The Saban Top 100: Ranking the Best Alabama Players of the Nick Saban Era, No. 56-60

BamaCentral is ranking the top 100 players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama over the course of the 2020 football season
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56] Ross Pierschbacher, OL

  • 2018 All-American
  • 2017 Second-team All-American
  • 2017 All-SEC (G); 2018 (C)
  • Fifth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft
  • Team captain
  • His 57 career starts, including eight in the College Football Playoff, is a record for position players at Alabama
  • Was a three-year starter at guard (42 starts) before switching to center as a senior.
  • Blocked for 31 100-yard rushing performances during career
  • As senior recorded 36 knockdown blocks and allowed only a single pressure while giving up just two sacks in 962 snaps

California, Alabama, Iowa, Florida and Kentucky.

It looks like a random selection of states, but it’s from where the Alabama Crimson Tide’s starting five on the offensive line hailed from during the 2018 season. Jonah Williams grew up in Georgia before his family moved west, but it’s still a geographical hodge-podge up front.

Yet that’s sort of the challenge with the position group every season, especially this one. Even with all the talent in the world, size, experience and everything coveted when it comes to blockers, the unit still has to gel.

There’s also no way of knowing how long it might take.

“That’s the position group that probably takes the longest, to be honest,” Ross Pierschbacher said while representing the Crimson Tide at SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “A lot of people don’t have the patience for it, but that’s a long, drawn-out journey.

“I don’t think there’s even a timetable for it.”

It can be a tricky thing, sort of like baking, because even with the best ingredients there’s no guarantee that everything will come out as expected.

Specific to this group, Alabama returned four starters and could have left things relatively stagnant during the offseason. After all, it did win the national championship in 2017. The only glaring hole was at center, plus the roster boasted six players trying to squeeze into the five essential roles.

Nevertheless, line coach Brent Key didn’t stay put and the shuffling began in the spring. There’s a reason why the players are listed on the roster as offensive linemen and not as tackle, guard or center because Williams was the only player to stay in the same spot, left tackle.

The first move was Pierschbacher going from left guard to center, a position he dabbled with a couple of years previous.

“Having guys being able to play multiple roles, if an injury comes along, some guys will have to fill in and play at a high level,” Pierschbacher said. “Even for NFL scouts, just showing that you can play more than one position can help you in the league, and yeah, you just have to able to play more than one position. So, having guys that can play multiple positions will really help us in the long run and create depth along the line.”

To give an idea of how important Nick Saban considered the center position he moved Barrett Jones there from left tackle the season after winning the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in college football. It’s the player who has to know every aspect of the offense and quickly make all the pre-snap adjustments.

To replace Pierschbacher at left guard, Lester Cotton Sr. switched from right guard. It’s a tougher transition then most would believe because everything’s coming from the opposite direction.

Finally, sophomores Jedrick Wills Jr., and Alex Leatherwood formed the right side of the line. Each spent part of fall camp working at both right tackle and right guard as coaches tried to find the best combination that would work best for the team as a whole.

“You can’t just assume just because a guy can play tackle that when he goes and play guard it’s not going to take some reps,” Saban said. “Things happen a little quicker inside and you have to be able to react a little better.”

57] Eddie Lacy, RB

  • 2012 All-SEC
  • Second round pick 2013 NFL Draft
  • As a junior had 1,322 rushing yards (6.5 average) and 19 total touchdowns
  • Had 2,402 career rushing yards, 338 receiving and 32 touchdowns
  • Rushed for a career-high 181 yards against Georgia in the 2012 SEC title game
  • Named offensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game after having 140 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving)

A Q&A with Eddie Lacy:

Like so many other football players, University of Alabama junior Eddie Lacy never really understood just how important a toe is to a running back, especially with how they have to push off to make a cut.

That is until he sustained a painful injury against Arkansas, which eventually led to surgery to have two screws inserted to straighten out his big toe. But that was after playing the rest of the 2011 season with the pain, and totaling 674 rushing yards on 96 carries and seven touchdowns, along with 11 receptions for 131 yards.

“It was basically like cocked in the air the whole time,” Lacy said.

“I’ve played the game a lot and whenever someone went down with a toe injury I was like, ‘Come on man, it’s just your toe.’ But I just went through it and obviously it was a lot more than just a little toe injury.”

