For the first time in many years, the Alabama football team doesn’t have many “big name” players on the offensive line for the 2014 season. With the loss of key players Cyrus Kouandjio, Anthony Steen, and Kellen Williams from the offensive line, Alabama has to put together a national championship contending O-line during the summer. Although to some this may seem very difficult, with their many recruits and returning players alike, Nick Saban and Mario Cristobal will do what they do best: piece together a championship team–starting with the offensive line.
One veteran that will be a leader on the offensive line is Ryan Kelly, a 290-pound junior who started at center nine times last season. With Kelly’s experience and abilities to call out the blocking assignments, Saban will be looking to Kelly to be a leader on the O-line.
Other returning guys who will help with the Tide’s dominance on the offensive line are three seniors: Arie Kouandjio, Austin Shepherd, and Leon Brown. Of the three, Leon Brown has the fewest starts, only having one, but he showed why Saban recruited him with his physical play in the Sugar Bowl. Saban and Coach Cristobal have consistently been working him into a starting position during the off-season.
This season brings many new faces, including prized freshman Cam Robinson. The Tide may be young but they will be fierce- Alabama signed the nation’s best offensive line class which included six players rated in the top five at their positions. Here are my predictions as to who will be starting in the five offensive line positions when Alabama begins its season against West Virginia.
Center- Ryan Kelly
Kelly is a returning starter from last season, and after showing tremendous improvement in agility and strength, Kelly will be an easy choice as starting center for the Crimson Tide. Paul Waldrop, a junior, and # 1 ranked center prospect JC Hassenauer will battle to be backup.
Right Guard- Leon Brown
Brown won the job this spring, and will be a great addition to the O-Line. Leon showed coaches all spring that he is the man for the job. With Alphonse Taylor, a sophomore, as a backup,Brown will have to work hard to keep his position as a starter.
Left Guard- Arie Kouandijo
Kouandjio, another returning starter from last season, is the obvious choice at left guard for the Tide. In 2013, he struggled with multiple knee injuries from previous seasons, but this is the season that could not only set Arie apart on the field, but also in the eyes of the scouts of the NFL draft. If needed, junior Issac Luatua will be backup.
Right Tackle- Austin Shepherd
A senior who is also a returning starter, Shepherd will definitely start. With Shepherd’s knowledge of the entire offensive line as well as his field vision, he will not only be the starter at right tackle but also a leader on the O-line. Shepherd is also capable of playing other positions as needed, including left tackle. Grant Hill, a sophomore, will be Shepherd’s backup.
Left tackle- Cameron Robinson
Robinson will be the Tide’s first true freshman to start as left tackle for the Tide. Coming out of Monroe, Louisiana, Cameron Robinson was rated the No.1 tackle nationally and the No.2 player in the state of Louisiana. Needless to say, Robinson is the missing piece in the Tide’s O-line.
Lane Kiffin is brewing up a storm in Tuscaloosa. Players love Kiffin and give rave reviews about his offensive strategies. With Saban keeping him away from the press for good reason, Kiffin will debut his offense along with Mario Cristobal’s O-line in Atlanta on August 30, 2014, against West Virginia. The O-line play will determine if Alabama wins the SEC West and if Alabama plays for an SEC Championship.