Crimson Tide filling gaps on offensive line

Alabama looks to fix communication problem from last year

Anniston StarMarch 23, 2014 

LSU Alabama Football

FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2011, file photo, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (10) looks for a receiver as offensive linesman Anthony Steen (61) blocks in the first half of an NCAA college football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Second-ranked Alabama are slated to host No. 1 LSU on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

DAVE MARTIN — AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- New year, similar story for Alabama's offensive line.

The Crimson Tide heads into the 2014 season with two open spots along the line.

Anthony Steen's graduation and Cyrus Kouandjio's early departure for the NFL have left vacancies at right guard and left tackle.

So once again, the Tide's offensive line has to fill holes and chemistry to gain before the season begins. That process starts in the spring.

"It's a little bit different, yeah, anytime you lose guys like Cyrus and Steen in the fall," junior center Ryan Kelly said. "It's just different playing with new guys. But obviously here that's something we've been pretty successful in reproducing. This is a big spring. A lot of guys rotating, just kind of getting the camaraderie. They had to adjust to it when I came in there, too. The older guys (have) to be understanding that the young guys are still learning. But also demanding if they run with the 1s, that's how they have to play."

Through four practices, the first offensive line group has featured the three returners with Kelly at center, senior Arie Kouandjio at left guard and senior Austin Shepherd at right guard. Joining those three are Leon Brown at left tackle and Alphonse Taylor at right guard

Brown, a senior, played in nine games and started one. A former junior college star, Brown was recruited to play tackle, but made his lone start at right guard in place of Steen during the Sugar Bowl.

Taylor, a junior, saw time in eight games last season. Listed at 6-foot-5, 328 pounds, Taylor is a massive human being who is light on his feet.

"If you look at how big he is, he's actually really athletic -- can bend really well and he's got a lot of power," Kelly said of Taylor. "Another young guy, doesn't have a whole lot of experience, obviously, playing games. But I think this spring's going to be really big for him. It's only day three and he's doing a lot of good things. We've just got to keep him rotating with the 1s and getting acclimated to the speed of it."

Another player who could factor into next season's rotation is freshman Cam Robinson. Robinson was the nation's top prep offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting cycle. He's been working with the second or third group during the media's viewing period. Kelly said Robinson "has a lot of ability."

"He's a big guy, can bend really well, long arms," Kelly said. "Obviously he came into an offense where we kind of transitioning into a new style or new plays, stuff like that. So he never really learned the old one. Anytime you're coming from high school to college it's going to take a while to kind of get acclimated to it. Older guys have been helping him along the way, kind of showing him the ropes, because it can be eye-opening at times, coming from high school to college."

Alabama's biggest issue among the offensive line was its lack of communication. It was a recurring problem from week to week and the Tide never seemed to build any consistency along the line. But the Tide is making changes to avoid that this season.

"All 11 guys have to be on the same page," Kelly said. "That's why those meetings are so important. Especially, it starts with the offensive line. One of the things we're trying to emphasize is get up to the ball, get down, get set. Last year, look at it, we were running the clock down to five, four seconds every time. The faster that we can get to the line, get set, let the quarterback look at what he's got to look at, the more time we can have and we're not rushing to make calls last-minute."

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