We had a slight scheduling SNAFU last week, and the below selection appeared earlier than planned.
But now we are done with the All-Saban teams, and so now we’ll begin focusing on the unsung, unheralded, and other key players that probably didn’t get the appreciation they deserved.
If you want to keep up with the scheduling, I plan on cranking out two of these a week — on Mondays and Thursdays. Tomorrow, we’ll pick it back up with the H-Backs/Tight Ends and Fullbacks. Today, we’re reposting the offensive line. Feel free to chime in on any and all submissions, praise my wisdom, curse my forbears, or tell me where I goofed and why I’m stupid.
Over the past two months, we’ve presented to you the All-Saban positional teams. This was your opportunity to select among those exceptionally talented, highly-decorated players that helped key a decade-long dynasty.
But, for every Outland winner, there are four other men on the offensive line, making the summa of the Crimson Tide so much greater than its constituent parts. That is why, over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting you the Roll ‘Bama Roll All-Saban Underappreciated Team. It is a chance to stroll down memory lane and honor those guys who never got the ink or the hardware or the accolades of their more decorated peers.
We begin today with the offensive line. Please note, because of a southpaw quarterback, and lack of a true unrecognized left tackle, we’re going to select two tackles, two guards, a center, and utility man with no reference to either side of the line.
Center: William Vlachos
Taco was an absolute stud, despite having little reason to be so. He was short, his arms were far too stubby for the position, he was beefy but not as powerful as you’d expect.
While Vlachos has a future in the NFL, it will be tough for an NFL team to fall in love with his skills. He is not going to stand out on game film or impress anyone in workouts. Vlachos isn’t the most explosive player and struggles to move defenders off the line. He is more of a zone blocking fit because he can velcro and seal. His lack of athletic ability makes it difficult for him to be effective in space. Vlachos struggles to remain balanced and reach defenders in the 2nd level.
But, what Vlachos lacked in athleticism and on the tape measure, he more than made up for with his technical prowess. And nowhere was that skill more apparent than when Alabama manned-up and imposed its will on the ground. Vlachos was a big reason why Saban’s ‘Bama identity was long associated with #RTDB. He was simply a monster in the ground game, starting in 39 straight games under center and helping pave the way for an unreal 27 separate 100-yard rushers.
In 2011, he was rightly named a Rimington finalist for his senior season exploits, and was part of one SEC Championship team and two national title winners. Despite that, Vlachos only earned one All-SEC nod in his career, and he was never tabbed for an All-American team.
Runner-Up: Antoine Caldwell — It’s hard to underappreciate a consensus first-team all-American center who was a Rimington finalist in his own right and was selected in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft.
Tackle: Austin Shepherd
Austin Shepherd was quietly excellent in his two seasons as a starter following the departure of D.J. Fluker. As we noted in his Senior Salute, quiet is the best way to describe Shepherd too. Though his tape shows him routinely pancaking defenders, and he rarely missed blocks or surrendered a sack, he flew under the radar his entire career. For instance, in the 2013 season, he didn’t allow a single sack until the Sugar Bowl — over 300 passing snaps.
And that lack of attention was odd too, because it wasn’t for his lack of athleticism. The 6’5” 321 pounder was described by NFL.com as “possessing a combination of size, power and surprisingly light feet...he shuffles well laterally and can anchor against bull rushers in pass protection.”
For all that, Shepard never received the praise he probably deserved, never earning an All-American or All-SEC bid, taking home one second-team All-SEC selection.
Tackle: Dominick Jackson
We don’t talk about Dominick much. But, his was an invaluable year of post-JUCO service. While not the most physically imposing or dominant player, he was a mauler in the running game. But, coming from a Wing-T offense at a relatively light 6’6”, 315 frame, he needed work in a pro-spread offense.
Fortunately for him, Jackson landed in Tuscaloosa during the Kiffin transitional years, getting to both manball people to death for Derrick Henry’s Heisman campaign and still take advantage of an offense that relied on quick hitters to an underrated receiving corps...and the occasional #CokerDeepBall. The Alabama offense would eventually begin to morph into its present-day speedspeedspeed incarnation the following season, but for the roster Nick Saban had on hand at the time, Jackson’s tools were a perfect fit.
There is no journey into the brave new world without solid ground beneath you. And Jackson was a rock.
Guard: Lester Cotton
Hard to believe the local kid who seemed so out of place initially would go on and start 28 games for the Tide, splitting his time roughly evenly between the right and left spots. Given the revolving door on the right side, he was a godsend, starting 18 games over two seasons. Then, with graduation and then injuries, he moved to left side his senior season and logged 10 more starts. In that time, No. 66 got a masterclass on interior line play. Lester blasted open holes in ‘Bama’s run-heavy scheme for Jalen Hurts, and then showed some surprising agility inside blocking in Locksley’s vertical RPO air attack. going to be blocking for Henry Ruggs III with the Raiders this season.
Guard: Anthony Steen
Josh nailed it six weeks ago. Anything I add would be gilding the lily:
Steen is one of those guys that everyone roots for. The Clarksdale, MS product was a lightly recruited prospect by Saban standards, a three-star who came in as the #30 OG and #467 overall player in the 2009 class. As you’d expect, he took a redshirt year during the national title run in 2009 and was slated for a backup role in 2010. Unfortunately, he was forced into action that season when Barrett Jones went down and the most vivid memory most Tide fans have of him was that awful sack/fumble as Alabama was nearing the end zone.
Anthony kept working, however, and became a stalwart in the guard spot for the next three seasons. He started on that heralded 2012 line, opening holes alongside D.J. Fluker for Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Headed into his senior campaign in 2013, he was the leader of an OL group that had to replace three starters, and went on to earn second team All-SEC honors. He left Alabama as a three-time national champion. Steen didn’t get to hear his name called at the draft, but latched on with the Miami Dolphins and started some games at center and guard before an injury derailed his career in 2017.
Runner-Up: Arie Kouandjio — Like the Good Doctor said, Arie was always the quiet one; the man we left out of discussions of recent great players. But despite some early injuries and uneven play, he turned into a hoss and eventually earned first-team All-SEC and All-American honors. So, people out there were paying attention.
Runner-Up: Alphonse Taylor — Shank was one of the most enjoyable players to watch along the offensive line...as well as among its most frustrating. For every defender he decleated, you could pencil in a hold here or there, or a false start or three. But when he was dialed in, the offense hummed. The fact that he was physically imposing and had a nasty streak to his game is no small part of that success either. That risk-reward paid off handsomely for Shank though; he played in 40 games over his career and started over half of them.
Utility Man: Matt Womack
We’ve outlined the criminal unfairness that life dealt to Womack on more than one occasion, most recently during his Senior Salute.
But, it’s safe to say a mammoth 6’7” 323-pound right tackle, who can move to the left side for a Southpaw quarterback, and then move inside to a position he never played and still earn starts is the kind of versatility that championship teams must have. Womack could have folded his hand and given up. He could have left for greener pastures and been a starter at almost any school in the nation. But he stuck it out, learned new skills, and is forever beloved for it...even if his name wasn’t always one of the first 22 called from the PA announcer.
Womack was not selected in 2020 NFL Draft, but here’s hoping that someone will pick him up if and when camps begin.