Offensive line working to reload after losing key starters


CW/ Hannah Saad

Cody Estremera, Sports Editor

Even with the disappointing finish to its season offensively, Alabama’s 2018 football season was the best in program history.

Led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his gaggle of weapons, the Crimson Tide set records in most yards gained (7,830), yards per game (522), touchdowns (92) and scoring (684 points). Tagovailoa also set Alabama records in passing yards and touchdowns.

But the players that are usually left out of the spotlight are the offensive line.

Alabama’s 2018 offensive line was pretty good to say the least, finishing as a finalist for the Joe Moore Award finalist, an award given to the best offensive lines in the country.

Before its playoff run, the Crimson Tide’s front had allowed a sack on 3.4 of drop-backs and allowing a negative run just 11% of the time, according to the Joe Moore website. It finished with 15 sacks allowed all season, which tied for eighth in the country with one sack allowed per game.

Now, Alabama has to retool the line, as it brings back only two players from the offensive line that started against Louisville.

Both Ross Pierschbacher and Lester Cotton graduated, while Jonah Williams left after three years to pursue a career in the NFL. During the spring, Alex Leatherwood transitioned from right guard to left tackle, his spot coming out of high school.

“I feel like [Leatherwood’s] a really good offensive tackle as well as offensive guard, but I feel like he’s back in his domain playing left tackle,” right tackle Jedrick Wills said earlier in the spring.

With Leatherwood making that transition to the outside, Alabama needed to fill the middle of the line before the end of the spring.

It starts in the middle with center Chris Owens. Owens has been the starting center for most of the spring and was the backup center last year behind Pierschbacher. But just as much of a problem as it was last year on defense, depth is a big concern.

“Center is issue,” coach Nick Saban said. “Owens has done a good job there, but we need to develop the depth and consistency there.”

The depth is coming, as Saban signed five offensive linemen in the 2019 recruiting class, two of whom were five-star recruits and in the top-7 at their positions, and two from the 2018 recruiting class.

One of the two from the 2018 class is working his way into the first-team line, as Emil Ekiyor, who was the No. 1 center in his class, is working as a left guard. The other guard is manned by redshirt senior Matt Womack, who missed part of last year with a foot injury and wasn’t able to break back into the starting group.

“He knows everything that’s going on, knows the ins and outs of everything, and I feel like just for him to step up and give his knowledge of what’s actually happening is helpful not only to me, but the younger guys and everybody else around there,” Wills said.

Alabama also has Deionte Brown, who is suspended for the first four games of the season, at guard. The redshirt junior started five games during the middle of last year.

Alongside three new starters, Alabama needed a new offensive line coach once Brent Key went to his alma mater, Georgia Tech. Saban replaced him with Kyle Flood, who coached with the Atlanta Falcons and Rutgers.

Saban says the transition has been ”seamless,” and Wills agrees.

“He’s a great teacher, knows a lot about the game, a whole lot of experience,” Wills said. “Just trying to feed off him as much as we can.”

While the transition to a new coach has been easy, the second spring scrimmage brought trouble. Wills left the scrimmage early with a high ankle sprain.

“We don’t know the extent of the injury,” Saban said after the scrimmage. “We’re doing an MRI. He didn’t come back – we didn’t expect him to come back. We wouldn’t let him come back. So, we’ll see what the deal is when we do our MRI and all that probably on Monday.”

According to, the MRI came back normal, and Wills will miss the rest of the spring but should be healthy in a couple of weeks.