Alabama is the new O-line U
Penn State is known as Linebacker U. USC and Notre Dame fans argue about which school really is Quarterback U. And Wisconsin and USC have great OL traditions, but under Nick Saban, Alabama is now truly Offensive Line U. The Crimson Tide have produced six All-Americans and seven drafted offensive linemen, including four first-round selections, over the past seven years. That total should increase after this May's draft as tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is expected to be selected in the first round.
Impressive indeed, but what's scary is Alabama's future looks brighter than ever, thanks to the six offensive line recruits heading to Tuscaloosa as part of the Class of 2014. With a little more than three weeks to signing day, the Crimson Tide have commitments from three linemen ranked No. 1 at their positions and two more ranked in the top three at their positions.
It's a remarkable group that Alabama fans are calling the best offensive line class assembled -- ever. But Tide fans aren't the only ones recognizing this group as elite. Recruiting analysts across the country have gushed about the group and even rival coaches recognize this is a special group.
"A case of the rich getting richer," one SEC coach said. "We recruited a lot of those guys, so we know how good they are. In the past, Alabama would always recruit one or two elite linemen and the others would be pretty good. This class, they're all the cream of the crop. It's complete. I don't know if you can say it's the best ever until they get on the field and play, but on paper this is the best line class I have ever seen."
The Tide have been great at offensive tackle since Saban arrived. The run started with Andre Smith, an All-American and first-round draft pick, and continued with first-round pick James Carpenter and first-team All-American and first-round pick D.J. Fluker. Kouandjio was an All-American this season, and Cameron Robinson, the nation's No. 3 player and top-ranked offensive tackle in the 2014 class from West Monroe (La.) High School, is next in line. Robinson, who is joined in the class by top-ranked juco offensive tackle Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo), knows there's pressure on him to carry on the tackle tradition under Saban. The pressure was actually something that drew him to Alabama in the first place.
"There's an expectation that few other places have," Robinson said. "I didn't want to go someplace and have zero expectations. I always thought I thrived on stress, and being an offensive tackle at Alabama, there is plenty of it."
The interior prospects aren't too shabby, either. Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls) is the No. 3 offensive guard, Josh Casher (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul's Episcopal) is the top-ranked center, J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge) is the second-best center and Montel McBride (Plant City, Fla./Plant City) ranks in the top 30 at guard.
"The pieces seem to naturally fit together," Casher said. "You have your tackles. You have your centers and guards. You look at how everything lines up, and it's just like, 'This really could be a great, great offensive line.' I look at the offensive line that had Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker, and I want us to be if not better than them up to that caliber. I think we can be at that level or even better. To be honest, I think we have a chance to do it."
Great offensive lines have their own unique identity and personality. Somebody needs to fill the role of the enforcer. Somebody has to be the leader. Somebody has to be the one who keeps everybody's spirits up. It takes hours upon hours of practice and hanging out with each other to form those relationships, so when they're on the field they work in perfect concert with each other.
The linemen heading to Alabama know these things, and that's why they've taken it upon themselves to already start working hard on building those bonds. They hung out with each other this past weekend while on their official visits to Tuscaloosa, spent time together while on unofficial visits and use social media and text messages to stay in contact. Robinson, Pierschbacher, Casher and Hassenauer were together almost every second during Under Armour All-America Game week.
"Everybody has just hit it off together," Casher said. "I met Cam Robinson at the Under Armour Game, but he was a cool guy and it was like we were best friends forever. J.C. is cool. Ross is cool. Everybody gets along really well. Somebody was taking pictures of us all together down in Orlando, and it was really cool because we were already bonding. We'll go into practices with friendships already formed."
The line recruits said they picked the Crimson Tide basically for the same reason -- Alabama's style of play on offense.
"They help you get NFL ready, as far as the strength program and the resources they have," Pierschbacher said. "Coach Saban, what he puts you through, he just gets you prepared. I think that's really big for recruits -- getting you prepared for maybe the NFL or just life in general. I think all of us that committed recognize that and were attracted to it."
So is this the best offensive line class ever assembled?
Robinson raised his eyebrows at the question and said it's best to judge years down the road. Casher, Pierschbacher and Hassenauer admitted they've thought about the topic and aren't shying away from the stress that comes with talking openly about it.
"There is a huge sense of pride being an Alabama offensive line recruit," Casher said. "The Alabama linemen all have this mental toughness and the physical toughness, and I know from talking to every one of these guys and watching them work on film, we have some of those same characteristics.
"To say you play offensive line for the University of Alabama really means something. And I don't think any of us are going to shy away from the label as being the best ever."