BamaOnLine.com takes a look ahead at the Crimson Tide's offensive line.
After more than holding his own as a first-year starter, Cyrus Kouandjio will rank among college football's elite linemen in 2013.
In the mix: Tackle: 79 Austin Shepherd (Jr.); Kellen Williams (Sr.); 58 Brandon Greene (rFr.). Guard: 77 Arie Kouandjio (Jr.); 78 Chad Lindsay (Jr.); 68 Isaac Luatua (So.); 50 Alphonse Taylor (rFr.); 74 Caleb Gulledge (rFr.). Center: 70 Ryan Kelly (So.).
January enrollees: T Leon Brown; T Brandon Hill.
See ya in the summer: G Grant Hill.
Did you know? When Warmack, Fluker and Jones are selected in next month's NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide will have had seven offensive linemen taken in the last five drafts, with the trio joining James Carpenter, Mike Johnson, Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell as UA draftees since 2008 ... In Jones' four seasons as a starter, Alabama compiled an overall mark of 49-5 and won three national titles ... Between them, Jones, Warmack and Fluker combined to make 136 career starts ... Spearheaded by the top line in college football, the Alabama offense averaged 227.5 rushing yards per game in 2012, the most by any unit in the Nick Saban era at UA ... The 3,185 yards UA rolled up on the ground last season were the most by a Saban team and marked the second time the Crimson Tide eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark in his six seasons at the helm ... It comes as no surprise that Saban's top three rushing teams (2012, 2009 and 2011) at Alabama all won national crowns.
The big question: Assuming Kelly is the answer at center, how will the left guard and right tackle positions shake out? While there are a number of candidates at guard, including a couple who have also worked at tackle, Fluker's old spot will likely come down to Shepherd and junior college transfer Brown.
Time to make a move: For veterans like Shepherd and Arie Kouandjio, both of whom are entering their fourth year in the program, the opportunity to start won't be any better for either than it is right now.
Best of the bunch: While UA must replace three NFL caliber linemen, it welcomes back a pair of future pros in Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio. Overshadowed by Warmack the past few seasons, Steen will likely test better for NFL scouts in a year's time. As for Kouandjio, even an ACL injury sustained in 2011 won't keep the true junior from being a three-and-out performer.
Biggest upside: Cyrus Kouandjio combines size and athleticism to rank among the elite at a position of great value. Seemed to be at his best in 2012 when the competition was the toughest. If Alabama and South Carolina both make it to Atlanta, we could get a matchup of the top two picks -- Jadeveon Clowney and Kouandjio -- for the 2014 NFL Draft. Amazing when you consider neither player will have reached his twenty-first birthday by season's end.
Don't be shocked if: Given the attrition up front, those running lanes Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon raced through against Georgia and Notre Dame probably won't be as frequent or wide in 2013. Between Warmack and Fluker, UA must replace two of the most dominant run blockers the SEC has ever seen at their respective positions. In addition to replacing their collective talent, it will take some time to develop the kind of continuity we saw from the previous group.
Lest we forget: With Mario Cristobal taking over from Jeff Stoutland as offensive line coach, this group will be working with its third different boss in four years. The last time UA underwent a change at the position, the Crimson Tide ran off consecutive national titles. Other than that, expectations will be rather moderate for the newest staff addition.
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