What we saw from Alabama football's new-look offensive line at practice: Evan Neal is a hoss
The offensive line is always mixing and matching, but this year, Alabama football has to replace three starters picked in the NFL Draft.
Crimson Tide preseason practices have provided a hint of what the new offensive line might look like. It can always change because of competition or an injury, but early drills open to the media have provided a glimpse of the potential starting five.
The media saw only about 15 minutes of practice, which is a small sample size. But it still offers the opportunity to see mechanics and technique.
Here's what stood out about each of those five offensive linemen from Monday's practice:
LT Evan Neal (junior)
Neal is a mountain of a man, standing above each of the other four in the first group. But he's a lean mountain.
He said Monday that he has lost about 15 pounds, going from 360 pounds this past season to about 345 pounds now. At 6-foot-7, he looks fit and impressive.
It's clear he's a top-tier draft prospect, if he decides to enter after this year. A drill with the five-man blocking sled Monday showed how next-level he is.
While rising from his three-point stance, Neal managed to keep his head among the lowest of the group despite being the tallest. That's noteworthy because for a guy his size, it would be easy to pop up out of his stance and have poor pad level. Instead, by him staying low, he gets good leverage. That's going to be crucial when he's (almost always) facing guys who are shorter than him.
Later, when Neal moved out of his stance to drive a teammate holding a blocking dummy, Neal exploded into the block then managed to get underneath the blocker and shove all in one motion. He made it look easy.
Neal's the real deal.
LG Javion Cohen (sophomore)
The sophomore guard looks capable and solid, but he still has some room for improvement. Cohen could be a bit more efficient with his feet and explosive out of his stance.
During the drill where an offensive lineman starts in his stance underneath a low chute before bursting out to block a teammate holding a dummy, Cohen probably could have been quicker. But he finished strong with a nice powerful extension of his arms.
C Chris Owens (redshirt senior)
Owens is back at the position he was filling late in the season for an injured Landon Dickerson. Owens could be a solid starter long-term, but he will need to clean up a few things, if Monday is any indication.
He seemed to take a step sideways with his right foot immediately out of his stance. That's waisted movement that could be used to move forward, toward the defender. It sounds minor, but with the speed the game moves at, one step can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful block.
He also didn't pack as much punch when shoving the blocking dummy out of the chute.
RG Emil Ekiyor Jr. (redshirt junior)
Ekiyor is fun to watch. He brings that "nasty" you want in any football player, but especially offensive linemen. He gets after defenders and wastes no time in doing so.
In the drills Monday, Ekiyor finished reps well, giving the blocking dummy a nice shove at the end to showcase his fire. He's an efficient blocker overall with good footwork.
RT Kendall Randolph (redshirt senior)
The right tackle spot could be viewed as the most open for competition, but Randolph is doing some good things to make sure he keeps that spot.
He and Ekiyor seemed to work well together during a double team drill, moving fairly in unison, which is a necessary element because the defender is trained to try to split the double team. At 6-foot-4, Randolph isn't as tall, but that might be an advantage to help him get underneath defenders. He demonstrated his ability to keep his hips low and burst upward Monday.
His footwork also seemed solid, seldom wasting movement.
Contact Alabama football reporter Nick Kelly: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly