Part of Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s process is developing offensive linemen to play more than one position. It’s sound policy, providing depth by having men who can move from one spot to another as needed. And sometimes a player finds an unexpected niche after working at different positions.
Bradley Bozeman, Alabama’s starting center, is an example of that. Bozeman was a right guard who was able to come in an start two games at center in important wins over Arkansas and Texas A&M when All-America Ryan Kelly was injured in 2014. Bozeman played at right guard last season, backing up Alphonse Taylor, and was working at both right guard and right tackle up until a week or so before Bama opened the season this year.
Meanwhile, Ross Pierschbacher, a 2015 Freshman All-America for the Crimson Tide’s national championship team as he started all 15 games at left guard, spent all of spring and most of training camp at center, a position he had never played before. Just before beginning preparations for the season-opener against Southern Cal, Pierschbacher and Bozeman swapped positions, Pierschbacher moving to right guard.
Following Taylor’s reinstatement from suspension, he moved back to the right guard position during the Western Kentucky game. The next week, against Ole Miss, Pierschbacher was starting at his old left guard spot with Lester Cotton becoming what appears to be the swing guard, backing up Pierschbacher and Taylor.
It didn’t take Pierschbacher long to find his comfort zone at his old position. “It’s not a big learning curve or anything like that,” he said. “I’ve played on the left side for a long time and all throughout high school.
“I’ve felt really comfortable. Even that first practice at left guard I felt like I didn’t miss a beat. I felt really confident and kind of more quick and well-balanced as far as my footwork. I felt happy about that.”
Pierschbacher never suggested a move back. It was a coach decision. “I didn’t say a word,” he said. “It was all up to them. Wherever they were going to put me, I was just going to go out there and try my best.
“I think they saw on film what was better.”
Pierschbacher, 6-4, 304, does believe that his time at center and right guard was well spent. “I just think it adds versatility just to show I can play both of those position, and just the call wise, I think playing the center position really helped me just understand the offense as a whole, just as far as mike points (the line calls are based on the location of the middle linebacker) and knowing what’s going on.”
Pierschbacher is a student of the game. “I enjoy watching film, and we watch a lot of here with the coaching staff. I’ll watch film extra a couple nights as well during the week. Ever since I started playing left guard, I moved back to just watching the left guard stuff, just kind of seeing what they do and how they play against certain plays and stuff like that.”
Pierschbacher became a starter as a redshirt freshman. Since last spring he’s been watching a true freshman who has earned a spot on the offensive line. Jonah Williams, a 605, 296-pound offensive tackle, enrolled in The University last spring and was No. 1 at right tackle at the end of drills. He has kept that position through the first four games of 2016 and is expected to make it No. 5 when Alabama hosts Kentucky at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday (ESPN).
Pierschbacher said Williams “is a really smart player. I mean he’s a freak, really, to be honest. As far in the weight room, whether it be there or in the film room, he’s picked up the offense so quick, and doesn’t make many mental errors. He plays really fast and hard. He’s just an explosive guy. He’s a really good player
“He was raw, obviously, coming in early out of high school, but I think we all saw that he was really focused and determined and knew what he wanted. He has big goals. Right away he said he wanted to start at right tackle. He came in with that mindset so that really propelled him into getting that job.”
"He’s strong, powerful and explosive. He’s in the weight room all the time. We will go in after practice -- the dude is way bigger than I am -- and we will do extra stuff. He loves the weight room. He lives in there, and it shows."
Pierschbacker has been impressed with Williams’s maturity. “He knows what he wants,” Pierschbacher said. “Just coming out of high school, some guys are trying to feel their way through. He knows exactly what he wants. I think that really pushes him and keeps him focused on the goals. That sets him apart.
“He does a really good job as far as he takes his film study very seriously. He lives and breathes football, so it’s pretty easy for him to make the adjustments, learn all the playbooks and what opponents are going to do.”
Williams may be getting some advice from Pierschbacher following this season. Almost everyone expects Alabama All-America left tackle Cam Robinson to declare for the NFL draft following this season, and most expect Williams to make the move from right tackle to that important left tackle spot in 2017.