As the most important unit on the field, the Bama’s offensive line will again play a critical role in the success this team will have in 2013, and protecting the most important asset to the team…quarterback A.J. McCarron.
There is no doubt that Alabama produces some of the best linemen in the nation. In 2012 this group helped Alabama average 227.5 rushing yards while allowing 1.64 sacks per game.
60% of last year’s unit is gone, but the two returning linemen (Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio) will provide enough foundation for newcomers around them to take hold of their mission. While this year’s unit can’t come close to the dominance enjoyed in 2012…a group of elite offensive linemen considered to be the best in school history…don’t look for too many holes to sink this Crimson ship.
Health will play a factor in 2013, as it does on any team. Last years unit started all 14 games…a feat unheard of in modern football. Center Barrett Jones played the majority of the SEC Championship Game with a bum foot, but that was the only major injury Bama’s front five was faced with all season. Similar luck will be needed for this year’s unit.
Replacing Jones, Fluker and Warmack, now all NFL linemen, would seem to be a hindrance to this Bama team. However, this could still be a strength of the 2013 team with leadership from Steen and Kouandjio.
The “Steen Roller”, Anthony Steen is the only offensive lineman on Alabama’s already stacked offensive line who has given up no sacks and/or committed no penalties in the season 2012. (LINK http://www.dothaneagle.com/sports/alabama/article_d7f9bc24-9c18-11e2-90e4-0019bb30f31a.html )
This speaks volumes of Steen as a player, as good interior linemen require extreme discipline in the face of fury and chaos. Making sure your backfield is safe while stopping giant men exploding off the snap and driving into the backfield requires more than a good benchpress max. Doing so with no holding penalties, no false starts and no other mental miscues is quite a feat.
Tack on Steen’s five years of experience and you’re wishing you had 4 clones of this guy blocking for you. Though he has played a more silent role in the midst of four sure-fire future NFL linemen, Steen’s leadership alongside newcomer Ryan Kelly looks to be a major plus for Bama’s front five.
The only other returning starter from last season to the offensive line position is left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, and with a healthy season, this will likely be Kouandjio’s last wearing Crimson. The Maryland native should end up as one of the NFL’s top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Cyrus’ brother will likely flank him this season. Arie Kouandjio has persevered through a career haunted by injury. Working his way into the contenders to the starting line up for 2013, Arie has impressed due to his ability to play right tackle or either guard positions. Look for the eldest Kouandjio to be a cornerstone of the Tide’s 2013 offense.
Center Ryan Kelly has been named to the Rimington Trophy’s watch list for 2013, likely more by association and projected prominence within the Tide program than anything else. Kelly played in 10 games last year was named an All-SEC Freshman.
Though Alabama head coach Nick Saban hates depth charts, if you had to gamble the starting five looks to be Cyrus K. at left tackle, Arie K. at left guard, Kelly at center, Steen at right guard and Austin Shepard or Brandon Greene at the right tackle spot. Whoever the starting five ends up being, they’ll be charged with the task of protecting an arsenal of offensive firepower. Speaking of bets, if this group gels together anywhere close to the effectiveness of the 2011 and 2012 units, making reservations in Pasedena will be a safe one.