Stuart McNair

Bradley Bozeman returns at center for Alabama

Bradley Bozeman did the job for Alabama last year following Ryan Kelly

A year ago, a big challenge for Alabama football was replacing center Ryan Kelly, who had been All-America, winner of the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center, Southeastern Conference Jacobs Award winner as the league’s best blocker, and a first round NFL draft choice.
Big shoes to fill.
Throughout the spring and most of fall camp, Alabama worked with left guard Ross Pierschbacher at center, but shortly before Bama’s season-opening game Bradley Bozeman was moved from right guard to center. He started every game for the Tide at center as Alabama went 14-1, won the SEC championship, and came within a few seconds of winning the national championship.
With Alabama three practices into spring training, the 6-5, 314-pound fifth-year senior Bozeman is solid at the center position.
“Hopefully I’m set in a kind of concrete position,” he said, “but I still have to come out and bust my butt every day and get better. This year I’m really looking forward to coming out and really perfecting my craft at the center position.”
Bozeman had some experience prior to last season. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, he moved in for Kelly and started two games for the Tide. He has also seen playing time at tackle, along with guard, where he was primarily a reserve in 2015.
Part of the Nick Saban process is that offensive linemen learn more than one position, and a switch is not unusual. Bozeman alluded to that in discussion of a possible change on this year’s line with last season’s right tackle, Freshman All-America Jonah Williams, getting a look at left tackle in early Bama spring work.
It’s not like starting over, Bozeman said. “We did so much switching last year, we’re ready for any kind of substitution,” he said. “And it’s really the same guys from last year coming into the mix, and you just have to build that match with those guys.”
Asked how many combinations there are on the offensive line, Bozeman said, “Countless. You could probably rattle them off forever.”
He also said there will be no problem with Alabama having had two offensive line coaches last year and going back to one coach for tackle to tackle this season. In 2016 Mario Cristobal, who had been the lone line coach previously, was joined by Brent Key, who coached guards and centers while Cristobal coached tackles and tight ends. Cristobal left at the end of the season to go to Oregon as co-offensive coordinator and Key is handling all five offensive line positions.
Bozeman said, “Coaches are here to give us their best and they’ve done that in my career coming up on five years.”
He described Key as “very straight-up. He’s going to tell it exactly like he is. He’s not going to sugar-coat anything or anything like that. He’s one of those guys you know you can count on and you can take what he says for what it is.”
Practice observers have noticed that Key is intense.
“He definitely gets riled up,” Bozeman said. “He’s a go-getter. It’s definitely good. He pushes the younger guys and the older guys know what to expect, so it’s good for us. It’s a good fit.”
Alabama’s last game was the disappointing 35-31 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Bozeman said the team had “watched it from a player’s perspective on what we did wrong and did right. It’s a good learning experience.
“We could have done better. You can say we could have done this or done that. It doesn’t really matter though. We lost the game. We’re on to this next year. That’s our main focus now.
“It’s great to get back and be back with my teammates. Start back the process of hopefully getting back to the national championship and starting our road on this path.”

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