice versa. However, being faster than everyone on the field certainly helps, and is a piece of the puzzle that determines how that player will be used in college.
Over the years, I’ve used SPARQ as a metric for quantifying athleticism and normalizing just how athletic someone is relative to his position. If you want a more in depth explanation, click the link below:
If not, the TL;DR version is this: Bigger, faster, and stronger = higher score.
Unfortunately, this specific class of Alabama recruits were not as active in Nike’s camps as many other classes in the past, so less than half of the recruits actually have SPARQ scores this year. I do, however, have a huge database of previous recruits with scores, so for some players that took an incomplete set of tests, I can actually get a pretty decent estimate just based on previous athletic comps. But I’ll always denote which tests are verified and which are “fill-in-the-blanks”
Finally, for all rankings, I will use the 247Sports Composite, which takes into account the 247, Rivals, and ESPN player rankings. Each of the three differ slightly, so for solidarity, I stick with the composite every year.
With all that out of the way, we can delve into each of the three offensive linemen that Alabama signed in this recruiting class. With four out of five starters returning from 2019, the Tide definitely will not be looking at any of these players as immediate impact players who will have to be ready as freshmen. As such, all three are players with high potential in a specific skillset, but not yet well-rounded or developed.
At nearly 6’7” 350, Damieon George is a massive human being out of the fertile football recruiting grounds of the Houston, Texas area. He stayed solidly committed to Alabama his entire senior season and then was one of the three players to sign in February.
George’s weight, forty, shuttle, and jump are all verified numbers, while the powerball and SPARQ are my estimates. While the 6.0 forty sounds bad, how often do you really see an offensive lineman spring for forty yards? And that 20-yard shuttle is actually almost unparalleled for someone of his size. Basically, he’s huge, and he’s quick on his feet.
George played at right tackle early in his career before moving to left tackle as an upperclassman. He comes from a pure spread offense and zone blocking scheme, so he’s spent nearly his entire career in a two-point stance and being a reactive blocker, rather than attacking a specific defender. As such, he’s not a highly aggressive lineman looking for big blocks, but a more patient one that’s always trying to stay between his ball carrier the person he’s blocking.
He’s got a good feel for rotating himself and his defender as a ball carrier is moving past him, though a running back or quarterback that tries to hit a hole too fast may find themselves caught from behind if George hasn’t had time to shuffle himself around, as he isn’t going to be knocking his defender off balance with upper body strength alone.
As a pass blocker, he’s used to blocking for highly mobile QBs, and is often looking to force a defender into a path past the QB if he’s not fast enough to block them head on, and, again, he has a great feel for rotating around with a scrambling QB and keeping and “mush-rushers” from being able to make a tackle on the scramble.
He may struggle his entire career in both short yardage situations and pure passing downs, but he’ll be excellent on RPOs, zone reads, zone runs, and QB scrambles.
With so many offensive linemen returning and the huge offensive line recruiting class in 2019, I don’t expect George to see much playing time, if any, in 2020 and will absolutely redshirt. I think he’ll probably lose about 10-15 pounds over the next two seasons to play at the 335-340 range, and will be in the mix to be a starter at right tackle by his 4th year on campus, though he may never lock down a full-time job.
Javion Cohen made a lot of news just before the Early Signing Day when he renounced his long time commitment to Auburn to commit to Alabama. Cohen then said that when he called the Auburn coaches to let them know he was going to decommit (before actually letting Alabama know he was going to change), the Auburn staff turned around and leaked that they were pulling his scholarship before he could announce he was decommitting.
Long story short, Alabama got a 4-star offensive tackle out of Phenix City, and Auburn got egg on their face in the process. A recruiting win on all counts.
Cohen did not compete in any verified combines, so the testing numbers are some that he has self-reported, and therefore could be inflated. The powerball and SPARQ numbers are my estimate based on the forty, shuttle, and vertical that Cohen reported.
A 31-inch vertical jump and 5.2 forty yard dash for an offensive lineman are absolutely phenomenal numbers, though they’ll likely drop somewhat as he tries to gain weight above his current 275, as Alabama typically prefers all of their lineman above the 295 mark.
Cohen has mostly played left tackle in high school, but can also play guard. At only 275 pounds, he’s faster than most offensive linemen, and as such he excels when pulling around the line of scrimmage on sweep plays or getting downfield to block on screen plays. He uses his hands really well to stymie speed rushers around the edge. With the ability to backpedal fast enough to keep up with them, he then uses his leverage to throw a smaller rusher to the ground when they try to speed past him.
As a run blocker, he’s at his best when he can lock on to a man in front of him and transfer all of his power from his lower body into a single shove that knocks them backwards.
However, he also seems to have a bit of a disconnect with his footwork and upper body, and tends to plant his feet and go with a flat stance as soon as he transitions from his backpedal to a block. He’ll be susceptible to counter moves and more powerful defensive linemen who can withstand his initial block and keep pushing.
Like George, I don’t expect we see much of Cohen in year one as he works on gaining some size and Alabama has such a veteran offensive line this year. He’ll likely redshirt, but I see him quickly becoming a top-7 guy in year two that can play both tackle and guard in a pinch as one of the first guys off the bench in case of injury.
Depending on how the depth chart falls, I think he could be a two-year starter as an upperclassman, likely at left or right tackle.
Seth McLaughlin committed to Alabama way back in March of 2019 and never once wavered, then signed early and went ahead and enrolled at Alabama in January. Unfortunately, he never posted any testing numbers other than a 29-inch vertical jump, so I didn’t have enough data to go on to guess his athletic profile.
At only 270 pounds, though, he’ll likely put on nearly 30 pounds, which would throw off any numbers he had at this stage of his career anyway.
McLaughlin has played tackle, guard, and center, but most recruiting sites project him as a center. Plus Nick Saban mentioned in a press conference that two of the three offensive linemen the Tide signed were “tackle types,” so I assume that comment spoke to George and Cohen, while he views McLaughlin as an interior guy.
McLaughlin is a highly aggressive player that thrives in short yardage, where he can just get right in the middle of everything, get low, and push and push and push and push and push. He brings that same single-minded tenacity to open field blocks and pass blocking, where, once he picks a man to block, that play doesn’t end until both said man and himself are on the ground— no matter where it is on the field they end up.
He played center, guard, and some right tackle in his first few years before moving to a full time left tackle as a senior. I feel like he struggled some there, as he didn’t have the speed to really keep up with the faster pass rushers, but it was still valuable experience for him at doing more than only firing forward out of a three point stance.
Ultimately, he likely is going to stay at center, as it’s rare to find someone with experience at snapping the ball and then transitioning to making a block. Plus, he seems to really enjoy being right in the thick of a pile or pancaking someone on a double-team block. He’s an exuberant player after the play as well, and I could see him being someone that’s got knack for getting under the skin of defenders and drawing penalties later in the game.
Again, don’t expect him to play much this year as he’s both undersized and will be quite low on the depth chart. I don’t think he has the size to be a guard or the speed to be a tackle in the SEC, but is a natural fit at center. His only real competition after Landon Dickerson graduates will be Emil Ekiyor and Darrian Dalcourt— both of whom may end up at guard, rather than center.
As such, McClaughlin could be a wild card candidate to start as early as 2021 and be a three-year starter, following a similar career path to Ryan Kelly.
Or, I could be really, really wrong and he winds up buried on the depth chart behind Dalcourt for the next three years before having a chance to be knocked out by some unknown talented freshman in the next couple of classes.
I know, I’m really going out on a limb on this one.