Laying it on thick: Alabama’s offensive line could be something special
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Thick.
When it comes to the 2019 Alabama football team it’s one of those things that you can’t un-see once noticed, like the Stormtrooper who hits his head in the original Star Wars or how the flexed bicep emoji also resembles an animal.
Alabama’s offensive line is big, but it’s more than that.
They’re tall and with long reach. The two starting tackles are both at least 6-foot-5, and the starting guards could both be 6-foot-7.
They’re wide, which is pretty much a given at the position.
But they’re also thick. Like really, really thick.
“Yeah,” said junior left tackle Alex Leatherwood as his eyes lit up.
“Everyone on the line is over 320 [pounds],” junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “It’s crazy. It’s like we have a great wall. It’s amazing.”
The thickness is why calling Alabama’s offensive line big isn’t enough of a description.
A salad could be called big if you pile enough stuff on it, or put it in a spacious bowl.
French toast can be thick. A milkshake in which there’s no point in even trying to use a straw is thick. A quality steak is thick.
We’ll put it into perspective another way. Crimson Tide offensive coach Kyle Flood has spent the past couple of years with the Atlanta Falcons and this group is bigger. Depending on who lines up at center, it could be significantly bigger.
“We definitely want to establish a powerful run game,” senior guard Matt Womack said. “If a defense watches us coming off the ball and hitting people, then they are going to be thinking about that going into a game. So we really want a defense to see how powerful we are.”
That’s probably not going to be a problem, especially considering the Crimson Tide has depth as well, along with some experience.
At left tackle, Leatherwood, who played out at right guard last season to get on the field, is listed as 6-6, 310 pounds. He also has what’s commonly referred to as having a mean streak on the field.
“Leatherwood, that’s what you need at O-line,” junior running back Najee Harris said. “You need somebody to be aggressive and that’s what we have at the O-line. Not just Leatherwood, but everybody.”
Wills sets the other edge at 6-5, 320. Last season he led the team with 50 knockdown blocks and allowed just one hit on the quarterback.
He also says the entire line is playing with a chip on its shoulder and not just because of the national championship game.
“Everyone thinks that we fell off but that’s not the case at all,” he said.
At left guard, freshman Evan Neal is a mere 6-7, 360 pounds. Alabama could film one-on-one drills between Neal and senior defensive lineman Raekwon Davis (who is “only” listed as 6-7, 312) and add the sound from an old Godzilla movie.
“Big, physical player. Smart guy,” Wills said. “He’s got all the intangibles.”
Womack started the fall at right guard, but has been limited for the past couple of weeks. The former starter at right tackle is 6-7, 325.
“When I was probably a freshman or sophomore, I was probably the tallest guy on the team,” he said. “Coming into Alabama I figured everybody was going to be my size kind of thing, so it was kind of weird for me. But now everybody, other people are coming in that’s my size, so it’s kind of nice, like I’m not the only freak out there walking around, like everybody’s looking at me.”
At center, redshirt junior Chris Owens (6-3, 315) began fall camp working with the first unit, while redshirt freshman Emil Ekiyor (6-3, 327) has taken first-team snaps at both center and right guard.
Already pushing both of them is Florida State graduate transfer Landon Dickerson, who is 6-6, 308, and looks the part.
“He’s really tough,” Saban said. “He’s a very physical player.”
Among the reserves, Scott Lashley is 6-7, Amari Kight is 6-7 and Tommy Brown is 6-7. They aren’t as thick as the players ahead of them. However, there’s redshirt junior Deonte Brown, who made an immediate impact when inserted at Tennessee last year.
Brown will begin the season on the sideline while finishing his suspension after violating an NCAA rule prior to the College Football Playoff, but he’s an extremely powerful 6-4, 338.
In case you’re wondering, the Alabama men’s basketball team has six scholarship players who are listed as being 6-7 or taller. One of them is guard Herbert Jones, who is also 206 pounds.
No one has ever mistakenly called Jones “thick.”
Nevertheless, there’s been little buzz about Alabama’s offensive line, which at least physically should be impossible to overlook. That’ll change once fans get a good look at them against Duke on Aug. 31 in Atlanta, and the subsequent games.
It could be a monster group, and Nick Saban knows it.
The coach has said on more than one occasion that he likes this group, which for him is huge (pun intended). The coach praised the linemen at the start of fall camp and then recently added: “Without naming specific players, I think we can have a really good offensive line.”
Seriously, when was the last time you heard Saban say that about a position group before the Crimson Tide took a single snap of a season? But there are other signs about this line having massive potential, from the talk about being more physical to the increased focus on red-zone play.
“I think the key to the drill in the red zone is you have to be able to run the ball,” Saban said.
How does a defense counter that kind of size, especially when Alabama uses extra linemen at the goal-line?
Alabama’s wide receivers are outstanding. It has the Heisman Trophy runner-up at quarterback. At running back is a guy who some recruiting services touted as being the best prospect in the nation a couple of years ago.
But if the Crimson Tide wins the national championship it might be because of this line.
“I feel like this group has the potential to do anything we want,” Leatherwood said. “We have the guys to do it. Not to mention our receiving corps, they’re a huge threat. So all the people are all going to be in the coverage areas, Smitty and all those dudes, That just gives us the opportunity to do something in the run game. We can attack you in many ways.”