The Alabama Crimson Tide are less than a week away from kicking off the 2016 season against the USC Trojans in suburban Dallas. With new starters taking the reins at quarterback and running back, the Crimson Tide will have to rely on a strong performance from its offensive line in the early season to smooth the transition for the fresh faces in the backfield.
Amid some controversy, the star returnee of Alabama’s front five is junior left tackle Cam Robinson. Despite taking a step back in his sophomore season, he was named to the ESPN Preseason All-America Team.
Robinson’s future with Alabama briefly came into question over the offseason, when he was arrested on drug and weapon charges that were eventually dropped by the prosecution. Despite several injuries that have nagged him throughout the past two years, Robinson has still been able to start every game of his Alabama career. In 2016, Robinson will serve as the anchor for Alabama’s offensive line. He will be expected to open up the run game on the left side while also protecting the blind spot for the Tide’s yet-to-be-named starting quarterback.
Even though Robinson is one of three returning starters from the 2015 offensive line, he could end up being the only of the three to play in the same position as a year ago. Ross Pierschbacher, who started at left guard as a redshirt freshman last season, made a strong enough impression to hold a starting sport on the O-line, but will likely play at a different position during the upcoming season.
During the spring and for most of the fall camp, Pierschbacher had reportedly been working on shifting to center to replace last year’s Outland Award winner Ryan Kelly. However, according to BamaOnline’s Charlie Potter, Pierschbacher has most recently been working at right guard.
In switching to right guard, Pierschbacher traded places with Bradley Bozeman, who has played in spot duty and provided injury relief at various positions on the offensive line. The relatively last-minute switch to center could mean Bozeman finally has a starting spot locked down after multiple seasons as a backup.
Pierschbacher’s experimentation at other positions has left an open spot at left guard, which appears to have been filled by Lester Cotton. He has essentially gone wire-to-wire from spring practice until now, working with the first-team offense at left guard.
If Pierschbacher is permanently moved to right guard, it could be in an effort to improve the side of the offensive line that was noticeably weaker than the left a year ago. The question then becomes who will join Pierschbacher on the right side of the line at tackle.
In the effort to replace Dominick Jackson at that position, the Crimson Tide appear to be turning to a true freshman in Jonah Williams. He enrolled early in January and almost immediately made a case to earn a starting job. He handled the majority of reps with the first team during the A-Day scrimmage. Through fall camp, his stranglehold on the position appears to have only gotten stronger. If Williams does in fact become the starter at right tackle, Alabama fans will hope he can replicate the success Robinson had in 2014, when he started at left tackle as a true freshman.
Some of Alabama’s most dominant teams during the Nick Saban era have been the ones that were able to dominate at the line of scrimmage and in the trenches. The blend of proven experience and young talent on the offensive line will give the Crimson Tide a chance to be one of those dominant teams.