Analysis: Tide has lot to replace at offensive line, tight end
by Mark Edwards
Mar 12, 2013 | 3569 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TUSCALOOSA — With spring practice beginning Saturday at Alabama, this is a good time to break down what the defending national champion returns at each position.

Today, we’ll look at the offensive line and tight ends. While those usually aren’t the most star-studded positions on a football team, the Crimson Tide must replace the bulk of its starting lineup at those spots. In addition, the players who are gone were some of the team’s strongest leaders and personalities.

Offensive line ready for spring: Anthony Steen, senior; Kellen Williams, senior; Cyrus Kouandjio, junior; Arie Kouandjio, junior; Austin Shepherd, junior; Leon Brown, junior; Chad Lindsay, junior; Isaac Luatua, sophomore; Ryan Kelly, sophomore; Brandon Greene, redshirt freshman; Alphonse Taylor, redshirt freshman; Caleb Gulledge, redshirt freshman; Brandon Hill, freshman.

Offensive lineman coming in the fall: Grant Hill, freshman.

Tight ends ready for spring: Brian Vogler, junior; Harrison Jones, junior; Malcolm Faciane, sophomore; Kurt Freitag, redshirt freshman; O.J. Howard, freshman.

Tight ends coming in the fall: None.

Outlook: On the offensive front, Alabama returns two steady starters in right guard Steen and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. It’s possible Steen could move to left guard, where Chance Warmack was a starter for three years before heading to the NFL.

Last season, Kouandjio proved himself a star in his first year as a starter, and Steen developed into a solid blocker, too, after struggling at times as a spot starter in 2010.

Those two are reliable, experienced and should compete for postseason individual honors. Now, all Alabama has to do otherwise is replace three All-Americans.

Warmack, center Barrett Jones and right tackle D.J. Fluker made life just a little easier for quarterback AJ McCarron, and even though they’re gone to the NFL, Alabama isn’t destitute on the line.

Kelly is set as the center. Jones raved about him last year when Kelly was a redshirt freshman. If Jones hadn’t been able to play in the BCS National Championship Game because of the foot injury he endured, Kelly could’ve stepped in and handled the job.

At the guard spot opposite Steen, Lindsay and Arie Kouandjio will battle for the job. Lindsay backed up Warmack at left guard while Arie Kouandjio was the backup at right guard, although he has played on both the left and right sides and has experience at tackle, too.

The only thing that has stopped him from being as good as his younger brother is surgery on both knees. If he stays healthy, it seems likely Alabama will have a brother combo on the first team.

Shepherd backed up Fluker, but keep an eye on Brown, who spent two years in junior college at ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y. Brown enrolled in time to go through spring practice, and usually, junior college guys aren’t brought in to sit on the bench.

At tight end, underrated Brian Vogler should inherit the starting job left open by Michael Williams’ graduation. The 6-foot-7 Vogler showed last season he can be a dominating blocker. Just ask Georgia. The Bulldogs didn’t enjoy facing him in the SEC Championship Game, and afterward, Nick Saban named Vogler as one of the top performers in the Tide’s win.

He has only three catches in his college career but came out of high school with a reputation of having good hands. He should get more chances to catch passes in 2013.

Don’t be surprised if Vogler turns out to be just as good as Williams, if not better.

Howard, a 6-6 freshman who began classes in January, will get a good look as a pass-catching tight end, too. Harrison Jones got playing time in 17 games in the last two years and will be part of the picture, as well. He is Barrett Jones’ younger brother.

Alabama sometimes uses three tight ends in its run packages. Faciane, who played in seven games last season, and Freitag will compete for playing time in those formations.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.

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