At least he could smile about it after months of recovery.

Q: Is there a particular running back you want to play like?

“If I had to, I would pick Adrian Peterson.”

Q: How come?

“It's kind of because he's a tall back and I'm a tall back, too. They don't really have a lot of tall backs. only like five, six maybe, but for a tall running back, he's good to look up to.”

Q: Did Alabama’s history with running backs have anything to do with your decision to come here?

“Nah, just discipline. My mom liked Coach Saban right off the bat. I mean, he's very strict. So when she found that out, it was Alabama from there.”

Q: Do you need that strict discipline?

“Everybody needs a lot of discipline. And there's no better place than here to get it.”

Q: In Alabama’s offense, how important is it for the running backs to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield?

“It's very important. The offensive line, without them you can't get the ball off anyway. But they're very good up front and if all the receivers are covered downfield, we have to be open for the check down just to catch it and get a couple yards for the offense instead of taking a sack or incomplete pass.”

Q: Have you always been a good receiver?

“I think I've always been a pretty good receiver.”

Q: How much does it help the running game when the passing game gets hot?

“It makes it a lot easier. The defense, they can't put everybody in the box, they have to spread it out to cover the receivers, and it basically makes the holes easier, makes it easier for the linemen to block. It just makes everything a lot easier.”

Q: When you had to face the Crimson Tide defense every day, was there one guy in particular you hated to see?

“Jesse. I had to pick somebody, it’d be Jesse (Williams). I don’t think anyone wants to see Jesse. Big. Strong. Fast. Not too much you can do when he’s right in front of you.”

Q: You can’t spin away from him?

“No, there’s no spinning away from Jesse. If he’s there, he’s there. Just take it for what it is.”

Q: Some of your teammate say you’re the funniest guy on the team. Are you?

“I wouldn't say one of the funniest, because Christion Jones is actually one of the funniest dudes on the team, but I have my moments.”

Q: Do you like keeping things loose?

“It helps me out, actually. By me playing around, most of the time it actually helps me out throughout practice and things like that. It keeps my mood good.”

Q: How about impersonations?

“Nah, that's Christion. Impersonations, he can do anybody.”

Q: Like who?

“Coach (Bobby) Williams. That's his best one by far.”

Q: Which player was the most serious?

“Most serious … Nico (Johnson). Nico's the most serious. But I guess that just comes with the defense mentality. You have to be serious to play defense.

Q: Are offensive players funnier than defensive?

“Yeah, pretty much.”

58] Bradley Bozeman, OL

  • 2017 Second-team All-American
  • 2017 All-SEC
  • Sixth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft
  • Team captain
  • Made 31 career starts at center
  • Graded out at an average of 86.2 percent as a senior with 19 knockdown blocks, just eight missed assignments and six mental errors in 866 snaps (98.4 success rate). Allowed two sacks all season and four pressures

It was LSU, and if you’ve even been to a night game at the place they call Death Valley it means one thing in particular, noise.

The fans there are famous for it, especially when Alabama comes calling. So when the Crimson Tide had the ball and the game remained scoreless through three quarters, there was no letup from the hometown crowd until the very end.

“You can’t hear the guard beside you talk,” center Bradley Bozeman said about trying to make calls and adjustments before each snap. “It’s a lot more pointing and trying to mouth things to each other. It’s hard, but we got it done.”

While facing LSU can be nothing short of a massive test for Alabama in general, as the two schools crank out players to the National Football League better than any other program in the Southeastern Conference, it may be doubly so for the offensive line.

If the line does well against the Tigers, it can probably do likewise against any other opponent in college football. This particular group passed as the Crimson Tide took over the game in the second half and won going away, 10-0.

“Really proud of the offensive line for staying calm and getting the job done,” Bozeman said.

Although junior left tackle Cam Robinson was anything but calm afterward, as the Louisiana product was grinning from ear to ear after the game was finally over, the line has arguably seen the most improvement of any unit on the 2016 team.

It had been major concern through the spring and training camp, as Alabama had to find a replacement for three-year starter and Rimington Award winner Ryan Kelly at center, and at right tackle despite not having an heir apparent at either position.

Although Bozeman had some experience when filling in for Kelly, Alabama first tried sophomore Ross Pierschbacher, who earned Freshman All-American honors at left guard in 2015. He remained there all through training camp, but then Bozeman proved to be solid in the middle and Pierschbacher slid back to his regular spot.

Alabama played at Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU and had fewer penalties on the line as the season progressed despite the obvious noise issues.

“Bradley's probably been the key reason that that has not been an issue for us because he's been doing a really good job not only of doing his job but helping everybody else do their job better,” head coach Nick Saban said.

He ended up staying there through 2017, and after winning the national championship proposed to his girlfriend on the sideline. She said yes.

59] Ryan Anderson, LB

  • 2016 All-SEC
  • Second-round pick in 2017 NFL Draft
  • Came on strong late during his junior season, recording his 9.5 tackles for loss in his last 10 games
  • As a senior had 61 tackles, including a team-high 19.0 tackles for loss and nine sacks, with 10 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three pass breakups

Five things to know about Ryan Anderson:

- His Crimson Tide career got off to a rough start at Alabama. Anderson has been rated by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 19 overall player and the No. 1 linebacker in the signing class of 2012, although the consensus rankings had him as a 4-star player. Regardless, he redshirted in 2012 and got sent home from the national championship game in Miami for violating team rules.

- He nearly left Alabama after redshirting. Anderson thought about it, but it was mother who told him to stick with it and have patience. When he did, things started to click for him. "It was a culture shock for me," he said. "I had to do stuff that I was never asked to do before. At first, I was real stubborn about it, just being young, and that kind of railroaded me a little bit. I got in my own way."

- Anderson had a knack for forcing fumbles. Over his final two seasons, Anderson forced five fumbles and recovered five. Among those he forced were the one defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne recovered for a touchdown at Ole Miss, plus the fumble defensive lineman Jonathan Allen returned for a touchdown against Texas A &M.

- Anderson chose a terrific time to make his first career interception, the Peach Bowl semifinal against Washington when he picked off Jake Browning and returned it 26 yards into the end zone. The play just before halftime gave the Crimson Tide a 17-7 lead en route to a 24-7 victory. It was Alabama’s 11th defensive touchdown of the 2016 season.

- He had a cousin in the NFL. Anderson’s the second cousin of former Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry. Growing up in Daphne, Ala., he also lived down the street from a future Crimson Tide teammate, running back T.J. Yeldon.

60] Glen Coffee, RB

  • 2008 All-SEC
  • Third round pick in 2009 NFL Draft
  • As the full-time starter in 2008, had 1,383 rushing yards on 233 carries and 10 rushing touchdowns
  • His 218 rushing yards against Kentucky were the most by an Alabama running back since Shaun Alexander in 1996
  • Finished career with 410 carries for 2,107 rushing yards, 351 receiving and 16 touchdowns

Five things to know about Glen Coffee:

- He was recruited out of Fort Walton Beach, where during his senior season had 1,886 rushing yards rushing, 350 receiving and 29 total touchdowns.

- Coffee played one season in the NFL retiring from football in 2010. He instead joined the military and served as a specialist in the infantry.

- In 2017, Coffee attempted a comeback, but didn’t make it back to the NFL.

- Coffee returned to the University of Alabama to finish his college degree and joined the football staff as a running back assistant.

- Coffee co-authored a book with his father Glen Coffee Sr: There’s More to Life than the Pursuit of Money

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The Saban Top 100 will be revealed over the course of the 2020 football season. The series thus far:

Introduction

61-65: Greg McElroy, Josh Jacobs, Anfernee Jennings, James Carpenter, Kenyan Drake

66-70: Terrell Lewis, Blake Sims, Christian Miller, Irv Smith Jr,, Tim Williams

71-75: Mack Wilson, ArDarius Stewart, Deionte Thompson, Raekwon Davis, Jalston Fowler

76-80: Josh Chapman, Cyrus Jones, Kevin Norwood, Isaiah Buggs, Jake Coker

81-85: Bo Scarbrough, Anthony Averett, Leigh Tiffin, Ed Stinson, DeQuan Menzie

86-90: Jesse Williams, Shaun Dion Hamilton, William Vlachos, Da'Shawn Hand, Arie Kouandjio

91-95: Nico Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, DJ Hall, Vinnie Sunseri, Quinton Dial

96-100: Trey DePriest, Damion Square, Christion Jones, John Parker Wilson, Simeon Castille