Ross Pierschbacher can make a case that he hasn’t had it too easy in the past year or so as an Alabama offensive lineman. After a redshirt season in 2014, Pierschbacher earned the starting job at left guard and earned Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team for the national champion Crimson Tide.
In his post-season interview with Alabama Coach Nick Saban, Pierschbacher was alerted top the possibility of getting a look at the center position this spring. Bama was having to replace All-America Ryan Kelly, who had been a three-year starter and won the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center.
Just going to a new position is tough enough. Pierschbacher has been working at one of the most difficult positions in football. The center not only has the responsibility of snapping the football to the quarterback (who is more often than not in shotgun formation), but he also has to make the call for the offensive line based on the play call and the defensive alignment he sees.
And he has to block.
This spring, the 6-4, 304-pound has been nose-to-nose (within inches of that being literally) with sophomore nose tackle Da’Ron Payne, 6-2, 319.
Pierschbacher was asked about his success rate in shotgun snaps. He laughed, and then said, “It’s been frustrating. It’s different. I’ve got Da’Ron Payne in my face right here and I’m trying to get the ball back, and he’s got his hands on me. So it’s been different, and I’m trying to work on it.”
He described Payne as “a freak. He ran something like a 4.9-something (40-yard dash) and he weighs more than I do and he’s a stud in the weightroom, so I mean...
“He makes me better and I try to make him better, too. It’s a challenge every play.
“We’ve seen guys like that. I went up against [All-America defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson] every play in practice last year, so I haven’t had it very easy here the last couple of years.
“But it makes me better.”
He’s also gotten tips from a couple of former Alabama centers. William Vlachos, a three-year starter, is now an offensive analyst for Bama, and Kelly is in Tuscaloosa working out while awaiting the NFL draft. He said that he speaks to Kelly just about every day and had a 20-minute conversation with him this week about “shooting my off (left) hand, getting my hand on [the nose tackle] right away. Gave me some tips about my stance. Stuff like that.”
Pierschbacher said one of the most difficult parts of his job is making an accurate snap to the quarterback. “You try not to think about it, because that’s when you really mess up. Just focus on your job and what you’ve got to do.”
He laughed at the notion he’s home at night snapping his pillow across the room. “We do things at practice with the quarterbacks, trying to mess with different techniques.”
Alabama had its first scrimmage of spring practice last Saturday and will have a second this Saturday, a week before the A-Day game completes spring training. He said the scrimmage “was like a first scrimmage, some good and some bad. We’ll try to build on that and have a better scrimmage Saturday.”
He said it was a back-and-forth scrimmage with the offense doing some good and the defense going some good. He said the first offense went against the second defense and had some success, but that the first defense did well against the second offense. It’s hard to gauge.”
As for grading himself, he said, “It’s different. I’m still trying to learn. Get out of guard habits that I’ve developed. But I think it went good and there’s a lot of good stuff to take away from it and a lot of stuff to improve on. We’ve tried to shore that up this week, try to clean stuff up going into scrimmage Saturday.”
And he said it was different for him since it was his first scrimmage as a center.
“The spring as a whole has been different,” he said. “Just trying to take in that new leadership role. We’ve lost key players like Ryan Kelly and Dominick Jackson. Just trying to step up, so it’s been different, but I’ve embraced the challenge and it’s been a lot of fun.
“Each day I get more comfortable, trying to play faster, getting the position down, the calls, just jelling with the guys, a lot of new guys mixed in there, but it’s been good.”