University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban wanted to see improvement in his offensive line from week one to week two. After reviewing the unit’s performance against Duke, he saw some of the struggles as scheme-related, both a credit to Duke’s game plan in addition to the realities of run-pass options and how they impact the position.
He also saw some one-on-one battles that the team needs to win.
Alabama tried a new offensive line combination in its 62-10 win over New Mexico State: Landon Dickerson moved from right guard to center, replacing Chris Owens, and Matt Womack replaced Dickerson at right guard, while Alex Leatherwood (left tackle), Evan Neal (left guard) and Jedrick Wills Jr. (right tackle) stayed in place. Saban is adamant the new configuration was merely a product of injury, but he continues to challenge the unit for more.
“Well Chris Owens was out of the game, and so was Emil (Ekiyor Jr.). Chris Owens is the starting center and Emil is the backup center, so Dickerson is the third center,” Saban said. “So if the first two guys are out, just basic math says the third guy’s got to play, right?
“I think we still got to work on being able to run the ball a little more efficiently and effectively. I think it was better today. They did a lot of stunting, they were bringing the Star a lot for a lot of five-man pressures to stop the run. But still, we got to be able to block those things and run the ball effectively.”
Alabama has plenty of options to explore in that pursuit.
As Saban said, “I think I made the statement that I thought we had seven guys that were starters on the offensive line, that we felt good about, and we had to play with five today,” and those seven (when healthy) can be configured in a number of ways.
UA had Neal and Ekiyor listed as potential starters at left guard, Owens or Dickerson as potential starting centers and Dickerson and Womack listed as potential starting right guards. Alabama has used two combinations in as many games and still has the return of Deonte Brown to look forward to when he returns from his four-game suspension.
His insertion at left guard was a crucial one for UA midway through last season before his suspension for the entire College Football Playoff and the first four games of 2019.
For now, UA is lucky to have Florida State transfer Dickerson, who played mostly guard and tackle at FSU but slide to center for the New Mexico State game and did so well.
“Wherever I’m needed is where I feel good at,” Dickerson said.
“I just tried to bring energy. That’s one thing, is just being positive and bringing some energy out on the field. That’s one thing I think can help a team get through some adversity at times, and that’s what I want to be: I want to be someone that can steady out the highs and the lows and keep everybody good.”
Positional flexibility — and the continuous practice of it — is not uncommon, to the point that it is unlikely to be what holds UA back from elite offensive line play. What remains to be seen is how Brown impacts the equation when he becomes eligible, if he immediately inserts into the lineup and at which position. While UA waits for that day and it fallout, Dickerson doesn’t see the current shuffling as an extra impediment.
“I think every year you have that growth phase where even in camp it’s going to be hard to tell how people are going to react in a game,” Dickerson said. “This is still a learning phase for all of us, learning how everybody plays, how everybody reacts, that kind of deal. I think this week we took a step forward from last week and I just want to see improvement and growth every week, especially with the O-line coming together no matter who’s out there.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or email@example.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson.