Intelligence and experience are two concepts that set Alabama center Ryan Kelly apart not just in the Southeastern Conference, but in college football itself. He has blocked for 35.6 points, 198.7 rushing yards and 430.1 total yards per game. Running back Derrick Henry has benefited from Kelly being on the front line, totaling 910 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns.
Physicality at the point of attack, working to the second level of a defense and directing traffic upfront are all things that Kelly does exceptionally well. The senior and possible Remington Trophy candidate blocked for 258 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the first half for Alabama against Texas A&M. He sustained a concussion in the second half and did not return, giving true sophomore J.C. Hassenauer some much needed but early experience.
Hassenauer struggled with Jacob Coker’s snap count, which resulted in multiple pre-snap penalties and tough sledding for Henry and others on the ground. The Minnesota native will be solid for years to come, but in a meaningful rivalry game, Alabama will need to have Kelly.
He has been in practice this week, despite little participating and sporting a non-contact jersey. Coach Saban told the media that “Kelly is progressing.” He said the senior did do some things in practice that did not involve much contact. Sophomore left tackle Cameron Robinson said Kelly still gives his input on things, regardless of shadowing Hassenauer this week in practice.
It will more than likely be a game time decision as to whether Kelly plays or not. If so, Tennessee will get Alabama at full strength. The Volunteers have a good defensive front; however, it will be difficult to limit the Crimson Tide without Curt Maggitt and Shy Tuttle.
The pressure will fall on Coker if Kelly does not suit up Saturday. A simple cadence will be imperative and constant exchanges under center should get Hassenauer more comfortable.