Some feared it. Some expected it.
A season expected by many for Alabama to repeat and win their third national championship and fourth in five seasons could only be hampered by one glaring issue: a rebuilt offensive line.
And yes, Saturday night in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech, that one thing reared its ugly face despite a 35-10 win by the Tide.
After losing three players on the offensive line from last year’s national championship, the Tide was due a rebuilding year.
Gone from last year’s team is left guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones, and right tackle D.J. Fluker. If you count tight end Michael Williams, that makes four players off last year’s offensive line.
Oh, by the way…all are now playing in the NFL. Warmack is now a guard with the Tennessee Titans while Jones is a guard with the St. Louis Rams. Fluker is an offensive tackle with the San Diego Chargers and Williams in on injured reserves with the Detroit Lines.
All in all, Alabama had nine players selected in last year’s draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The nine players was a modern-era record. All nine made NFL rosters this season.
Now, back to this season.
With Warmack, Jones, Fluker and Williams gone, enter right guard Anthony Steen, center Ryan Kelly, left guard Arie Kouandjio, right tackle Austin Shepherd and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
In that mix of new faces on the offensive line is one senior in Steen, three juniors in Arie and Cyrus Kouandjio and Shepherd while Kelly is a sophomore.
Against the Hokies this past Saturday, the Alabama offense was limited to 206 total yards. Quarterback AJ McCarron completed 10 of 21 pass attempts for 110 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Wide receiver Amari Cooper led the Tide with 38 yards on four catches while T.J. Yeldon led Alabama with 75 rushing yards on 17 carries. The offensive numbers for the Tide had them ranked as the eighth lowest total of any team in the nation.
It was said that midway through the fourth quarter that Alabama had only 55 rushing yards and McCarron had been sacked four times.
Speaking of Jones, who was at Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, he spoke on a radio show this past week and gave this comment about the new players playing his old position in Tuscaloosa.
“They missed small communication or somebody missed one block here,” Jones said. “The thing about the offensive line is it takes all five guys. I know they’ll get more consistent throughout the year. I really believe they’ll be a good offensive line before it’s all said and done.”
Alabama had 11 negative plays from scrimmage in the win against Virginia Tech. Those 11 negative plays for the Crimson Tide resulted in -47 yards of rushing.
The 206 total yards for Alabama in the win was the lowest for the Crimson Tide since having only 172 yards of total offense in the home opener of the 2008 season in a game against the Tulane Green Wave that was played on Sept. 6. That season was head coach Nick Saban’s second at Alabama. Alabama went on to go 12-2 that season. The offense was under first-year offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.
Alabama came back the next week and put up a whopping 557 yards of total offense against Western Kentucky and cruised to a 41-7 rout.
“I don’t think we’re talking about the inexperienced guys not playing well. I think we’re talking about the entire group realizing they need to play a little bit better, play a little bit better together, be a little more physical,” Saban said of the line after the game. “We have too good of skilled players not to give them more opportunities to make plays in the game.”
While the offensive line and offense in general had taken a lot of heat since the game and during this week’s bye week, expect both squads and the whole team in general to get all the kinks worked out this week during the bye week in preparation for next Saturday’s big Southeastern Conference game of the week next week with Texas A&M. The game will be a 2:30 p.m. kickoff in College Station.
Article by Adam Robinson