Alabama's veterans are aiming for improvement on offensive line
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ It’s been a pretty quiet training camp for the University of Alabama offensive line, which is just the way coaches want it.
The old adage still applies that when linemen get noticed it’s usually for something bad, either someone has an injury or is struggling. Yet the only thing along those lines so far has been senior guard Leon Brown’s foot injury, which will likely keep him on the sideline for about another week.
Instead perhaps the most surprising thing may have been when the group got together for dinner a couple days before camp opened they actually cooked their own meals.
“It wasn’t bad,” senior right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “We’re all big dudes so I didn’t really keep track on who ate the most.”
Heading into Saturday’s first scrimmage, when there will be some experimenting and a lot of evaluating, most of offensive line coach Mario Cristobal’s mixing and matching of personnel has been with the reserves.
For example, during Friday morning’s practice true freshman Ross Pierschbacher was getting a long look at left tackle with the second unit, with sophomore Brandon Greene next to him at left guard. Freshmen J.C. Hassenauer and Josh Casher were also talking snaps at different spots so coaches can get a feel for where they may best fit in.
The opposite has been true with the first unit. With three returning starters of Shepherd, senior left guard Arie Kouandjio and junior center Ryan Kelly there’s been very little movement. Offering a desirable veteran presence that Alabama may have lacked a bit last season with just one senior (Anthony Steen), they appear to be set.
“Communication,” Kelly said is where it pays off. “You look back there were some things we could have put ourselves in better position, running game, passing game, no matter what. What we don’t want to do is have a 7-yard gain and it could have been 14 and someone came off late on the block. That’s been one of our (points of) emphasis in camp, to really finish our blocks.
“By the end of the camp we’ll be a lot better than we were last year.”
Incidentally, Kelly didn’t have a botched snap in 2013 with AJ McCarron, and just one “snap infraction” against Ole Miss. Yet with the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback still be determined coaches stressed ball security this summer across the board.
Meanwhile, the transition of having a true freshman at left tackle appears to be going smoothly as Cam Robinson (6 foot 6, 323 pounds) enrolled early and proved that he was ready for the responsibility during the spring. Considered one of the best prospects in the nation by every recruiting service the physical part was never really in question.
“He’s bending well. He’s shooting his hands. He’s got really long arms. He’s learned the playbook,” Kelly said. It’s everything you want in an offensive tackle.”
That leaves right guard, where sophomore Alphonse Taylor (6-5, 325) has taken most of the first-team reps, although he’s also seen some snaps on the left side as a precautionary measure.
“He’s got good feet, really powerful,” Shepherd said. “He’s been doing a lot of good blocks when we double team. Dominick Jackson is really talented, great feet too. He’s got a really powerful punch.”
Jackson has comparable size (6-7, 320), but played in a different type of offense at the junior college level last season and as a tackle didn’t have to pass block much in the College of San Mateo’s run-heavy Wing-T scheme. Lining up at guard helps with that as there’s only so much space for a defensive lineman to work with.
“I think his pass protection is pretty good because every time I’ve gone against him it’s pretty tough to get around him and play my keys and everything,” defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. “Dominick is looking pretty good out there.”
Either way, or with Brown (6-6, 320), Alabama will again have one of the bigger lines in the Southeastern Conference.
“The goal and objective is going to be to get the five best guys at positions that they can play and get them together and get them to develop chemistry so that they can play well together as soon as possible,” Nick Saba said. “Then we want to get the next five guys behind them so we have the most possible depth to be effective as we go through the season.”