Alabama’s offensive line coach Mario Cristobal enters his third season on Nick Saban’s staff. He got the men in the trenches to work cohesively last season, as the Crimson Tide allowed an average 1.14 sacks per game (14th nationally, second in the SEC). Alabama averaged 36.9 points per game and totaled 484.5 yards offensively (206.6 rushing yards).
Cristobal had a solid impact on right tackle Austin Shepherd and left tackle Cam Robinson. Shepherd is now pursuing a career in the National Football League, but he had a productive senior year. He allowed only one sack in 2014.
Robinson, a sophomore, had a dynamic freshman season. He became the first true freshman to start at left tackle since Andre Smith (2006). Robinson allowed three sacks in 861 snaps, earning him Freshman All-American honors.
Cristobal spent six seasons (2007-12) at Florida International University, prior to arriving in Tuscaloosa in February of 2013. Alabama lost Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker to the 2013 NFL Draft. Cristobal built chemistry with Cyrus Kouandjio, Anthony Steen, Ryan Kelly, Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd.
He got them to play as one unit, and it helped Alabama post an 11-2 record in 2013. The Crimson Tide surrendered 17 sacks, but it allowed an average 1.31 sacks per game. Its offense accounted for 454.1 total yards and averaged 38.2 points per game. Alabama’s 7.15 yards per play in 2013 was good for fifth nationally. It was also a school record.
Alabama loses Austin Shepherd, Arie Kouandjio and Leon Brown to the 2015 NFL Draft, yet it returns much talented, headlined by Ryan Kelly and Cam Robinson.
Junior college transfer Dominick Jackson has size at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. He saw action in eight games last season, including four as a blocking back. He has the potential to be a successful right tackle, but Jackson needs to improve his footwork.
Sophomore Bradley Bozeman appeared in nine games (two starts) last season at center. He filled in admirably for Ryan Kelly (knee) in Alabama’s meeting with Ole Miss. Bozeman’s first career start came against Arkansas. He led the team in knockdown blocks (three) and posted a grade of 86. Bozeman was dominant in the Crimson Tide’s game against Texas A&M. He guided Alabama’s running backs to 298 yards. With Grant Hill on medical leave, Bozeman has a chance to start at right guard in the fall.
Alphonse “Shank” Taylor, a junior, split time with Leon Brown at right guard in 2014. Taylor came off the bench in Alabama’s season opener against West Virginia, but he excelled on the first-team offense. He opened holes for two 100-yard rushers, T.J. Yeldon (126, two touchdowns and Derrick Henry (113, one touchdown). Taylor helped Alabama total 538 yards of offense against West Virginia and didn’t allow a sack. He played 12 games last season, and settled into a role on special teams. Taylor is battling with Bradley Bozeman to start at right guard, but could secure a spot at left guard is Bozeman pulls it out.
Competition for spots: Ross Pierschbacher (left guard), J.C. Hassenauer (center), Brandon Greene (right tackle), Korren Kirven (left tackle) and Issac Luatau (left guard)
Nick Saban wants Alabama’s offensive line to play with more confidence. He said all spring that the guys upfront have to realize that it’s up to them to help make this team successful. Sophomore Cam Robinson had a huge freshman season, but Saban doesn’t want him to get complacent. He said the team wants Robinson to play at his full potential.
Mario Cristobal is an excellent recruiter. His efforts in getting Alabama a No.1 recruiting class in 2015, earned him the 2015 Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year Award.
Cristobal was the headman in landing five-stars Minkah Fitzpatrick (N.J.), Daron Payne (Ala.) and Calvin Ridley (Fla.), along with four-stars Shawn Burgess-Becker (Fla.) and Lester Cotton (Ala.). He even brought in two solid three-stars in Matt Womack (Miss.) and Christian Bell (Ala.). Alabama’s 2015 recruiting class was littered with talented offensive linemen, including Cotton, Brandon Kennedy and Richie Petitbon.
It’s an open competition for spots on Alabama’s offensive line, excluding center and left tackle. Cam Robinson said his main focus is winning a national championship. The chance at a title is there for Alabama, but will its big boys be ready in the fall?