One of the more interesting practice matchups of the 2016 Alabama football season was between two freshmen linemen. When offensive tackle Scott Lashley went against defensive end Raekwon Davis, “It was a pretty good battle,” according to Lashley.
That was a competition of two men who both measure out at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds.
Lashley and Davis will be back at it again starting Tuesday as Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide begins spring football practice. It will be more important now, though, because Lashley and Davis will be moving up the chain as they prepare for their second seasons.
It was something of a surprise to some when our pre-spring look at every Alabama position had Lashley, who was redshirted in 2016 as a true freshman, as the No. 1 left tackle. Cam Robinson, a three-year starter at left tackle and 2016 winner of both the Jacobs Award as the best blocker in the Southeastern Conference and the Outland Award as the nation’s best interior lineman and a unanimous All-America, has made an early departure for the National Football League.
Left tackle is one of the most important positions on the football field because that man is often facing the opponent’s best pass rusher without outside help from a tight end. That left side is also the blind side for a right-handed quarterback.
Lashley certainly will have competition in the spring and ongoing. Matt Womack looks Lashley dead in the eye at 6-7, 316, and Womack was the backup to Robinson last season. Bama keeps looking for a way to make a tackle out of Lester Cotton, 6-4, 319, who has played mostly guard.
And this spring there are two new men who will be working at the tackle positions. Alex Leatherwood, a 6-8, 327-pound freshman, arrived at The University in time to get in a few practice sessions with his new teammates prior to the College Football Playoff. Elliot Baker, 6-7, 295, is a junior college transfer who is at The Capstone for the spring semester.
Lashley came to Alabama from West Point, Miss., where he was ranked No. 215 in the Scout.com 300 best players in the nation and the No. 5 offensive tackle in the South. As a redshirted offensive lineman, he could hardly have been more anonymous last season.
But Mario Cristobal, who was coaching offensive tackles last season before moving on to an offensive coordinator position at Oregon in January, certainly noticed Lashley.
“You’re going to like that one,” Cristobal said prior to Alabama’s Peach Bowl victory over Washington. “He is as gifted as it gets. He is a smart, tough individual, tremendous heart. A great, great young man. Great family. Multi-talented.
“He played tight end in high school until his body continued to grow.
“You hate to lose a guy like, you know [obviously leaking the non-secret that Robinson would be leaving early]…you hate to see anyone go, but here’s a guy whose time is coming and it’s coming pretty quickly.
“And in my opinion he’ll be as good as anyone whose gone through here. He’s got that kind of ability.
“Now, he has to do it, he has to show it, but Scott Lashley is that kind of guy. He’s special.”
Lashley said that he enjoyed his redshirt season, but found Alabama football to be a “huge adjustment.”
“I love it here,” he said. “I love everything about the process here.”
The adjustment, he said, was “The transition to the speed of the game and and the plays, diagnosing the plays and getting them all down. For instance, in high school you’d probably have a maximum of 10 plays because if you’re a good enough player they just run the ball behind you.. But now you’ve got to know your role, know your fit-ins, learn your plays, learn the gaps. It’s like base learning football all over again. You have to come with an open mind.”
A big advantage, he said, was working “behind one of the best offensive linemen in college football in Cam Robinson.
“He had to teach me. He got me in the film room, how to see things, how to process things, his progression, his preparation for the game. Just being behind him is like being able to soak it all in. You just hope that one day you can be half the player he is.”
Another advantage of being at Alabama, he said, is working against the Crimson Tide defense.
“You hear it all the time,” Lashley said. “The toughest game is in practice every day. Every day is a competition. You get used to it, get used to going hard every day, every day, day-in and day-out, just competing and trying to be your best on and off the field.”
The competition this spring will continue through the A-Day Game on April 22.