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Familiar Foe: Tyler Steen Prepares to Face Former Team

Why the Alabama coaching staff is leaning on the offensive tackle as the Crimson Tide opens SEC play against Vanderbilt.

With the expansion of transfer rules and accessibility for both coaches and athletes to the transfer portal, each week's slate of college football games features dozens and dozens of players going up against their former teams. 

For example, Alabama saw former wide receiver Xavier Williams with Utah State in Week One. With several former Crimson Tide assistants on staff at Texas under head coach Steve Sarkisian, there were multiple former Alabama players on the Texas roster in Agiye Hall, Jahleel Billingsley and Keilan Robinson. 

But for the first time this season, an Alabama player will be facing his former team as the No. 2 Crimson Tide opens up SEC play against Vanderbilt on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has the ability to be more selective while perusing the transfer portal when trying to fill positions of need and found exactly what he was looking for this offseason when he added offensive tackle Tyler Steen from Vanderbilt. 

The 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman had made 33 consecutive starts for Vanderbilt over the past three seasons and was coming off a redshirt junior campaign in which he was one of the few bright spots for the 2-10 Commodores.

“He's a very athletic guy,” Saban said of Steen on Monday. “He's got really good power for his size. And is a good pass blocker. Very smart guy. Understands how to play fundamentally, use his hands, and has played pretty consistently for us in the three games that he's played. Has certainly not disappointed us in any way, shape or form. He's got a lot of experience, which I think helps. We're very pleased that he's here.”

So far this season, on an offensive line that is still trying to find just the right combination, Steen has been a spot of consistency and reliability as the starting left tackle in all three games. 

Speaking to the media for the first time on Monday since transferring to Alabama, Steen detailed his decision to come to Tuscaloosa. After earning a degree at Vanderbilt, the opportunity to join the Crimson Tide was too good to pass up. 

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"Really was just looking for something new," Steen said. "Obviously had the opportunity to go to a prestigious university like this, and I didn’t want to pass that up."

Steen joined an offensive line that was being led by new offensive line coach Eric Wolford. He fills the hole left at left tackle by first rounder Evan Neal. The current offensive line is a mix of young and old with veteran players like Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Darrian Dalcourt along with younger guys like Javion Cohen, JC Latham and Tyler Booker all fighting for spots. While a new face to the Crimson Tide, Steen brings in a wealth of experience and a strong work ethic according to Ekiyor this offseason. 

"And as far as Tyler goes, he just came in, put his head down and went straight to work," Ekiyor said. "He’s kind of a quiet guy, but he’s got along with the guys in the room well and showed some really good flashes."

Hard worker was a common refrain issued by his teammates like Bryce Young, Will Anderson Jr. and high school teammate Jordan Battle throughout the offseason. 

Even though Saban goes and gets transfer that can fill a need, it doesn't mean they are guaranteed a starting spot. Steen came in during the summer and put in the work to earn the starting left tackle job. Now, a quarter into the season, not only is he a mainstay along the offensive line, but he has some additional to provide this week going up against his former team.

Before the Texas game, when talking about going up against Sarkisian, Saban famously said that just because a team knows a lot about Alabama, doesn't mean Alabama doesn't know a lot of about them. But for Steen, there is a level of familiarity with Vanderbilt that he finds can be beneficial for the Crimson Tide this week. 

"As far as I was there for a while from a personnel standpoint," Steen said. "I could definitely give some pointers and stuff like that to the o-line and the offense and stuff in general. I already had a coach on the defensive side come up to me and ask for a couple pointers on the offense and stuff like that. Definitely feel like I could help a little bit, but the coaches, they watch all the film, they break down that all stuff. We trust them to give us the game plan and stuff like that."

There will likely be faces and friends that Steen will want to reconnect with on the field at Bryant-Denny after Saturday's contest, but for now, he's fully focused on his task with the Crimson Tide. 

"It’s gonna be fun, but at the end of the day, it’s another game," Steen said. "As a team, we’re all focused on play in and play out just dominating our box, and the results are gonna come with that.”