Alabama quarterback Jake Coker was the Most Valuable Player in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and led the Crimson Tide to the 2015 national championship passing for 335 yards and two touchdowns in the 45-40 win over Clemson. No one noticed Bama center Ryan Kelly, and would have noticed him only if he had made a bad snap.
But when the NFL had its draft of college players last weekend, Ryan Kelly was the first Alabama player taken, and the only Tide player taken in the first round (going 18th overall to Indianapolis), and Coker went undrafted and signed a free agent contract with Arizona.
That is not to say that Kelly will be a big star in the NFL or that Coker won’t be successful. What it does is reinforce the importance of the oft-overlooked center position.
It has often been pointed out that the center is critical, a man who handles the football on every offensive play, has to make the line blocking calls, make a good snap (usually to a quarterback in spread formation), and then block.
Much of the attention on the 2016 Alabama football team is understandably on the quarterback position. For the third consecutive year (and fifth as Coach Nick Saban fields his 10th Crimson Tide team) Bama will be breaking in a new quarterback.
Saban and Offensive Coordinator/QuarterbacksCoach Lane Kiffin have four candidates from which to find a starting quarterback – Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett, and Jalen Hurts.
The Bama coaching staff, including new Offensive Line Coach Brent Key, must also find a new center.
Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy made an interesting observation recently in a discussion of the upcoming Tide season. He is not concerned about quarterback.
But, McElroy pointed out, this will be the first time since 2009 that Bama has had both a new quarterback and a new center. In his first two seasons, Saban had holdovers John Parker Wilson at quarterback and Antoine Caldwell at center.
In 2009, McElroy took over at quarterback and William Vlachos was the new starting center. That worked out well, with Alabama going undefeated and winning the national championship.
(McElroy was self-deprecating in saying that the quarterback didn’t matter. “I passed for 58 yards against Texas,” he said.)
McElroy and Vlachos were the battery mates again in 2010.
In 2011, AJ McCarron began his three-year run as quarterback and had Vlachos for the national championship run. McCarron did have a new center in 2012 (another national championship run), but with new quarterback Barrett Jones. McCarron also had a new center in 2013 with Ryan Kelly beginning his three-year run.
Thus, Blake Sims in 2014 and Jake Coker in 2015 had a veteran center in Kelly.
This spring, it appeared that former left guard Ross Pierschbacker had the lead for the 2016 center position.
Regardless of who wins the job at quarterback and center, it will be new starters at both positions.