Offensive line still a major strength for Alabama
One thing fans have noted about this season’s Alabama team is that the offensive line is not filled with star-studded award winners as in seasons past.
There is big Cam Robinson, and then there is everyone else on the line. While it’s easy to shortchange Alabama on this charge, the offensive line has been absolutely pivotal to the team’s success. The best part is: The team will likely lose Robinson to the NFL Draft while losing Alphonse Taylor and Korren Kirven to graduation, but four of the team’s primary starters this year should be back next year.
The offensive line has paved the way for the running game despite early questions about the lack of experience at running back. Derrick Henry carried a heavy load last season and won the Heisman Trophy for his efforts, although less experienced backs didn’t get many touches as a result.
As the season has unfolded, Damien Harris has looked the strongest of the backs, but Alabama has given carries to multiple players and all have shined at times, including quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts’ ability to both run and throw was never more evident than Saturday, when he ran for 100 yards and threw for 347 yards.
When head coach Nick Saban was asked after the game who would earn the game ball, Saban said he’s not particularly fond of handing out game balls but later added, “I guess if you went on statistics, you would have to say the quarterback did a really good job today, but I think he would be the first guy to tell you that the other 10 guys that he plays with did a really good job, too.”
For all of Hurts’ efforts on Saturday, he received a number of outstanding blocks from the offensive line that aided his cause. ArDarius Stewart had a tremendous 67-yard touchdown on a shovel pass, but the play would have been a marginal gain without great blocking by O.J. Howard and Cam Robinson.
Heading into the Mississippi State game, Alabama looked somewhat thin at running back with B.J. Emmons out indefinitely, Bo Scarbrough wearing a knee brace and Harris not appearing to be 100 percent. Nevertheless, Lane Kiffin showed creativity — the Stewart shovel pass being just one example — and Hurts and Joshua Jacobs shouldered the load for Alabama’s running game, along with the team’s offensive line.
Alabama has been boosted by depth up front. The team shifted the line before the start of the season and has shown surprising continuity on the whole. Bradley Bozeman moved to center, Ross Pierschbacher moved to left guard and Jonah Williams earned the right tackle spot as a true freshman. Of course, Robinson held down left tackle.
Meanwhile, the right guard spot has been more fluid. Lester Cotton has played the position most of the season, although Taylor has received plenty of snaps there, too. On Saturday, Alabama found a third player for the position with Kirven.
“I think I said the other day that we’re trying some people at that position, and Lester missed some reps because of his concussion a few weeks ago,” Saban said after Saturday’s game. “He was in a black shirt all this week, and we knew that he could play in this game, but he didn’t take as many reps in practice, so we said we’re going to take a look at some of those other guys that can play that position right now. He was cleared to play in the game, and he did play some in the game. We’ve been wanting to try (Korren Kirven) in there all year just to see how he would do, and it will be interesting to see how those guys did at right guard.”
Moving forward, it’s a safe bet Alabama will rely heavily on Robinson and Williams in the running game while looking to Pierschbacher and Bozeman for leadership and hoping to get healthy at right guard.
For now, any questions about whether the Tide offensive line would be a point of weakness this season can be put to rest.