Kouandjio Clicks On Offensive Line

A friend of mine had an interesting question while we were watching bowl games Tuesday. "Has football changed a great deal since Coach Bryant?" she asked. Among the things going through my mind before I responded is that the one big thing that has changed is that we don't have Coach Bryant, or anyone like him.

We do, however, have excellent college football coaches, and the best right now – and certainly along with Paul Bryant among the best all-time -- is Alabama's Nick Saban. I suspect Saban would agree with Bryant that the same things still win in football: blocking and tackling.

Bryant also convinced me that the difference in football teams is frequently the effectiveness of the offensive line. It is a difficult area to find men to play it and difficult to coach them to work as that unit within the unit.

This year Alabama had three offensive linemen who were named to one or more All-America teams, headed by 2011 Outland Trophy and 2012 Rimington Award winner Barrett Jones at center. Chance Warmack is expected to be the first guard selected in the NFL draft and some consider tackle D.J. Fluker a first round draft choice.

Saban recently pointed out that a team can't nominate every one of its players for awards. He was answering a question about right guard Anthony Steen, and said that Steen had played as well as the others.

Which brings us to Cyrus Kouandjio, a 6-6, 311-pound sophomore. Kouandjio's move to left tackle enabled Barrett Jones to moved from that position to center this year. Indeed, last spring Saban said it was not an experiment because Jones had played center from time-to-time in 2011. And, he said, because Cyrus Koiuandjio had been considered a starting offensive lineman until suffering an injury midway through his freshman season.

Kouandjio, a native of Hyattsville, Md., started all 13 games for Bama this year. He allowed only three and a half sacks and graded over 90 per cent in six games. He had 21 pancake blocks.

Kouandjio, whose older brother Arie could join him as an offensive line starter next season, said that working next to Warmack "is a blessing. There are only a few people you can play next to that you can trust them 100 per cent that they have your back and that you guys have a good relationship with each other. I trust him, and it's great. It's great to have that feeling."

The biggest lesson from Warmack, Kouandjio said, is "to just keep grinding. He's probably one of the hardest working people I know. He'll play at a high level, so I have to learn to keep it up."

Kouandjio expects a physical game when Alabama meets Notre Dame Monday night for the national championship. The Crimson Tide, 12-1 and ranked second in the nation, meets top-ranked Notre Dame (12-0) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., at 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. central time) in the BCS National Championship Game.

"I've seen the tape of Notre Dame and their front seven," Kouandjio said. "They're really good and aggrtessive. Very impressive. We just have to be ready to go out there and play these guys."

Kouandjio said Notre Dame reminds him of Notre Dame, which is a compliment. He said LSU was Bama's most physical opponent during the season. "They were all physical, they were all good," he said.

Kouandjio said that it takes time for an offensive line to develop chemistry. That mission has been accomplished, the sophomore said. "We know what we're doing," he said. "Everything clicks."

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