Trench Warfare: Offensive and defensive lines prepare for battle on Saturday

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Trench Warfare: Offensive and defensive lines prepare for battle on Saturday

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

James Benedetto | @james_benedetto, Assistant Sports Editor

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The battle for state supremacy lies in the trenches.

But, instead of two powerful armies trudging into battle, it will be two dynamic lines that will look to assert their dominance in the 2019 version of the Iron Bowl.

The matchup will pit Alabama’s offensive line, which has allowed the seventh-fewest sacks in the country, against Auburn’s defensive line, which is ranked No. 18 in the country in run defense.

For the Crimson Tide, however, getting the offensive line to become one of the top groups in the nation this season has been a work in progress. With junior Deonte Brown suspended for the first four games of the season, the team had a gaping hole at right guard that needed to be filled. 

“I don’t think we had any problems anywhere,” redshirt junior center Landon Dickerson said. “I’ve said it a bunch of times: There is a standard when you get on the field, and whoever is in there needs to play at that standard. I think we’ve done that as we have switched starters around. If we put second-team guys in the game, they are going to compete at that standard.” 

Enter Dickerson, who filled in at right guard and then transitioned to center once Brown was cleared to return. With Dickerson at the helm, the offensive line has solidified into a figurative wall. Against Western Carolina, the Crimson Tide did not allow a sack or quarterback hurry.  

Over the summer, SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic praised the interior offensive linemen for being a good unit but said that the strength of the offensive line lies in the tackles. 

“I think [junior Jedrick Wills] is the best right tackle in college football,” Cubelic said. “When you watch him play the game, he does it the way it is supposed to be done. He is fun to watch. I think with [junior left tackle Alex Leatherwood], he is going to be a better tackle than he was a guard. He has a better feel for that type of movement.”

Cubelic, a former center at Auburn, understands the magnitude of playing a dominant defensive line of an in-state rival. Cubelic grew up in Homewood, Alabama, a 12-minute car ride to downtown Birmingham, where he witnessed his fair share of Alabama-Auburn games. He said that one of the most memorable games he ever played in was the last Iron Bowl at Legion Field in 1998. 

“Big-time football was played in that stadium,” Cubelic said. “I used to take the Max bus to Legion Field and walk around tailgates. I wasn’t an Alabama fan, but I used to just want to go be a part of that atmosphere … That upper deck said ‘Football Capital of the South,’ and that’s what that place meant to me. Whether it was state championship games, high school championship games, high school playoff games, bowl games, SEC championship games, Iron Bowls, Alabama-Tennessee … it was the football capital of the South.”

Cubelic said that a senior playing in his last Iron Bowl is a little more special, as it’s “the last one you always remember.” 

The Tigers defensive line relies on two seniors, defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive end Marlon Davidson

Brown and Davidson, who were both projected first-round picks in the NFL draft last season, decided to return for their senior season and have led the Tigers on defense. They have 8.0 and 11.5 tackles for loss, respectively, and are the top two on the team in sacks.

Davidson, who led the team in quarterback hurries a year ago, said he wanted to return to leave a more productive season this year.

“I’ve been tackling a dummy every day,” Davidson said with a smile at SEC Media Days in July. “That’s crazy, but I have been tackling a dummy every day and just trying to wrap up on the quarterback. I missed at least 12 sacks last year. It was heartbreaking, but you just have to bounce back and say, ‘Man, it’s a better opportunity this year.’”

With potential first-round draft picks lining up on both sides of the ball in this year’s Iron Bowl,  players on both teams seem motivated to enforce their will in the last game of the regular season.

“It is very important, you want to go out there and leave a first impression,” Davidson said. “You want to get off the ball. You want to tell them you are going to be there all day.”