The biggest opportunity Jedrick Wills had came before the season even began.

Alabama’s freshman offensive tackle didn’t arrive on campus until this summer. He made enough of an impression right away that he was able to compete for the starting right tackle job.

“It was definitely a great opportunity,” Wills said before the Sugar Bowl in December. “I wasn’t ready like I thought I was when I came in here, but I developed a lot over the season with Coach Key.”

Wills would eventually lose the competition for the starting job to redshirt sophomore Matt Womack. But he still made an impact in his freshman season. Wills played over 100 snaps on the offensive line, including plenty with the first team.

He started the Ole Miss game at right tackle when the Crimson Tide came out with six offensive linemen for its first snaps. He played in that role often as Alabama went back to its jumbo package several times throughout the season.

“I’ve never seen someone – other than Cam Robinson, that’s who he reminds me of – who came in and was ready to work,” offensive lineman Lester Cotton said of Wills. “He would not be denied. Him and Alex Leatherwood, the other tackle, those two tackles are two tackles that really showcased their talent and gained Coach Saban’s trust.”

Leatherwood got his chance to shine in the national championship game when left tackle Jonah Williams was injured. Both Leatherwood and Wills solidified their spot with the second team during the course of the season. That’s no small feat for a true freshman playing in the SEC.

Wills might have had an even greater opportunity for playing time if he’d gone elsewhere. The Lexington, Ky. native chose Alabama over hometown Kentucky for a better chance to play for championships. Getting on the field as a freshman made things even better.

“I feel like if I would have graduated earlier, I feel like I would have had a bigger upper hand than I did going into fall camp,” he said.

Alabama returns four starting offensive linemen next season and both of its tackles. Wills may find himself in a similar situation next fall as he fights for playing time. The same will go for Leatherwood.

“Those two guys work hard, they push themselves, and they compete with the other tackles, with Jonah and Womack,” Cotton said. “They’re real good.”

Wills said the coaching staff didn’t make any mention to him about possibly moving to guard or learning another position during this season. He’ll probably be pushing for a job as a tackle again.

He may have a better shot with a year of experience under his belt. Wills knows what he needs to work on now and what’s expected of him. The first step towards competing for next season will be to master the playbook.

“Once I get deep down, really learn everything there is to know about every there is on the o-line, I feel like that will help me to play faster, be able to be smarter,” Wills said.

Reach Ben Jones at ben@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.

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