University of Alabama

Bradley Bozeman steady at center for Tide

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, looking back toward the bench, huddles with the offense during the second half against Tennessee on Oct. 15 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, looking back toward the bench, huddles with the offense during the second half against Tennessee on Oct. 15 in Knoxville, Tenn. Associated Press

Even normally tight-lipped Bradley Bozeman had a bit of a laugh when he heard the question.

The Alabama center was mistakenly asked what he would tell his grandchildren in 10 years about his time playing with the Crimson Tide. Bozeman, a redshirt junior, has plenty of time before his grand-parenting days. However, given his leadership and the experience he brings to Alabama’s offensive line, it’s easy to overshoot Bozeman’s age.

After redshirting his freshman season, Bozeman played in nine games in his second year with the program, making two starts for injured center Ryan Kelly. Last season, he played behind Kelly, as the senior went on to win the Rimington Award before being drafted No. 18 overall in the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

In his first year as a regular starter for the Tide, Bozeman continued to see change, as he spent most of the preseason working at right guard before making the switch to center before the season opener against Southern California. Now, serving as the rock of Alabama’s ever-changing offensive line, that experience has paid off for both Bozeman and the Tide.

“I’ve waited my time, and I’ve been from center to guard to tackle,” Bozeman said. “I know all the positions inside and out, so it’s really helped me mature as a center and I just knowing what they all have to do, to execute what they have to do, and putting them in the best situations that I can put them in to execute that block.”

Bozeman has remained at center but has seen the rest of the interior offensive line shift around him. Ross Pierschbacher, who spent the preseason at center before switching with Bozeman to right guard, later moved to left guard to open up a spot for last year’s starting right guard, Alphonse Taylor.

Taylor, who was suspended to start the season, earned his first start of the season against Ole Miss in Week 3 but has not played for the Tide since sustaining a concussion against Arkansas in Week 6. That opened the door for Lester Cotton to take Taylor’s place at right guard. However, Cotton was limited with a concussion during last week’s win against Mississippi State, giving the start to Korren Kirven, who subbed in and out with Josh Casher at right guard.

Bozeman said he is confident playing alongside anyone on Alabama’s offensive line. While the “next-man-up” attitude has always been a motto for the Tide, having so many new combinations requires extra focus in practice as the line looks to build chemistry with one another. That’s where having an experienced voice like Bozeman comes in handy.

“You know you have to find your fit, and you figure what works for them, and for them what works with me or the rest of the offensive line,” Bozeman said. “We just have to get the job done.”

The offensive line might continue to shift in the future, as Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn’t sound optimistic during his Monday news conference when asked about Taylor’s ability to return to the team this season.

“I think that's a medical decision,” Saban said. “I am not assuming that he's going to come back. It would be a bonus if he did. I don't think he will, based on the amount of time that we've had, so it's something that we're still evaluating but it's something that we're not counting on.”

Cotton played sparingly in a reserve role last week and practiced at right tackle on the Tide’s second team offensive line on Tuesday. If he is unable to go again this week, Alabama has confidence in what it saw from Kirven last week. Kirven, a redshirt senior, made his first-ever start last week after switching from defensive line to offensive line his junior season. Bozeman credited Kirven on his patience despite not playing early in his career and said the senior has always done his job for the team whether on or off the field.

We’ve always known if we ever needed someone to step up, he’d be the guy,” Bozeman said. “But that is how our whole offensive line is and everybody is pushing to get a job. That is what we are here for, to play.”

Despite the injuries, last week was a banner day for Alabama’s offensive line. The Tide racked up 615 yards against Mississippi State and provide protection, allowing quarterback Jalen Hurts to become the first Alabama player to throw for more than 300 yards while rushing for 100 in the same game.

That’s an accomplishment Bozeman can share with his grandchildren one day, however long from now that might be.

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