Starting Right Guard Projection

Before Alabama started practice earlier this month, there was a major surprise when it was announced that three-year starting right guard Anthony Steen would not be playing in the Sugar Bowl. Steen had surgery on his shoulder. The question then became who would replace him as a starter in the offensive line.

Although most coaches insist that it doesn't matter who starts a game, almost every team in every sport starts its best players. Alabama Coach Nick Saban said early on that several players were getting work at right guard. He named Leon Brown, Alphonse Taylor, and Kellen Williams.

Austin Shepherd, who starts at right tackle for Alabama, indicated it might be Brown, a junior college transfer who has played both tackle spots and right guard in practice.

The answer will be forthcoming in a couple of days. The Crimson Tide finished its Sugar Bowl practices Tuesday. Bama will go through a walk-through Wednesday. Alabama, 11-1 and ranked second in the nation, will take on Oklahoma, 10-2 and ranked 10th, in the Louisiana Superdome Thursday. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN.

Shepherd was not 100 per cent positive his new mate on the offensive line would be Brown. "Honestly," he said, "I have no clue who is playing next to me. We have a couple of guys rotating. Everyone's doing good. Everyone's getting quality reps. We're just trying to figure out who is the best fit there."

So wait? Shepherd, Bama's 6-5, 313-pound junior right tackle, isn't even curious about the competition at right guard?

"Not really," he said. "Everyone's pretty much the same. If you know right guard, you know right guard. I'm comfortable with whoever plays, because I've played next to all of them now. I feel good about everybody.

Everyone who's been playing at right guard has been doing an awesome job. They've all stepped in and we really haven't missed a beat with them because they've been prepared. Everyone's been doing great, everyone's been focused and everyone's become leaders on the offensive line."

Shepherd was asked specifically how Leon Brown has looked in practice.

"Leon's been playing great," Shepherd said. "Everyone that's been playing at right guard's been playing awesome. I think whoever fills in that position is going to do an awesome job in this game.

"He'll be a little bit nervous at first, because it'll be his first start, but once the first play is over with you kind of zone everything out. So I think he'll be fine. He'll have two people around him who have started in me and Ryan (center Ryan Kelly), so we'll be able to calm him down if anything happens."

Brown, 6-6, 313, had been listed most of the year as the back-up left tackle to Cyrus Kouandjio. He's a native of Riverdale, Md., but came to Bama from ASA College in New York. He has seen action in eight games this season.

Shepherd pointed out that Alabama has good depth on the offensive line. "Depth is great," he said. "We knew we had depth like that. We've always had 10 guys on the line that could play. It's a good thing."

Shepherd said that practices have been good, and helpful for the future. "We get 13 or 14 practices, so it's pretty much another spring practice," he said. "[Young players] get a ton out of it because everybody gets equal reps and we go through all the new plays. We pretty much reinstall everything, so everybody gets to relearn everything. They pretty much get an extra spring out of it."

That practice is over now.

"We put the finishing touches on it today," he said. "We had a great practice today, so I think we're ready to roll."

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