So far rookie Robinson a rock at left tackle for Crimson Tide
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ Make no mistake, University of Alabama left guard Arie Kouandjio misses playing with, and next to, his brother Cyrus.
Last season they made up the left side of the offensive line, but now the fifth-year senior is taking snaps next to a true freshman, Cam Robinson.
“I miss my brother – he was my brother,” Kouandjio said. “We had a lot of fun playing together and it was a great experience. This year is this year. I’m out there with Cam and he’s a hard-working guy. He reminds me a lot of my younger brother. It has been pretty smooth and a lot of fun. It’s a good experience.”
While playing a true freshman at arguably the most important spot on the offensive line, as the left tackle usually protects the quarterback’s blind side, it’s not something that’s completely foreign to Crimson Tide fans.
After being considered one of the top recruits in the nation in 2006, Andre Smith started from day one for Mike Shula. After his departure James Carpenter started during his first year at the Capstone, although he was a junior-college transfer, and Cyrus Kouandjio was close to cracking the starting lineup midway through the 2011 schedule when he sustained a season-ending knee injury.
Robinson, though, got a head start. After being rated the fourth-best recruit in the nation for the signing Class of 2014 by 247Sports, he enrolled early and by the end of spring was thrust into the starting lineup for A-Day.
“Mentally, he is sharper and he knows what he’s doing more often,” Kouandjio said. “Physically he has always been pretty good. He could always hone in on his physically ability. The guy has great ability. But just being able to make sharp movements and sharp calls and stuff like that, it’s been an improvement.”
While Alabama has done considerable experimentation with the other true freshmen offensive linemen, and is still unsettled at right guard, Robinson has been a rock at left tackle. He’s apparently taken every snap with the first unit and done whatever necessary.
“From the spring, he obviously came in, he was a little heavier in the spring so he got down in the summer time,” junior center Ryan Kelly said. “He looks better now. He’s bending well. He’s shooting his hands, he’s got really long arms. He’s finally learned the playbook. It’s everything you want in an offensive tackle.”
Excluding special-team players, the 6-foot-6, 322-pound Robinson is on target to be the first true freshman to start an Alabama season opener since Julio Jones in 2008.
The last player before him was Smith.
“I think Cam has done really well,” Saban said last week. “You can definitely see progress and maturity as a person and as a player from the time he got here through spring practice through summer to now, so we’re encouraged by that progress and development. He has executed much better.
“Knowledge and experience is important to people, players to be able to adapt and adjust in the future – new game plans, new defense, new defensive fronts, new things happen. You have to be able to take that knowledge and experience and apply it and adapt and adjust. I think for young players that’s as important as anything. Cam is a smart guy and hopefully he’ll be able to do that as we go through the season.”
Meanwhile, behind him another true freshman is making a bid to be his primary backup, Ross Pierschbacher. The 6-4, 295-pound rookie from Iowa switched from right tackle to left late last week with sophomore Brandon Greene sliding to left guard.
“I’ve kind of took him under his wing too because he’s so young,” senior right tackle Austin Shepherd said about Pierschbacher. “He’s been playing tackle, so I just try to teach him all the plays, all the calls, try to show him the techniques I use. Because coming from high school you’re really not sure yet and you have to catch up to the speed. So I’m trying to teach him my way on how to play.”
“I see great footwork,” Kouandjio said. “I see hard work. I see the ability and want to learn.”