TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the first time since the 2020 season, Alabama redshirt-senior offensive lineman Chris Owens spoke with the media on Monday, detailing his decision to return to the Crimson Tide for a final year.
Owens saw action at tackle in 2020, but started at center in Alabama’s last two games in the season in the College Football Playoff against Notre Dame and Ohio State after primary starting center Landon Dickerson went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game.
While Owens could have left the Crimson Tide and most likely would have been drafted — albeit probably in one of the later rounds — he is returning to Alabama for one final season to, as he put it, work with former NFL coaches and improve his draft stock.
“Part of it was being able to learn from a bunch of NFL coaches,” Owens told the media via Zoom on Monday afternoon. “I feel like if I went into the draft this year, I might not have gone where I wanted to. So knowing that coach [Nick] Saban was going to bring in some really reliable guys who have some good experience, I feel like it would be just as good as going to the next level, because I could still get that same tutoring and I could learn those same lessons before I ultimately make that decision.”
The decision paid off, as Saban hired two former NFL head coaches that will have a direct impact on Owens on the offensive line. With Bill O’Brien heading up this year’s Crimson Tide offense as the new offensive coordinator, NFL experience is definitely going to be a strong influence on this year’s offense. However, the other hire is going to have a more direct impact on Owens and his remaining time at Alabama:
Former NFL head coach Doug Marrone as the Crimson Tide’s new offensive line coach.
Marrone has almost three decades of coaching experience at both the college and NFL level, primarily as an offensive line coach, tight ends coach and offensive coordinator. Marrone was also the head coach at Syracuse on the college level and both the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars at the NFL level.
For Owens, Marrone is exactly what he was looking for in a NFL coach to improve his 2022 draft standing.
“He’s great,” Owens said. “He has all sorts of stories going back from Syracuse to when he played for my team – or when he coached for my favorite team, the Saints. That was one of the first thing we clicked on. He was naming offensive linemen from that team, and of course he coached Cam Robinson who was here. He’s coached a lot of great players and I think the lessons he has dating back before when I was even born, those are so applicable for today.”
For Owens, Marrone could not have come at a better time.
Despite being one of the veteran linemen on the team last year, Owens saw less time than the others in his class. He possesses the skills that it takes to succeed at the next level, but his experience and playing time have been lacking due to the phenomenal players that started ahead of him, primarily Dickerson and Alex Leatherwood.
Owens says that from Marrone’s first day in Tuscaloosa, he has been trying his best to learn as much as he can with what little time he has left at the Capstone.
“I just get to talk to him every day and he just gives his wisdom to everybody and he’s open about it,” Owens said. “He doesn’t give priority just to the older guys or the younger guys. He’s open to everyone – walk-ons, fifths, sixth, anyone. Just having him around the facility every day and getting to pick his brain is amazing.”
Alabama is now in the midst of spring practices — something that the team was not able to undergo in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Friday, the team conducted its first scrimmage of the year inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The three spring scrimmages are excellent opportunities for players — both new and old — to make a statement regarding their skillsets and standing on the team’s roster. After years of being on second-team offense, Owens finally has his opportunity to bask in the sunlight should he perform well this spring.
When asked who won last Friday’s scrimmage between the offense and the defense, Owens gave a humorous answer.
“Alabama,” Owens said with a smile. “Next question.”
How’s that for a rising leader on this Alabama offensive line?