Offensive Line Changes

These blurbs were in one of Michael Casagrande’s practice reports from this week:

There were several players rotating on the offensive line. For a while Dominick Jackson worked with the first group at right tackle, followed by Grant Hill. Regular starter Austin Shepherd rotated in after that.

Leon Brown continued with the first team at right guard.

Of course, it’s hard to really tell what is happening from the limited amount of time reporters are actually able to watch practice, but you get the feeling that Saban and company don’t have the offensive line exactly like they like it.

We saw this in the opening game when Brown started at right guard after being injured throughout much of preseason camp.  You also get the feeling, based on comments made by Saban, that he thinks Jackson can play and wants to give him a chance somewhere.  Jackson, like Brown, was injured through much of camp.

It’s hard for me to believe Shepherd would lose his starting spot at this point, but I don’t think the coaches are happy with the offensive line and know they have to get some things shored up by the time Florida comes to town.

We’ll see, I guess.

Warmack to Return and the OL Looks Good for 2012

I really didn’t give much thought to Tide guard Chance Warmack turning pro, but evidently he did, and has decided to return next year.

Only one starter from this year’s unit is for-sure gone:  senior center William Vlachos.  Left guard Warmack stepped up big this year and will return along with right tackle D.J. Fluker (who also recently announced he’ll return) and right guard Anthony Steen.  Cyrus Kouandjio, who returns from a knee injury, looks to be the left tackle.

Consensus All-American Barrett Jones is also a good bet to return.  The scuttlebutt has been that Jones may return and play center.  If that happens, the Tide will have one heckuva solid offensive line and the unit will definitely be a major strength of the 2012 team.

I Feel Better Now

Coach Saban addresses all the gnashing of teeth concerning the offensive line:

“I don’t know what the big dilemma is just because we make a few substitutions in a game when we’re ahead 21-0 and get guys in to get experience,” he said. “All of the sudden we have all these issues and problems, and that’s why the offensive line (is) not playing well because they don’t play together?” Saban asked. “Hell, they couldn’t play together anymore than what they play. I’m not saying they all played well, and we certainly need to improve that, and there is competition at positions — at every position. We have competitions for positions on defense even now as we speak practicing today.”

If he feels ok about the line then I’m good with it too.

Question #2 – How About That Offensive Line?

The first question we reviewed related to the 2011 edition of the Crimson Tide was “how well will our new quarterback play?” Our next question to tackle is also on the offensive side of the ball and how it’s eventually answered will directly affect how our new quarterback plays.

Today’s question: Who’s going to play left tackle?

Our last two starters at left tackle went on to become first round draft picks of the NFL.  After the 2008 season, Bama left tackle Andre Smith was the sixth overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was replaced by junior college transfer James Carpenter who went on to become the 25th pick of first round by the Seattle Seahawks.

So even though four offensive line starters return from last year, there’s a gaping hole on the left side that must be filled. Like the quarterback position, though, we know who the candidates are to fill the job, we’re just not sure when the position will be settled and how well the new guy will perform.

There appear to be two likely scenarios for the spot.  One option is to move returning All-American candidate Barrett Jones over to left tackle from right guard. This would allow Chance Warmack to remain at left guard, William Vlachos at center and D.J. Fluker at right tackled. Anthony Steen would slide in at Jones’ old right guard spot.

Cyrus Kouandijo

The other option would include true freshman Cyrus Kouandijo at left tackle, Jones at one guard and either Warmack and Steen at the other.

I don’t think we’ll find out the exact lineup until game day, but Internet reports from practice viewing periods indicate that Kouandijo is running second team. That would seem to indicate option one is the likely lineup versus Kent State.

Practice reports also indicate Kouandijo is having a really good fall camp and it would not be surprising at all to see him crack the starting lineup early in the season.

All of this discussion about the lineup, though, is happening without much anxiety. Despite losing Carpenter to the NFL, this lineup is talented and deep. We’ve listed six possible starters above and Alfred McCullough also played significantly last year and can play guard or tackle. That’s seven quality players for five spots.

Last years offensive line struggled on and off for pretty much the whole season. Part of the struggles were due to experience. Warmack, Fluker and Steen were playing for the first time, for example. But part of the struggles were also due to injuries. Fluker was injured and didn’t play versus LSU. Jones was injured and didn’t play versus Auburn. Those two injuries were major factors in losing those two games.

Of course, it would be great to avoid injuries this year, but if the bug does hit again, this year’s team appears to have the depth to overcome at least two major injuries.

Next up we’ll tackle the question of how to replace Julio Jones.