Stuart McNair

Alabama may shift some players to build depth at center this spring

Third in series looking at Alabama positions prior to spring practice

A case can be made that the second most important position on a football team behind quarterback is the man directly in front of the quarterback, the center. The center handles the ball on every play and must make good snaps (particularly for a team like Alabama that is almost always in spread formation). Before he makes the snap, he must make the line blocking calls based on what he sees from the defense. Finally, he must block.
This is part of a series looking at all Alabama positions prior to the start of spring drills.
Obviously, it is good to have an experienced man at center, and Alabama returns its starter from 2016 in Bradley Bozeman. The 6-5, 319-pound senior took over for Ryan Kelly, who had been 2015 Rimington Award winner and a first round NFL draft choice.
The Tide spent last spring and most of fall camp prior to last spring with Ross Pierschbacher getting most of the snaps at center, but prior to the season-opener against Southern Cal Bozeman was moved into the position.
Bozeman had been a right guard candidate prior to his move to center. In his Alabama career he had played tackle, guard, and center, filling in admirably at center for Kelly for a couple of games in 2014.
Bozeman, a fifth-year senior, was very good last year, earning player of the week honors from the Alabama coaching staff in nine games. Without question he goes into the 2017 as the odds-on favorite to be back in that job.
Behind Bozeman is senior J.C. Hassenauer (6-2, 299), who played in nine games last year and has played in 16 in his career, backing up Kelly in one game in 2014 and seven in 2015 and seeing action in nine games last year.
Both Bozeman and Hassenauer are quality players. The issue at center is depth.
Last year the offensive line coaching duties were divided, Mario Cristobal coaching tackles (along with tight ends) and Brent Key handling guards and centers. This year Key will coach the offensive line tackle to tackle.
Under Coach Nick Saban, Alabama has had a pattern of working offensive linemen at more than one position (Bozeman is a fine example of that policy) in order to build depth and to find the best spots for the players. The Tide has a number of offensive linemen and it is possible — particularly with Key being in charge of the entire line — that one or more linemen listed at guard or tackle in the pre-spring guess at a depth chart could be added to the center corps.
Although a starting date for Alabama spring practice has not yet been announced, it is expected to begin in mid-March. The A-Day Game will be April 22.


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