Alabama's Tide have options to replace line stars

Alabama's Tide have options to replace line stars

January 8th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama offensive linesman Barrett Jones

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

MIAMI - Alabama played for a final time Monday night with All-America senior center Barrett Jones and All-America senior left guard Chance Warmack.

Junior right tackle D.J. Fluker, a second-team All-American, is expected to forgo his final year of eligibility, leaving the Crimson Tide with a new look up front for their 2013 opener against Virginia Tech at the Georgia Dome. Sophomore left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and junior right guard Anthony Steen will be the lone proven commodities.

"I'm obviously going to miss everybody and playing beside these guys, but moving on is a part of life," Steen said. "I think we'll be fine next year. We've just got to get the chemistry like we do right now."

Steen played some left guard as a freshman but has grown comfortable on the right side. When the Crimson Tide collected most of their 350 rushing yards in the second half of the SEC championship game, they ran behind Steen and Fluker most of the time.

An immediate projection for next season's line could have Kouandjio (6-foot-6, 311 pounds) at left tackle, older brother Arie Kouandjio (6-5, 310) at left guard, Ryan Kelly (6-5, 288) at center, Steen (6-3, 303) at right guard and Austin Shephard (6-5, 312) at right tackle. The right tackle also could come from the 2013 signing class.

The Kouandjios last started together in 2009, when Arie was the left tackle and Cyrus the right tackle for DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md.

"If Arie starts at left guard next to me, then it's going to be a lockdown on the left side," Cyrus said. "I can tell you that right now. It's going to be a no-fly zone, because nothing is coming around that side. That's also where the ball is going to be run to 100 percent of the time.

"We are going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Arie entered Monday's game having played in 10 of the Tide's 13 games this season. In 2011, both brothers suffered season-ending knee injuries.

"We've had a lot of good times together, and we've had a lot of rough times together with injuries," Arie said. "We push each other a lot, and I can't wait for us to have the chance to play next to each other. I couldn't think of anything better."

Center has become one of Alabama's most consistently successful positions under coach Nick Saban, leaving Kelly with a substantial challenge. Jones leaves as the most decorated lineman in school history, and he moved to center last spring to replace William Vlachos, who was a three-year starter and an All-SEC pick in 2011.

Kelly entered Monday having played in nine games this season as a redshirt freshman.

"To take the role of center for Alabama will be really special, and I am obviously going to work my tail off to not let anybody down," Kelly said. "I've been here two years and have things down pretty well, but it's just a complex offense. At the SEC level, there are so many defenses they can throw at you, so just knowing something from memory is so important."