It doesn't often get noticed on the stat sheet or in postgame media reports, but the offensive line is the lifeblood of Alabama football. On the heels of two consecutive BCS titles and three in the last four years, Alabama is going to have to overhaul the heart of its offense.
All-Americans Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones have played out their eligibility. Junior D.J. Fluker chose to forgo his senior season and test the NFL waters as well. That's 60 percent of the Tide offensive line out the door.
In the SEC Conference, where just about everyone brings in top rated recruiting classes, this significant of a loss up front can be a killer.
For the Tide, though, it should not be as significant of a deal. Nonetheless, there is work to be done.
For starters, the most important thing that head coach Nick Saban and his staff will have to find is the combination that can work together as a cohesive unit. The offensive line has to be on the same page at all times, all five players working as one.
This may sound as easy as finding the best five and working them together as much as time allows. It's not. Linemen are a funny bunch and finding a group of five that can put personal goals aside in favor of the greater good of a team can be a daunting task.
These guys have to know each other inside and out to the point where they can anticipate their partner's every move at all times.
Secondly, the coaching staff will have to be absolutely sure that they have the best possible five on the field. To do this, some position changes could be a possibility. Remember, Barrett Jones won three BCS titles at Alabama and he won all of them while playing different positions.
If it will make the team better to move some men around, then that is what Saban will do. This would result in a minor setback and additional training would be needed, but in the long run, it would be the best move.
Then there is the issue of personnel. On the bright side, Anthony Steen will be back at right guard and Cyrus Kouandjio returns at left tackle. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Kelly, a member of the Freshman All-SEC team, will most likely fill the void at center to replace Jones.
After that, it's not so easy to predict.
At left guard, upcoming juniors Arie Kouandjio and Chad Lindsay will be most likely to fight for the starting role. Incoming freshman Grant Hill of Huntsville, Alabama will look to get his name in the mix as well.
Austin Shepherd is the incumbent at right tackle, but Alabama is also welcoming in junior college transfer Leon Brown and JUCO's aren't often brought in to sit on their behinds.
It is from this crew of overgrown young men that Saban will find his next offensive line. Spring camp will help to expedite this process so that with any luck, the line will be pretty much set when fall practice begins.
Once the right bodies are in place, the job really becomes tough. Simulating a real SEC pass rush in practice is not as easy as it may sound. Until the new five get some real time, in-game experience together, the Tide will see mistakes and setbacks up front.
It's simply inevitable. Creating a dominating offensive line, especially one as good as the one Alabama boasted in 2012, takes time. No matter how much talent and experience the Tide line has, time will be the most important factor.
With two tough games to open the 2013 season (Virginia Tech and Texas A&M), we will have a pretty good indication of how good the new line is right away.
If the Tide can survive those first two games and allow these youngsters some time to gel and improve as a unit, Alabama will be in good shape. If not, well, it will most certainly be interesting to say the very least.
At the end of the day, though, Nick Saban has done wonders with the Alabama football program and is in the process of taking the Tide to new heights that even the legendary Bear Bryant never reached.
The dynasty wheels are in motion in Tuscaloosa and we should sleep well knowing that Saban is, as usual, many steps ahead of us when it comes to reforming the offensive line.
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