TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though there’s still a week left of spring practices, it’s beginning to look like the University of Alabama football team might have only one big unsettled spot heading into the summer: the right side of the offensive line.
That doesn’t mean that all the other starting jobs are fixed, far from it. Competition will continue across the board, but there currently appears to be more experimentation at right guard and right tackle than anywhere else.
Sophomore Matt Womack (6-foot-7, 326 pounds) had been at right tackle, but on Wednesday the coaches opted for junior Lester Cotton (6-4, 324). Both Chris Owens and Deonte Brown have worked at right guard this week.
Said Nick Saban after last Saturday’s scrimmage: “Those guys have been a pretty solid group so far, but again, if I was going to be specific, I think pass protection is something that we really need to improve on, being more physical in the running game and getting more movement up front are the things that I would say not just today but all spring long that we really want to emphasize with those players.”
Because of depth, Alabama has the luxury of trying numerous combinations in search of the right one, while the left side appears to be set with Jonah Williams at left tackle after switching over from right tackle, Ross Pierschbacher at left guard and Bradley Bozeman at center.
“Overall, Boze and I and Lester, all of us have experience and work well with each other,” Williams said. “I think there’s chemistry there. Communication wasn’t a problem at all.”
How Alabama lines up for the second scrimmage Friday might shed some light on who has the edge, as will A-Day next week, but the player to watch may not take reps with the first unit this spring. Early enrollee Alex Leatherwood (6-6, 327) has quietly moved up to second team at right tackle.
Here are some other things we learned this week:
- Defensive end Isaiah Buggs, a junior college transfer Alabama hoped would land at least a rotation spot this season, appears to be well on his way of doing just that. “He’s always working hard,” junior defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne said. “He looks good,” sophomore left tackle Jonah Williams said.
- Both Cam Sims and the players in the secondary disclosed to reporters this week that the senior wide receiver has been mostly working out of the slot. At 6-5, that makes him a pretty big option in the interior, almost like a tight end. “He has good height, good size, you can throw a jump ball,” senior cornerback Anthony Averett said. “It’s a good mismatch.” Freshman Chadarius Townsend is still listed as a running back, but he too has been working as a slot receiver this spring.
- Receptions out of the backfield may be something we’ll see more of this season, as Alabama tries taking advantage of its depth at running back. “All those guys are guys who can make a contribution to our team and we’re looking for ways that we can use them,” Saban said after last week’s scrimmage, along with, “the backs had quite a few catches.” Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs tied for the receptions lead among running backs with 14 last season. Bo Scarbrough had 4.
- Count Sims among those impressed with Najee Harris so far, and not just because he hurdled a defender during last week’s scrimmage. “Big backs that know how to run, that know how to move,” Sims said about Harris and fellow early enrollee Brian Robinson. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s like Derrick Henry.”
- Trevon Diggs at cornerback might not be called an experiment for much longer. Listed at 6-2, 195 pounds, Diggs could have more long-term upside at the position, where most top NFL prospects are in the 5-10 to 6-1 range, and wide receivers keep getting bigger. “He really amazes me every day in practice,” Sims said. “He works. He makes me better. I make him better. Just like Tony Brown.”
- At this point it would be surprising to see any of the injured players participate in either Friday’s scrimmage or A-Day. Scarbrough (broken right leg), running back B.J. Emmons (broken foot), linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton (torn right ACL) and defensive back Jared Mayden (hip) have been wearing black no-contact jerseys all spring.
- Crimson Tide baseball coach Greg Goff told reporters this week that Keith Holcombe will have shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum after A-Day. He played in 13 baseball games this season, with 10 starts, and hit .250. Holcombe has been with the football team all spring while taking reps in Hamilton’s interior linebacker spot alongside Rashaan Evans.
- Teammates say another former 5-star prospect who’s been as good as advertised so far is wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. “He’s very good,” Averett said. “He’s similar to Calvin (Ridley), they’re very similar.” When someone suggested they almost might be clones, the cornerback responded: “That’s just it. It’s like you said, it’s like two clones. Having both of them on both sides is definitely going to be a problem for any defense. I definitely compare him to Calvin.”