One of the biggest issues of the 2021 Crimson Tide team was the inconsistencies from the offensive line. The bad news is that Alabama lost the best member of that unit in All-American Evan Neal who headed off to the NFL. Sixth year senior starter Chris Owens also moved on. Even still, Bama had three returning starters, a few others with spot starts, and a bevy of young talented former 5-stars returning to the fold. In addition, they added left tackle Tyler Steen who started 33 consecutive games at Vanderbilt before transferring to Alabama.
All off-season and into fall camp, fans were told how the offensive line had improved. However, this Tide team seems to be having the same problems in 2022.
For analysis purposes, it is probably best to throw the Utah State game out of the equation since the Aggies (1-2) have proven to be a very poor barometer as a serious opponent. The Texas game is a better measuring stick and the Longhorns defense looked quite formidable on several occasions. [If UTSA scores more than 20 on the first team, we should be REALLY concerned.]
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On Monday after the Texas game, a reporter asked for Nick Saban’s thoughts on the offensive line: “You have two new starters on the left side of offensive line, I just want to know what you see in them through the first two weeks.”
First, Saban did that thing where he acts like he doesn’t know what the reporter asked by muttering “two new starters on the left side of the line... um..… Javion Cohen started last year. But... he’s played half the game...” and then he trailed off. The pause gave him time to collect his thoughts, artfully dodge the question, and send his message in a confident voice: “ So look, I think the offensive line as a whole has to play a little bit more physical. We’ve got to get better movement. We’ve got to have better diversity in the running game. We’ve got to be able to execute more consistently, fundamental techniques. I have total confidence in the ability of every guy that plays up there. I just think that we just need to get a little more consistent and a little more physical in how we play so that we control the line of scrimmage better. Which I don’t think we controlled the line of scrimmage as well as we needed to in this game.”
Clearly, he did not want to single anyone out or shatter anyone’s fragile ego, but you can hear his concerns. Removing Jase McClellan’s 81 yard touchdown scamper, the Crimson Tide had only 80 rushing yards on 23 attempts against the Longhorns. That computes to 3.48 yards per carry. Texas also had six TFL for the game.
Quarterback Bryce Young was hit WAY too many times. The ‘Horns had two official sacks on Young and recorded SEVEN QB hurries. Consider the fact that Texas had three sacks against UL Monroe in Week 1 but only one QBH. The stats would have been worse for Alabama had Bryce not performed a few Houdini-like escapes.
On the near-safety involving Young in the third quarter and the play that preceded it, Longhorns nose tackle T’Vondre Sweat got by Bama center Darrian Dalcourt in one-on-ones and into the Bama backfield. Oddly enough after that series, it was Kendall Randolph who was sent to the bench in favor of Javion Cohen who stayed in the lineup for the remainder of the game.
Sophomore JC Latham has talent but still seems raw and unsure at times. Steen and even Emil Ekiyor have had issues at times as well.
All the blame for last season’s inefficiencies were laid on OL coach Doug Marrone and he has moved on after one season in Tuscaloosa. In came highly-regarded O-line coach Eric Wolford. Yet, the same issues are coming up. I hate to say it, but the one common denominator is Saban. Last year and into this year, it seems like he is playing “favorites”. It was Owens last year and even in last fall camp he had Randolph as a starter. He brought both of them back for bonus years even though neither showed the worthiness to use up a precious scholarship.
We the fans are not privy to practice but from what we see in games, this sure looks like the same old problems. And with all the 5-stars brought into the program, it is hard to believe the players currently playing are the best solutions. Saban cannot afford to wait until November to make a change. The Tide have two games in which they can experiment in ULM Saturday and Vanderbilt the following Saturday. These need to be treated as try-outs for the rest of the season because things get real on October 1 when Bama travels to Arkansas.
Last season, it was chaotic on the the line and there seemed to be no jelling of the unit. That all changed when Dalcourt went down against Auburn and Seth McLaughlin stepped in. That is when the line really started clicking. McLaughlin reminds this observer of former Tide center William Vlachos who was about the same size and had about the same skill level as McLaughlin. Vlachos started 40 consecutive games for the Tide and anchored two National Championships teams (2009, 2011) as a starter.
Dalcourt is a big strong guy and has worth but he cannot lead the offensive line the way McLaughlin has shown he can. Move Dalcourt over to guard - a position that he has played in the past - and leave Cohen out. Randolph needs to reassume his role as hybrid lineman/tight end where he excels. Hopefully, we get some good long looks at Tyler Booker, Elijah Pritchett, Terrence Ferguson, and others over the next two Saturdays.