Alabama football's most crucial transfer player passed his first test in opener | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

Offensive linemen are a bit like referees in this way: if you don't notice them, they're probably doing their job correctly. Tyler Steen was awfully quiet in his debut as Alabama football's left tackle Saturday in a 55-0 win over Utah State at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Quiet in the way you'd want, if you're an Alabama fan.

It began with a pancaking of Phillip Paea on the first play of the game, a resounding tone-setter for what would prove to be a dominant performance by the Alabama offense. It ended in the third quarter, when the Crimson Tide emptied the bench to get its second-team line some seasoning.

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In between, Steen didn't give up sacks, he didn't draw penalties and he more or less made the most of his season-opening effort to step in for first-round draft pick Evan Neal, a massive pair of shoes to fill. Give Steen a thumbs-up grade for Week 1, and mark this down for future reference: the Crimson Tide left tackle's play is the most critical to the team's success among any of its five transfer portal additions. Keeping pressure off of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young is paramount for an offense that is breaking in new talent at a number of skill positions, and as the left tackle, Steen will have a crucial, season-long hand in that effort.

Utah State threw a lot at him from a personnel standpoint. He spent much of the night locking up defensive end Daniel Grzesiak, like Steen a transfer, who played at Nevada last year. Grzesiak, thanks to Steen, had a fairly quiet night himself. And his primary damage, a sack near the end of the first half that forced a field goal, came off the right side rather than the left.

Alabama, for its part, changed up some looks of its own on the left side. Steen was frequently flanked by tight end Robbie Ouzts, sometimes lined up off the ball and other times on it, who often assisted in Young's left-side protection. When Ouzts was there to pick up the edge rusher, Steen was free to block down inside and help out Javion Cohen, a surprise starter at left guard. And when Ouzts wasn't around to help, Steen held up just fine both as a run blocker and pass protector.

There were a few missteps that might've been costly on another night, or with a less athletic quarterback in the pocket. When Utah State's Patrick Joyner beat an inside block and was flagged for targeting Young in the second quarter, Steen also missed his man, who arrived at Young for a would-be sack almost as quickly as Joyner did.

But overall, the transfer from Vanderbilt made the dismal pass protection of A-Day − of which he wasn't even a part because he'd not yet arrived − a more distant memory for Alabama fans.

There are 11 regular-season tests remaining for Steen, many of which will be tougher than the one he passed Saturday. But he can only take those tests one at a time, and he dealt with the one immediately in front of him just fine against USU.

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Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.