EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment in a series looking ahead to the start of Alabama football fall practice. Today, we look at the offensive line position.
The five-man unit lost three starters — tackle Jonah Williams, guard Lester Cotton and center Ross Pierschbacher — and has two bona fide starters coming back in juniors Jedrick Wills and Alex Leatherwood, the two projected starters at the tackle spots. Leatherwood worked mainly at right guard in 2018 but moved into Williams’ vacated left tackle spot in the spring.
There are two other players who have some starting experience, so call them quasi-starters: senior guard Matt Womack, who started at tackle in 2017 but was slowed by an injury last year, and junior guard Deionte Brown, a powerhouse who moved to a starting position ahead of Cotton but was suspended for the last two games (Oklahoma and Clemson). That suspension will carry over for the first four games of 2019.
Until Brown returns (and assuming he is in playing shape when he does), the likely early candidates to start at guard will be Womack and one of the team’s two centers, Chris Owens and Emil Ekiyor. Owens could get the center nod after August practice — that remains a position battle as practice starts.
Players who saw limited or no action last season but could figure in the 2019 plan include tackles Scott Lashley, Tommy Brown and Kendall Randolph, along with center Hunter Brannon.
Perhaps the most notable new arrival is the new offensive line coach, Kyle Flood. The former head coach at Rutgers, Flood worked with the NFL Atlanta Falcons last season.
He does have some promising young talent to work with. Evan Neal, one of the nation’s top prep linemen, came in to work in the spring and will likely be a factor at the guard position (although he also took reps at tackle and may play there eventually). Another factor at guard will be early-entry freshman, Darian Dalcourt. Two in-state freshmen, tackle Amari Kight and guard Pierce Quick, could also get a chance as the Crimson Tide seeks expanded depth.
Williams was a three-year fixture at tackle, starting as soon as he arrived on campus, and he will not be easily replaced. Wills and Leatherwood both have great potential and provide a stable base upon which to build while shuffling in the interior line continues. Brown’s return will be a major storyline in the first month of the season.
Overall, the talent appears to be there. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in the spring that “they’ve got to develop probably more consistency in what they’re doing, but I feel pretty good about that group and I feel good about the progress they’ve made.” As always, chemistry will be the key.