Offensive line shines in spring game

Kevin Connell

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Few players stood out as individuals in Alabama’s annual A-Day scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, but one particular group did as a whole.

After losing three-fifths of last season’s offensive line this offseason, Alabama’s new front five proved it may not be a weakness after all heading into next season.

Joining veterans Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen, the three newest starters – center Ryan Kelly, left guard Arie Kouandjio and right tackle Austin Shepherd – helped pave the way to running back T.J. Yeldon’s second straight Dixie Howell Most Valuable Player of the Game award.

“The offensive line has done a really good job all spring,” head coach Nick Saban said in his postgame press conference. “I think Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio have done a really good job from a leadership standpoint. Ryan Kelly has played well all spring long. He got a lot of experience last year, which I think was helpful to him. Arie Kouandjio had a really good spring. Austin Shepherd had a really good spring. … We need to continue to try to develop more players at that position, but I’m pleased with the progress that that group has made.”

Although the group played well in a winning effort for the White team, it was Kelly who was recognized among them. The rising sophomore was given the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the A-Day Game Award for his efforts.

Despite facing the daunting task of replacing former All-American Barrett Jones, Kelly’s performance was not particularly surprising for quarterback AJ McCarron.

“I messed with Barrett last year when Barrett was out for a little bit because of injury,” McCarron said. “During practice me and Kelly were with each other, I always told him that Kelly snapped better than him.”

Led by Kelly and the rest of the offensive line, the Crimson Tide helped open the holes for Yeldon’s go-ahead 7-yard touchdown with 1:04 to go in the fourth quarter.

The touchdown not only won the game for the White, but it symbolized a point made prominent throughout the spring, especially for the Tide’s new offensive line.

“The big emphasis on this year’s spring [team] was to finish and be resilient,” he said. “Towards the end of the spring, you saw the change in our program, just in this team alone. It’s obviously going to be hard, but that’s how college football is.”

Even with an impressive showing, Kelly said he and the rest of the offensive line must continue to compete and improve as a group.

“From the start to [now], you can obviously see a change in camaraderie,” he said. “At first, everyone’s really competing for a position. Competition makes your team better, so obviously after today I think we can see that there’s a little bit of holes, but everyone’s working really hard to do the best they can.”