Alabama is #blessed with four returning starters on the offensive line including a few who probably could’ve gone pro after last season and been drafted. A third returning starter is projected to be selected pretty high in the 2022 NFL draft when he is first eligible. This year’s group could rival the D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen, Cyrus Kouandjio offensive line from the last decade.
While there is no reason to think any of the four returning starters will lose their jobs, where they take their stances along the line will be different for two or three of them from last season.
CITRUS BOWL STARTING LINE
LT Alex Leatherwood
LG Evan Neal
C Landon Dickerson
RG Deonte Brown
RT Jedrick Wills
Offensive Line Coach Kyle Flood has a deep group to work with which is most fortuitous. With no games against Southeast North Dakota State Tech this season, it will be a brutal SEC match-up week in and week out. With this anomalous schedule and redshirts on the house, expect to see many substitutions throughout the season so as not to wear down the starters. Solid depth is also important should a player be forced into a mandatory 14-day quarantine due to an illness.
RT Jedrick Wills absolutely blew up as a junior and became the tenth pick of the 2020 NFL Draft.
T/G Matt Womack - Although not a starter as a senior, Womack was incredibly valuable to the Tide in jumbo packages and as a reserve.
T Scott Lashley - Buried in the depth chart, this former 4-star has grad-transferred to Mississippi State where he may well be a starter.
OL Hunter Brannon - A former 3-star, Brannon was arrested for a DUI back in October 2018. Last fall, it was reported that he was dealing with “medical issues” and wasn’t cleared to return to football. His name disappeared from the roster in the spring. He did not play a down in three seasons on campus. There is no reason to expect to see him back.
LT Alex Leatherwood (SR) - After starting at right guard as a sophomore, this rising senior finally got to move back to his more natural position of left tackle last season and was named First Team All-SEC for his effort. He graded out at almost 89 percent as a junior, allowing just two sacks and three quarterback hurries all season. He missed just seven assignments in 752 snaps for a 99.1 percent success rate. Some observers thought he might make the jump to the draft, but he wisely decided to stay one more year to hone his skills and up his draft stock. 28 career starts.
G Deonte Brown (R-SR) - Brown arrived at the Capstone at a robust 350 pounds. By the time he unseated starter Lester Cotton at left guard in 2018, he was at 344. Flipping over to right left guard last season, he played at 338. Now as a senior, the guy they call “Cornbread” is back at left guard and again listed as 350. Hopefully, those are “good” pounds. 13 career starts.
G/C Landon Dickerson (R-SR) - As a redshirt junior, the Florida State grad transfer started all 13 games for the Tide - four at right guard and nine at center where he wrapped the season. He was named second-team All-SEC and honorable mention All-American by Pro Football Focus. He allowed only one sack and four quarterback hurries all season, and missed just four assignments in 727 snaps all season (99.4 percent success rate). 13 Alabama starts, seven at FSU.
G/T Evan Neal (SO) - Coming into his freshman campaign, this former 5-star tackle had the daunting task of supplanting two future NFL starters (Wills, Leatherwood) at one of the tackle spots. While that scenario didn’t happen, Neal was too good to leave on the sideline in 2019. He was utilized as the starter at left guard next to Leatherwood and became a Freshman All-American. 13 career starts.
RETURNING RESERVES WITH PREVIOUS STARTS
G/C Chris Owens (R-SR) - This fifth year lineman has seen playing time at tackle, guard, and center during his career at the Capstone. He began last season as the man at center. However, struggles and an injury saw him move to the sidelines as he was replaced by Dickerson while Brown went to guard after serving a four game suspension. Owens also played some tight end in field goal and goal line packages. Owens is again vying for a starting spot at center with guard as a back-up plan. 4 career starts.
G/C Emil Ekiyor (R-SO) has worked at guard and center. He played in four game at center in 2018, while retaining his redshirt status, and particpated in eight games for the Tide last season.
G/C Darrian Dalcourt (SO) is competing for time at center or guard. Last season, he saw action in seven games, playing a total of 69 snaps as a true freshman mostly as the back-up at center.
T Tommy Brown (R-SO) is starting to make some noise and appears to be the number one reserve at tackle. Look for him to spell Neal or Leatherwood a good bit this season.
T/TE Kendall Randolph (R-JR) filled a valuable role last season as a blocking tight end on short yardage situations. He played in all 13 games in 2019 but with a healthy Miller Forristall and the addition of grad-transfer Carl Tucker, there may not be a need for him to change jersey numbers as often this season.
T/G Pierce Quick (RS-FR) took a 4-game redshirt last fall and looks to provide valuable services as a back-up this season. He shoud see his fair share of snaps.
T Amari Kight (RS-FR) played in only one game last year and may need some development time. He is up to 318 from 302 as a freshman.
G Tanner Bowles (RS-FR) also played in one game as a freshman. He is up to 293 lbs. from 280.
Seth McLaughlin (FR) led Buford (GA) High School to a State Championship while manning left tackle. Alabama recruited him to play in the interior, most likely a future center. He will need to bulk up from his current 280 lbs. “Paging Doctors Ballou and Rhea.”
Damieon George (FR) - A ginormous kid (6’6”/345) with a high ceiling who did not enroll until in the summer.
Javion Cohen (FR) - Another summer enrollee, who famously flipped from Auburn. 6’4”/325.
POTENTIAL DEPTH CHART
The credo of Nick Saban offensive lines has always been to get the best five on the field even if they might be out of their natural positions, much like having Evan Neal play guard last season. There is no reason to think Saban will change that philosophy for this season.
Bookend tackles of Leatherwood and Neal are no brainers. Tommy Brown is probably the first off the bench followed by Kendall Randolph or Pierce Quick.
Despite all the talk of Dickerson lining up at guard in practice, it could just be experimenting. Having your fifth best offensive lineman identifying the defense, calling assignments, and snapping the ball cleanly to what may be a true freshman quarterback all in a matter of moments can be a bit of a gamble. Come September 26, Owens could be the center but there will be a short leash.
Brown moves from right guard to left guard. If Dickerson is the center, there will be a battle for right guard between Ekiyor, Owens and Dalcourt. Should that be the circumstance, my money is on Ekiyor.
Who is the fifth starter?
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