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Alabama's Evan Neal making smooth transition back to tackle | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Nick Saban has strategies, lots of strategies, but the chess master of Alabama football sounds like he will only move Evan Neal horizontally, not vertically.

in other words, while Neal’s capability to play tackle and guard are critical to the Crimson Tide offensive line, don’t expect to see him lining up alongside LaBryan ray and D.J. Dale any time soon.

“Sometimes we have actually trained guys to play more than one position, probably more so this year than we have in the past, so that you have diversity when it comes to if you lose a few players, maybe have a better opportunity to get the best players on the field,” Saban said earlier this week. “It could even come - and I would not say this in terms of who it involves - (to) guys playing on both sides of the ball. Now, I think that’s hard to do in the offensive line. It’s probably a lot easier to do at skill positions.”

The transition that Neal is making for 2020, moving from guard, where he started as a freshman, to tackle, which seems more suited to his natural skill set, is more than enough versatility  

“So far the transition has been treating me well,” Neal said on a Thursday Zoom call. “In high school, tackle was my natural position. All in all,the transition has been pretty smooth, I've been pleased with my progress."

The tandem of Alex Leatherwood at one tackle and Neal at the other gives Alabama a solid bracket on what many experts are projecting as the best overall offensive line in college football. 

"I just think he showed the world what he's capable of,” defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis said. “Especially with him transitioning to a new position, so he's flexible."

Neal’s athleticism made a major impression on the social media world this summer when strength coach Matt Rhea released a video of Neal doing 30-inch box jumps at 360 pounds. 

“That was my first time doing something like that,” Neal said. “Dr. Rhea and Coach (David) Ballou (who also joined the Alabama staff last spring) are great strength coaches, they teach us different exercises and (things) like that. I feel like, as far as my athleticism goes, I don’t want to give myself too much credit of anything like that.  I just come from a big, athletic family. 

Neal’s family includes his dad, Eddie, who played linebacker at Tulane and two uncles who starred at Miami: running back and former first-round NFL Draft pick Cleveland Gary and defensive tackle and two-time Super Bowl champion Jimmie Jones.

The younger Neal says he weighed 385 pounds when he arrived at Alabama and is now at 350 “with a few more pounds to lose.”

With Tua Tagovailoa moving on to the NFL, there has been speculation that Saban and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will become more reliant on the running game this fall, especially if there are any unexpected roster disruptions at the quarterback position. With a massive offensive front and a four-deep roster of running backs (Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, Trey Sanders bad freshman Roydell Williams of Hueytown), the Crimson Tide has great ball-control potential even though the sport — and Saban with it — has grown more and more wide-open. 

That doesn’t mean a throwback to the 2012 offense although given what 2020 has  been so far, any other year might be welcome. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt