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When will the offensive line be solidified for Alabama?

Alabama OL Tyler Booker (#52) getting reps at first-team left guard versus ULM
Photo comes via SEC Media Portal

We have made it through three weeks of Alabama’s season, and some elements of winning football are starting to grow for this team.

The offensive line, however, continues to be an issue. Crimson Tide fans remember the dominance of groups in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2020. Alabama’s 2020 offensive front captured the Joe Moore Award as the best unit in college football. They produced three Heisman finalists, a Heisman Trophy winner (DeVonta Smith), and an undefeated national championship. Coach Nick Saban hired Eric Wolford in the spring to replace Doug Marrone as offensive line coach, and he was the right move for the job.

RELATED: Special teams emerged as headline behind Alabama’s victory over ULM

Wolford is instituting more toughness and physical play up front, but when will it result in the Tide having its best five linemen on the field?

Alabama’s running backs looked better against Louisiana-Monroe, averaging seven yards per carry, scoring two touchdowns, and totaling 242 yards. The offensive line created more run lanes as each back averaged over five yards per attempt. Saban has rotated players for the first-team unit, but he needs to settle on five players. Kendall Randolph, a sixth-year senior, started the matchup with the Warhawks in No. 85. He lined up as a blocking tight end, putting him out of the competition at left guard. Alabama has its players for left tackle (Tyler Steen), center (Darrian Dalcourt), and right tackle (JC Latham), but its guard spots are interesting.

The Tide has experience with Javion Cohen and Emil Ekiyor Jr. Cohen started 14 of 15 games at left guard in 2021, while Ekiyor is a starting right guard. Cohen missed time in the summer due to learning about his mental health, but he worked his way back.

RELATED: Alabama players react to Will Anderson’s first career pick-six versus ULM

National media view Ekiyor as one of the top guards in college football.

Last week, Saban played freshman Tyler Booker at both guard spots versus ULM. Booker, a Connecticut native, came to the Crimson Tide as the most versatile lineman in the 2021 signing class. He is a product of IMG Academy, following in the footsteps of Evan Neal and JC Latham. The 6-foot-5, 332-pounder arrived as a five-star, and Saban loves his mentality. Booker provides power, strong hands, quick feet, and sound technique. He came as a tackle, but Saban sees him as a starter at either guard spot.

“I have lots of confidence in him,” Saban said of Booker. “He’s a young player who has played extremely well. He started at tackle, we moved him to guard, and I view him as a guy who’s competing for a starting position with two other guys. He’s physical, and we need to be more physical on the offensive line.”

Roydell Williams, a junior running back, ran behind Booker on his touchdown drive.

Williams totaled five carries for 57 yards and a score in the third quarter. The Alabama native raved about the freshman during post-game player interviews following the win over ULM.

“He is very physical,” Williams said of Booker. “He plays with passion, and he can go. He is a great add-on to the offensive line.”

What does Booker’s rise mean for the line? 

He could take Cohen’s or Ekiyor’s spot at guard. If he replaces Ekiyor, Alabama’s right side would be the more dominant side.

JC Latham has excelled at right tackle, and having his IMG buddy with him would be ideal. Cohen is physical, but if Booker takes his spot, the junior could probably take Tyler Steen’s spot at left tackle. Steen is adjusting to playing at Alabama after transferring from Vanderbilt. Cohen worked some at left tackle during the offseason and has the size. We will see how it plays out, but Booker gives Saban another dominant player up front.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith. 

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