Veterans Return On Offensive Line

The offensive line is that team within the team, often noted as a unit that is almost choreographed. Coaches frequently point out that it is important to develop unity on the offensive line because each many must know what the man (or men) next to him can be counted on to do.



It is good to have veterans in the offensive line, and Alabama has a large handful of them. In fact, only one starter from the offensive line departs from the unit that helped the Crimson Tide to the 2011 national championship. Center is generally considered the most important position on the offensive line, and with the graduation of William Vlachos that is the spot where a new starter must be found for 2012.

The process for finding a new center, and perhaps another new starter, and also for finding capable back-ups and future starters could take a big step with spring football practice.

Alabama will have 15 days of practice, including three scrimmage days, in March and April. The third and final scrimmage will be the public A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Practice is scheduled to begin Friday, the day before the start of spring break. The second practice will be the day after spring break, Monday, March 19. The A-Day Game will begin at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 14, and will be televised by CSS.

The Tide also lost a key back-up from last year's team in Alfred McCullough, who completed his eligibility. In his career McCullough had been a starter or sub at both tackle and both guard positions.

The key to the offensive line in 2012 could be said to be Barrett Jones, winner of the Outland Award as the nation's best lineman in 2011. Jones, who elected to return for his fifth year and fourth season as a starter for the Tide, is 6-5 and 311 pounds. He started on the 2009 national championship team and the 2010 squad at right guard, and then moved to left tackle last year, replacing first round draft choice James Carpenter.

Additionally, Jones filled in at center during 2011, leading to speculation that he might play at that pivotal spot in 2012.

That Jones can play any of the five offensive line spots is a given. The question becomes having the best unit, which means the determination of what position Jones plays will be based on the performance of other players.

Right tackle, left guard, and right guard have returning starters.

D.J. Fluker, a 6-6, 335-pound upcoming junior, could have gone into the NFL draft following last season, but elected to return as the starting right tackle. Fluker is backed up by one of the more talked-about young offensive linemen, 6-5, 321-pound sophomore Austin Shepherd. Another possibility at right tackle is Arie Kouandjio (6-5, 309, sophomore), although Kouandjio had knee issues last year and has been rumored to be limited for spring work.

There had been some speculation that left guard Chance Warmack (6-3, 320) might forego his senior season for the NFL draft, but he elected to return for his third year as a starter. Isaac Luatua, a 6-2, 299-pound redshirt freshman, is considered the top back-up at left guard, although the Alabama system involves players working at multiple positions.

Anthony Steen, a 6-3, 303-pound junior, is back at right guard.

Last year, Vlachos referred to Warmack and Steen as "road graders" for their ability to clear out defensive linemen.

Steen could be backed up by Chad Lindsay, a 6-2, 287-pound sophomore.

Which brings us back to those two critical positions, left tackle and center, and what becomes of Barrett Jones.

The answer would seem to be whether Alabama has a better offensive line with a new left tackle and Jones at center or with Jones returning to left tackle and a new man at center.

At left tackle, Bama expects to welcome the return of Cyrus Kouandjio, a 6-6, 320-pound sophomore who showed talent in brief appearances last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Kouandjio is expected to be able to participate in the spring. Tyler Love, who has been little-used in his Alabama career, is a 6-6, 307-pound senior who could be in the mix at left tackle.

Last year Alabama listed Kellen Williams, a 6-3, 305-pound junior, as the back-up to Vlachos, and Williams saw some playing time in Bama's 12-1 season. Also listed at center is 6-5, 281-pound redshirt freshman Ryan Kelly, who was unable to participate last fall because of an injury suffered in his senior high school season.

Alabama's early enrollees in the 2012 signing class did not include any offensive linemen.

This is one in a series looking as Alabama football positions prior to the start of spring football practice.

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