SEC Country is breaking down each of Alabama’s position groups before the entire 2016 roster reports to campus.
Monday, we take a closer look at the Crimson Tide’s offensive line, a group that suffered the loss of All-American center Ryan Kelly.
Names you need to know: Cam Robinson (junior tackle), Ross Pierschbacher (sophomore guard/center), Alphonse Taylor (senior guard), Jonah Williams (freshman tackle), Brandon Kennedy (freshman guard), Korren Kirven (senior tackle), Lester Cotton (sophomore guard), Brandon Greene (senior tackle), Dallas Warmack (sophomore guard), Bradley Bozeman (junior guard) and Richie Petitbon (freshman guard).
The O-line made national headlines last week when five-star junior-college transfer Charles Baldwin was booted off the team “for a violation of team rules,” according to coach Nick Saban.
While Baldwin was a major talent, his departure likely won’t make a big impact on this year’s group of linemen, which includes a trio of returning starters in Robinson, Pierschbacher and Taylor (former center Ryan Kelly and tackle Dominick Jackson are both in the NFL now).
Robinson, who missed all of spring ball with a shoulder injury, is the most talented of the bunch, with several 2017 mock drafts listing him as a top-10 selection.
“Derrick Henry didn’t run for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns all by himself last season,” SanDiegoUnionTribune.com’s Eddie Brown wrote, while projecting Robinson as the No. 4 overall pick earlier this month. “The 6-foot-6, 327-pound junior has excellent size and showed great improvement.”
Pierschbacher is perhaps the most valuable player on this year’s unit. He started most of last season at guard, but will get every chance to become Kelly’s full-time successor at center in 2016.
The staff gave him plenty of reps in the middle this spring, and Pierschbacher started there on the first-team offensive line during the A-Day scrimmage. Crimson Tide coaches voted him the winner of the Paul Crane Offensive Lineman Award for his work in March and April.
Perhaps the most interesting battle will be at guard, where Taylor — an NFL-worthy talent — conceded his starting spot to Kennedy this spring.
Saban specifically called Taylor out for his weight (he’s 20 pounds heavier than last season) during the post-scrimmage press conference on A-Day. He started all 15 games for the Tide last season, and it would be surprising if he were not the starter at right guard on opening day.
Kennedy, Cotton and a trio of other players will likely duke it out for the other spot.
Key question: Can two of last season’s most important players — Robinson and Taylor — be healthy and fit, respectively, throughout the season?
Bottom line: There’s plenty of talent back from last year, and while the loss of Kelly is significant, it also is not a death knell for a unit that has plenty of potential.