The view is pretty nice over there on the left. There’s lots of potential on the right. That’s the picture at the tackle spots as Alabama’s football team prepares for the start of spring practice next month.
For decades, it seemed, left tackle was just another position on the offensive line. But defenses tried to exploit that side of the offense as the passing game became more prevalent. For one thing, the tight end seems more often to be lined up on the right side. (There’s an unproven theory that most offenses are “right-handed” because most coaches drawing up the plays are right-handed.) And speaking of right-handed, the defenses were also aware that most quarterbacks are righties, and thus have their backs to an outside rush from their left.
Today left tackle challenges center as the most important position on the offensive line, and Alabama has emphasized that position in its recruiting. Alabama Coach Nick Saban inherited a fine left tackle for the 2007 and 2008 seasons in Andre Smith. Saban recruited junior college tackle James Carpenter for the 2009 national championship season and 2010. Barrett Jones moved from right guard to left tackle for the 2011 national championship season, then earned All-America at center in 2012 (another national championship year) as Cyrus Kouandjio moved in for a couple of years duty at left tackle.
In 2014 Cam Robinson took over the position as a true freshman and was Freshman All-America. He had another fine year in 2015 as the Crimson Tide won another national title. Maybe the best news of all is that the 6-6, 326-pound Louisiana native is back for his junior season.
Although Saban insists that all positions are up for grabs, it is likely that the name “CamRobinson” would be in ink at the left tackle spot on the Alabama depth chart as the Tide prepares for spring practice. Oh, yeah. IF Alabama had a spring depth chart.
Right tackle has been a little more stable with runs of at least two years each by Drew Davis, D.J. Fluker, and Austin Shepherd manning the post until last season. Dominick Jackson had come to Bama in 2014 from junior college, touted as the No. 1 JUCO transfer in the nation regardless of position. He was a little-used reserve in his first season, but last year earned the job at right tackle. Jackson didn’t get particularly high marks from fans, particularly in Alabama’s 45-40 win over Clemson to win the national championship, but he played well enough most of the season.
Thus, it would seem, the goal in spring practice will be both to identify a right tackle (though it doesn’t always happen that way) and to develop depth at both tackle positions.
Saban didn’t mince words about need at the position on signing day. When he got to junior college transfer Charles Baldwin, the coach said, “Charles Baldwin was probably at least the best junior college offensive tackle-type that we could find, which we thought we were a little short in tackle-types, especially guys that had experience. We recruit junior college guys because we think he's going to be good enough to play, because they need to play. So, then, we need for him to play. He has a lot of athleticism to him, and can play with power.”
That testimony leads us to insert Baldwin, a 6-6, 305-pound product of ASA College in Brooklyn as the likely leader going into spring practice.
One possible scenario going forward is that Baldwin will play at right tackle as a junior this season, and then move to the left side following the 2016 campaign as Robinson is a strong possibility to leave Bama for the NFL after his junior year.
As noted, though, nothing is a given, Saban’s hope nothwithstanding. Baldwin will have competition.
Discussion of offensive linemen is complicated by Alabama’s system of working all offensive linemen at more than one position. Barrett Jones is the most notable example as he played right guard as a sophomore, left tackle as a junior, and center as a senior, excelling at all. Nevertheless, going into spring practice (a time when experimentation is common), it appears the tackle corps includes in addition to Robinson and Baldwin:
Former defensive lineman Korren Kirven )6-4, 300, senior), who moved into a back-up right tackle spot last year, and Lester Cotton (6-4, 315, sophomore), who saw limited duty in a back-up role as a true freshman, working behind Robinson; and Brandon Greene (6-5, 300, senior), who has played both tight end and been the back-up at both tackle positions; Matt Womack (6-7, 315, redshirt freshman); Jonah Williams (6-5, 280, January enrollee freshman); and walk-on Will Davis (6-5, 315, senior) joining Baldwin in the competition at right tackle.
It is certainly possible that men could move from right to left or left to right during spring practice, which begins next month and ends with the A-Day Game April 16.
NEXT: The examination of each Alabama football position for spring practice looks at the offensive guards.