TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — He drove his pickup truck to SEC Media Days earlier this month. That alone describes just about everything you’d want to know about Alabama football center Bradley Bozeman.
Only not in the way you’d think.
Sure, Bozeman’s from the small town of Roanoke in the rural eastern part of the state — population about 6,000 and shrinking. In addition to being a “yes sir,” and “no ma’am” kind of guy, he’s tough and dependable, as the Crimson Tide’s starting offensive linemen tend to be.
But his eventual destination that day wasn’t the upscale Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, where the only thing brighter than the lights of the television cameras were the sports personalities that annually congregate prior to the start of each football season.
No, Bozeman was looking forward to visiting a lakeside house a couple hours from campus, where the Alabama offensive linemen had their own getaway to “chill.”
“It’s all about the chemistry,” he said.
That and a lot of food.
When Alabama opens training camp Thursday, the talk surrounding the offense will primarily be about the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, the development of second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts, and the numerous playmakers at the running back and wide receiver positions. The focus on the line will be on the right side, where one final starter must be found among numerous massive candidates.
Very little will be said about Bozeman, who has become a rock-steady presence in the middle, and a crucial foundation of a potentially top-notch offense.
Center is one of those positions in which having a returning starter is considered a huge plus, a luxury Alabama didn’t have a year ago when it also was breaking in a new quarterback. The plan was to slide Ross Pierschbacher over from left guard following his Freshman All-America season, in part to have at least one established player in the middle somewhere.
But Bozeman won the job late in training camp.
Alabama calls the position the “command center.” Not only must the center be a technician in order to stand up against some of the best defensive tackles and nose guards in the game, but he’s the one who has to immediately read the defense and call out adjustments prior to each snap. That was another overlooked challenge last season, as Hurts played almost exclusively out of the shotgun to take advantage of his running ability.
“We have to protect him,” Bozeman said. “That’s the job. Everyone has to do their job.”
Overall, center has been a big-time strength for the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban, with Antoine Caldwell, William Vlachos, Barrett Jones and Ryan Kelly having all been up for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s best center.
Jones (2012) and Kelly (2015) won the award, making Alabama the only program to produce multiple winners in the past decade. Saban’s the coach to have three players honored, with Ben Wilkerson at LSU (2004).
Since Jones moved from left tackle after winning the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman, Alabama has had a center as big as its guards and tackles. That can help the unit’s overall effectiveness. Bozeman is listed at 6-foot-5 and 314 pounds, and he actually lost 5 pounds from a year ago.
“He’s one of those guys that’s always going hard,” junior defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said in the spring.
Few noticed during those 15 practices that Bozeman was one of the players who improved the most, which was especially telling considering he started all 15 games last season. While the new additions to the roster and speculation about a potential quarterback competition that didn’t really exist drew the most attention, he was putting in extra work every day.
Weight room, film room, whatever it took.
“You name it,” he said. “I feel like I had a strong spring and I just wanted to better myself for my team.”
The thing is, Bozeman’s job as the starting center may have been as secure as any on the Crimson Tide roster. Or as he put it: “Hopefully I’m set in a kind of concrete position.”
In the preseason voting for All-SEC at media days, Bozeman was tabbed as the second-team selection behind Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow. At the end of last season, Pro Football Focus had Bozeman listed as its second-team All-American, behind only the Razorbacks’ converted guard.
They might be the two best centers in college, but because there are so few stats involved with offensive linemen, one’s reputation is considered crucial, which means Ragnow has the inside track on the major individual awards.
Nevertheless, Bozeman has been grinding away, which reflects both his status on the team and why he landed one of the Crimson Tide’s biggest spring honors — the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award — along with defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. It’s not a coincidence that they were two of the three players to represent the Crimson Tide at media days.
“We just have to push our group,” Bozeman said. “You have to become more vocal, and whenever you feel uncomfortable you have to make yourself more comfortable in it. Just pushing your guys, being there. Do what’s right.”
That’s the kind of thing you’ll regularly hear from Bozeman, who has fully embraced the idea of being a team leader on and off the field.
With the coaching staff split up for A-Day, Daboll directed questions about the offensive line to his center, who never hesitated with an answer. Bozeman calls offensive line coach Brent Key “very straight-up — he’s going to tell it exactly like he is.”
Bozeman follows suit. Consider what he said when asked if he agreed with Saban’s statement that Alabama seemed to lose its edge between the SEC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff games last season:
“It’s all about the little things,” Bozeman said. “The little things separate you from scoring touchdowns and kicking field goals. It’s part of the process. You have to do what you can to correct it, regardless of if you don’t want to or not.
“We have to stay strong in our leadership. Our leadership can’t waiver.”
Or when asked about running back Josh Jacobs, and how tough it might be for him to regularly contribute in a backfield boasting so much talent.
“He’s one of our backs who competes like crazy. All of our backs push the envelope. You hear me say push the envelope a lot, but that’s how it is. If you’re on our team, that’s what you have to do to get a starting role.
“If you don’t, you get left in the dust.”
Part of how he carries himself stems from being the only senior on the offensive line. Part of it is his position and following some pretty good players. And part of it comes from his coaches.
But the rest is him.
“I just want to play my best,” Bozeman said. “Don’t give up a sack. Don’t give up a hurry. That’s really the big goal for me — playing my best and whatever happens, happens.”
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) July 12, 2017