After starting out with the QBs, RBs, and TEs in the first week, and then WRs last week, we’ll be rounding out the newest group Alabama players on offense by looking at the incoming freshmen on the offensive line.
Like I said last week, this series of articles is looking a bit different this year. The onset of Covid-19 last spring left all of the Nike combines cancelled, so we wound up with absolutely no verified testing or SPARQ data. On top of that, most players wound up with shortened senior seasons, so there’s even fewer highlights than normal to look at.
Regardless, we’ll be breaking down all we can about each prospect and trying to project how they’ll fit on the Crimson Tide in years to come.
Alex Leatherwood, Landon Dickerson, and Deonte Brown are all moving on to the pros, so there’s a lot of open spots for a true freshman to come in and make his mark early on if he’s up for the challenge. Nick Saban has never been shy about starting a freshman on the OL (even at LT) in his tenure at Alabama, so definitely expect there to be some rumors around one or more of these guys come summer.
The son of a former NFL OL, Brockermeyer is an elite tackle prospect in contention to be the best recruit in the country, and most expected him early on to follow in his father’s footsteps to play for Texas.
Instead, he chose to come to Alabama and has enrolled early. He’s already on campus, and is listed at 6’5” 292 (a little shorter and thicker than his high school size)
He was an absolute force at tackle as a sophomore in high school, when his rankings shot all the way up to the top of the nation. He missed his entire junior season with a shoulder injury but came back as a senior and only reaffirmed what everyone saw from him as a sophomore, and is considered by many to be a slam dunk 1st-round NFL pick in a few years.
Brockermeyer is a 5-star, top-5 prospect for a reason. He’s an aggressive blocker who comes from a power man-blocking scheme based on RPO’s, very similar to what Steve Sarkisian ran at Alabama the last couple of years.
He’s got elite quickness off the snap, and that can either be translating into blasting the poor high school sap lined up across from him, or it can get him into the second level and looking for a linebacker with much more speed than you usually see from offensive linemen.
On any given play, Brockermeyer is looking to plant the man he’s blocking onto the ground, and he usually likes to end up belly-flopped on top of the dude until after the play is over. A signature move of his is to immediately push down and sidestep on shorter defensive linemen if they try to go low and get leverage on him, and he’ll send them sprawling the ground, then jump on top to make sure they don’t go anywhere.
While his offensive scheme didn’t require too much in the way of pure drop-back pass blocking, he displayed perfect stance, balance, and footwork to counter speed rushers and inside counters when he was asked to, and I saw him pick up stunt blitzers without a probem a couple of times as well.
He’s trained in a power man blocking scheme based around a lot of RPOs, so he’s already going to be ready to go if Alabama continues the scheme we’ve seen the last couple of seasons with a new offensive coordinator. However, even if the Tide looks to go back to more of a zone blocking scheme like we saw in the Lane Kiffin years, I imagine he’s got the traits (particularly his first-step quickness) to fit just fine there as well.
He’s likely best suited as a tackle, though I think he could definitely add 15 pounds or so and move to the inside if he wanted.
With Evan Neal occupying one of the two tackle spots, there’s going to be a major battle for the other spot. Brockermeyer will likely be right in the thick of things to win the job as a true freshman. Ultimately, I think his having to adjust from a small private school to a major college will prove to put him juuuusstt a little behind, and he won’t win it this year.
2022, though? He’ll be the starter after Evan Neal moves on.
Terrance Ferguson II
Though a left tackle for his high school team, Ferguson is in that “tweener” size range, with many recruiting services projecting him to most likely be a guard or even center in college. Realistically, he’s a little short for a tackle and a little thin for an interior blocker. He’ll likely be a utility swing backup early on until he catches to a specific position later on.
Ferguson has already enrolled in Tuscaloosa, so we’ll hopefully get an early look at what position he’s looking to play during A-Day.
At this point, Ferguson is much more of a run blocker than a pass protector. His high school system is a fairly multiple run scheme that uses both man and zone concepts, with more of a focus on zone. He excels at catching his man and then using leverage to turn them one way or another to open up running lanes. He does a great job at doing this in tandem with his other lineman, and that teamwork/line chemistry also shows up in his pass blocking, where he’s quite adept at picking up stunts or moving over to help the guard when needed.
While he’s not an extremely explosive player on the initial block (like Tommy Brockermeyer), he’s tenacious and does a great job at continuing to drive and drive and drive his man backwards or sideways.
I have to agree with 247 here that he looks more like a natural guard than the left tackle position he played in high school. He’ll likely need to add 15 pounds or so to really compete there at an SEC level. He’s well trained in both man and zone blocking and works well with other lineman, so he’ll be mostly plug n play into whatever scheme Doug Marrone goes for.
I can’t see Ferguson locking down a starting job as a freshman or anything, so I expect him to take a redshirt. In a couple of years, though, when players like Emil Ekiyor, Darrian Dalcourt, and Tommy Brown are all moving on, I expect him to be in the mix and he could be a senior glue-guy, sort of like Chris Owens.
Rated as the nation’s top center, James played more in the shadow of his twin brother, Tommy, early on, but he quickly vaulted up the charts during his junior season. When Tommy went out with a shoulder injury, James kicked out to left tackle and performed admirably himself.
