Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Alabama still searching for right combo
By Chris Low
Most of the news coming out of Alabama’s A-Day spring game last weekend centered around the fact that A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims are apparently dead even in the race for the starting quarterback job.
There’s some talk that they may even split snaps next season.
I still think McCarron will be the guy, although props go out to Sims for making it a legitimate race.
Clearly, Alabama has two guys at that position the team feels it can win with, and that’s always a luxury in this league.
To me, though, the bigger story coming out of the spring centers around who’s going to be protecting the quarterback’s blind side.
All-SEC offensive lineman Barrett Jones has worked at guard and left tackle this spring.
Barrett Jones, a first-team All-SEC selection at guard last season, played left tackle in the spring game after working there some the final week of practice.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said it was only an experiment and that the Crimson Tide would continue to search for their best combination up front.
The 6-foot-5, 311-pound Jones is the best offensive lineman on Alabama’s team and more than held his own against Courtney Upshaw last Saturday. For what it’s worth, Upshaw will be one of the best pass-rushers in the league next season.
But moving Jones means you shake up the interior of that offensive line, an interior that was experienced and seemingly set with senior William Vlachos at center, junior Chance Warmack at left guard and Jones at right guard.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Jones will be an All-SEC player no matter where Alabama elects to play him up front. Whether he moves out to left tackle full time probably has more to do with sophomore Anthony Steen’s continued development at right guard. Steen is coming off a solid spring.
Nobody’s giving up on the two guys who went into the spring battling for the left tackle job, either. Junior college newcomer Aaron Douglas and senior Alfred McCullough shared snaps at left tackle for much of the spring.
But Douglas, weighing in the 280-pound range, still needs to bulk up some, and McCullough wound up playing most of the spring game at guard.
Here’s the other thing: If both players are made of the right stuff, they’ll view this as a challenge, have a great summer and come back during preseason camp determined to keep Jones at guard.
“When we make these kind of moves, we do it with the idea that it could help the quality of our offensive line,” Saban said. “But we also evaluate whether that’s really happening. Is it really better that way?”
That’s what Saban & Co. hope to find out after evaluating how the new-look line performed in the spring game and seeing how certain players develop this summer.
It’s always nice to have options up front, and it’s also wise to cross-train players in the spring.
Ultimately, though, the offensive line is all about continuity and getting it done as a unit.
The Crimson Tide will be looking to find that same chemistry up front in the fall that carried them to a national championship in 2009.