Not spotted was offensive lineman Grant Hill. After Alabama’s first practice on March 13, Nick Saban said that Hill would continue on “medical leave.” As a sophomore last year, the 6-6, 301-pound Hill appeared in seven games.
The Crimson Tide returns to the practice field Monday after The University’s spring break. Bama will have 15 practice days, the last one the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 18.
A key issue for Alabama heading to the 2015 season is replacing three starters from the offensive line. Hill had been considered a strong possibility to move into the right tackle spot, where he backed up Austin Shepherd last year. Also being replaced are starting guards Arie Kouandjio and Leon Brown.
Insofar as the glass not quite half full, Bama returns starters at what are considered the two most important line positions, left tackle Cam Robinson (a 6-7, 335-pound Freshman All-America last year) and senior three-year starter Ryan Kelly (6-5, 300) at center.
No one questions the quality of candidates for playing time in the upcoming season. The problem for Bama is experience. Many of the offensive linemen have seen little or no Tide playing time. Saban depicts the situation as an opportunity for those up and coming linemen.
There are at least two problems in trying to project how the offensive line might develop. One is that there are 14 spring practice days, a summer off-season program, and fall camp in which to develop that line. Another is that Offensive Line Coach Mario Cristobal (like his predecessors under Saban) works his players at more than one position. For instance, a Bradley Bozeman, who started two games at center last year when Kelly was injured, also gets extensive work at tackle.
Prior to last season, the 6-5, 310-pound Bozeman had been projected as a greyshirt, not expected to enter The University with the 2014 signing class. But when a spot opened up, he joined the Tide for fall camp. He saw action in nine games, including his two starts.
Where to pencil in Bozeman? With Hill sitting out, he may be at right tackle.
Last year Bama brought in offensive lineman Dominick Jackson (6-7, 330), who had been rated the number one junior college prospect in the nation regardless of position. Jackson saw playing time in seven games (a few of them as a blocking back in goalline jumbo package situations). Jackson could be a guard or a tackle.
Junior Alphonse Taylor (6-3, 335) came to Bama expecting to be a nose tackle, but was quickly shifted to guard and has seen considerable playing time. Last year he had two starts and played in 12 games at right guard.
Saban and company were not caught off guard by the departures on the offensive line from last year’s Southeastern Conference championship team. There are three highly-rated redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen in spring training.
Two of the 2014 signees were prep stars at center and one or both of them may continue at that spot. They are Josh Casher (6-1, 280), who is also projected as a possible guard or tackle, and J.C. Hassenauer (6-3, 290).
The third redshirt freshman offensive lineman, Ross Pierschbacher, is a likely guard or tackle, and to hear fellow Tide players he has a chance to be special. Pierschbacher (6-4, 295) earned a reputation as a particularly fierce blocker in his first year at Bama. Two true freshman entered The University in January and went through the winter conditioning program and are in spring training. One has a familiar name. Dallas Warmack (6-1, 301) is following his brother, former Tide All-America and current NFL star, Chance Warmack. Like his brother, Dallas has been penciled in as a left guard. Also new to the squad is 6-2, 275-pound Brandon Kennedy.
A final returning offensive line candidate with game experience is senior Isaac Luatua (6-2, 313) who played in six games at guard last year.
Bama had two walk-on offensive linemen on last year’s roster, and both are expected to continue to compete. They are junior Will Davis (6-5, 316) and senior Brandon Moore (6-0, 277).