He’s a bit light at only 270 pounds, though he enrolled early, so expect Dr. Rhea and Coach Ballou to add some good weight to him well before the season kicks off.
What he lacks in size and speed compared to his twin, he makes up for in extra aggressiveness. James is a player that thrives in a scrap and tries to turn every block into a combination of a wrestling match and a back-alley fight. His goal isn’t just to get someone on the ground... It’s to throw them down, throw them down again when they try to get up, and end up laying on top.
If he’s not tasked with piledriving the dude directly in front of him, he shows the ability to chip the defensive tackle and get into the second level in a hurry, with his sights set on obliterating a much smaller linebacker or defensive back.
As a pass blocker, he’s light on his feet and can counter most any attempts by a defensive tackle to get around him. A DT that’s determined to bull rush him can get some leverage, though, so he’ll need to work on adding some bulk and getting lower to absorb those kinds of rushes.
Like his brother, James played in a power man blocking scheme based heavily around RPOS, so he’s a natural fit for the offense Alabama’s been running the last few seasons. He’s almost assuredly going to be a dedicated center in college.
While 5th year man Chris Owens likely has the starting center job locked up this year, I expect Brockermeyer will take the year to add a little functional strength and hopefully get a little bit of mop-up duty action.
After that, I think Brockermeyer will be at the head of the competition to replace Owens in 2022, and will likely be a 2-3 year starter for Alabama at center.
Roberts was a longtime Auburn commit that flipped during the Early Signing Period to play for Alabama instead, which is a double-bonus to go along with getting a new massive guard to replace Deonte Brown.
At 340 pounds, Roberts is HUGE and will likely be the biggest player on the team as soon as he enrolls this summer.
As you might expect from a high school guy of his size, Roberts isn’t the most fleet of foot, but is always more than happy to overwhelm much smaller defenders with his bulk. Once he locks onto someone, there’s not a chance they’re going to move him anywhere.
He ran a lot of pulling guard plays to get into the second level, and he’s got some surprising speed that winds up with him bowling over defenders like a runaway freight train.
As a pass blocker, he’s again, faster than you might expect at dropping back and can really absorb a blow without giving up ground. He’s not going to move side-to-side to pick up agile, shifty rushers, but that’s also why he’ll likely fit more as an interior guard than trying to kick out to right tackle.
Nick Saban’s always had a bit of a soft spot for the 340-pound guard, no matter what offensive coordinator or blocking scheme has been in place. Roberts is at his best when pulling and getting down the field to bulldoze some folks, but can definitely hold his own right at the point of attack against defensive tackles. If his conditioning is good, Alabama will find a way to blend his skill set into any scheme they’re trying to run.
There’s a good bit of depth ahead of Roberts in Emil Ekiyor, Darrian Dalcourt, Tommy Brown, Tanner Bowles, Seth McLaughlin, and even Terrance Ferguson, so I definitely don’t expect to see him this year, or even the next really.
I think it may be year 3 before he’s really in any competition to win a starting job, and even then it will tough. As with all guys his size to come through Alabama’s program, conditioning will be key.
Alabama’s highest ranked recruit and the nation’s #2 overall player in the 2021 cycle, JC Latham was a HUGE recruiting win for the Tide. He’s an IMG Academy product, so he’s already going to have a leg up on the rest of the class due to his level of competition and college-level training the last couple of years.
Before moving to Florida, Latham was actually a defensive end and basketball star for his high school in Wisconsin, and the staff at IMG thought he’d make an elite offensive linemen... And in only two seasons he became the best in the nation.
Latham enrolled early, and has already bulked up to 325 pounds on Alabama rosters (a good bit heavier than his listed 305).
Latham is an elite athlete with abnormally good footwork for someone playing well north of 300 pounds. He’s one of the best pure pass protectors I’ve ever seen in a high school offensive lineman. He’s quick enough to always keep his body perfectly centered between the edge rusher and the QB no matter if they go for a speed rush or an inside counter, and he uses his ridiculously long arms to keep rushers at bay and off balance.
As a run blocker, he’s mostly been used in a zone blocking scheme, and so I didn’t see too much of him trying to get downfield and lead block or just destroying dudes like some of the other players in this article.
He’s good a good feel for when to downblock and help out his interior guard on a double team to create a running lane at just the right moment. And despite his height, he can drop down low enough with his top-notch flexibility to get leverage in short yardage situations.
Latham is an absolutely perfect fit for an zone blocking scheme, though the combination of his pure athleticism and only 2 years of training as an offensive lineman likely means he would quickly pick up a man blocking scheme if that’s what Coach Marrone and Bill O’Brien go with. This is the kind of guy you can put in any scheme.
Remember earlier when I said Tommy Brockermeyer would be right in the thick of the competition to be the starting tackle opposite whichever side Evan Neal plays on? Well, Latham is the reason that I think Brockermeyer ultimately has to wait a year.
While there are some veterans that will be vying for the spot, I think Saban takes the chance on the true freshman and Latham follows in the long line of 5-star recruits on the OL getting starting jobs as freshman for Alabama (DJ Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio, Cam Robinson, Jonah Williams, Evan Neal).
He’ll be a three-and-done starter for the Tide, and will be bookended by Tommy Brockermeyer to field one of the best tackle tandems in the nation in 2022 and 2023.