TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Before this spring, Alabama offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher had only played center for a “day or two” during camp his freshman year in Tuscaloosa.
But with three-year starter Ryan Kelly moving on to the NFL, Alabama’s coaching staff decided to get a little creative.
“I talked to Coach (Nick) Saban during our individual player meetings at the end of the season, and he asked what I thought about (playing center),” Pierschbacher said Wednesday. “I said I was open to whatever helped the team out. That was that.”
Pierschbacher, a four-star prospect from the Tide’s 2014 recruiting class, has been working at center through the first three practices of spring. Pierschbacher and rising junior J.C. Hassenauer are two of the main competitors at the position. Hassenauer, who played in seven games as a sophomore, served as Kelly’s backup last season. Pierschbacher, an Iowa native, started all 15 games at left guard last season.
“It’s been a little bit different,” Pierschbacher said of the switch. “I’m embracing the change of wherever the team needs me. I think they are trying out some new stuff in spring and seeing which guys fit where. I’m just working to try to make the team better and each day I’m learning new stuff. It’s a good challenge.”
Teammate Dalvin Tomlinson, one of the Tide’s top returning defensive lineman, lines up against Pierschbacher in practice.
“It was weird to me because I always see him as a guard,” Tomlinson said. “Every now and then, I am supposed to be in the three technique and (I think) he’s the guard, so I’ll end up at nose guard on accident. He has been doing pretty good. I’ll wait the rest of the spring and see how that goes.”
Alabama traditionally experiments with moving players around during the spring, and most offensive linemen are required to learn multiple positions for depth purposes.
While Pierschbacher doesn’t have much experience at center, he did get the next best thing. Pierschbacher had the opportunity to learn from Kelly for a full season.
“Just playing 15 games next to him, you see the looks he’s looking at and how he’s calling it and gain some experience from that,” Pierschbacher said. “I think that helps going into another year. All those guys on the team saw what he did day in and day out. He left a big mark on this program.”
When asked about the move, Saban said he believes Pierschbacher has all of the tools to be a successful center. Now it’s about getting him some experience at the position.
“Quickness, moving feet, balance and body control are really assets of being a good center,” Saban said. “Playing with power is somewhere in there. So we have several guys on our team that we said. ‘We’re going to look at these guys at center.’ And we want to know if we have other people besides J.C. — some of the guys who have played center here that could play in the fall because that will give us the best opportunity to put our best five offensive linemen on the field, whether they’re playing tackle, guard or center. We feel like Ross has those attributes as a player. So he was a natural to take a look at that position.”