No one at Alabama is dodging the issue. In Bama’s 35-10 season-opening win against Virginia Tech, the offense was not in mid-season form. And although the game plan appeared to be restricted – vanilla, in coach vernacular – and although there were blocks missed by backs and ends, the brunt of the criticism went to the offensive line.
It was a a self-fulfilling prophecy. Alabama had lost three starting offensive linemen to the NFL, two of them first-round draft choices, so there was no way the Crimson Tide’s 2013 line could be as good as the one that helped Bama to national championships in 2011 and 2012. That was the easy call in the Virginia Tech game.
Alabama had a bye Saturday and spent three days last week working on the mistakes of the opening game. The Tide spent the next two days starting to put in the game plan for this week’s game.
As all the college football world knows, this is the week the Crimson Tide goes to College Station to take on Texas A&M. Kickoff Saturday at Kyle Field will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with CBS televising the game.
Last year the Aggies, led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, defeated Alabama, 29-24, in Tuscaloosa. Bama was able to recover and go on to win the national championship.
This has been described as the Tide attempting to avenge last year’s loss to the Aggies.
But these are not the same teams.
Yes, A&M still has Johnny Manziel.
Alabama, however, doesn’t have offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, offensive guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones.
Tide Coach Nick Saban discussed the offensive line and the issues of communication and chemistry. He said, “The most important thing is communication because those guys really have to play together in terms of everything they do and how they going about doing it.
“Number two, sometimes even when there is communication they don’t trust in it, they don’t believe in it, they’re not sure of it, they’re not positive, they’re not confident. So then they play with a little apprehension.
“So those are definitely things that I think we need to do a better job of. We need to have faith, trust, and confidence in what we’re doing; but we need to communicate it and have trust in that, too, and in each other, so that we can all play with confidence.
“I think that’s going to take some time to develop, but I also think that we’re capable of doing it much better than we did.”
Ryan Kelly has taken over the most important vacated position on the offensive line, moving into the center spot where Barrett Jones won the Rimington Award last year as the nation’s best center.
Kelly, a 6-5, 290-pound sophomore, said, “I think we were always there on our assignments, but I think we let the first game and all the pressure kind of get to us a little bit. We got away from our fundamentals and what they teach us here and the details Coach Saban talks about. Our footwork and our hands.
“We played hard. We didn't always play physical at times. I think this week is very important because we get back to what Alabama offensive line is about and that's being physical and making the defensive line quit. I think that's what we're going to bring to Texas A&M.
“I don't care what anybody else tries to tell you, it's your first game starting and you're going to be nervous. But I think we started to open up a little bit at times. From the first game to the second game, it's going to be a bigger transition.”
Kelly said it was notable that after a 25-point win over Virginia Tech that “everyone was upset in the locker room and no one saying much.
“We’re 1-0 and that feels good, but we knew as a team afterward that we didn’t make them quit. We felt like they walked away with a sense that they didn’t let Alabama take control of them. I think that’s what everybody was disappointed about. We could have played a lot better than that, and we know we’re a better team.”
Kelly took his share of the responsibility. The center has to make a quick decision as he approaches the line and looks over the defense and communicates the blocking scheme to the other linemen. “There were points where I didn’t put the offensive line in the best situation to make plays,” he said.
“I think everybody on the offensive line and offensive team took a little responsibility. As an offense, that's who we are. Everybody's got each other's back. We just have to keep moving forward.”
Kelly gave credit to Virginia Tech for a well-designed defense. He also complimented the leadership of Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron. “AJ is the type of leader that isn’t going to blame the offensive line or one person,” Kelly said. “He trusts us the most even when everyone else is dogging us. He’s always a positive guy and that’s what we love him for.”
Kelly was asked about the down mood of the team after a 25-point win over a respected opponent. “I didn't really know what type of beast I was walking into, I guess,” said the Ohio native. “That's just how it is at Alabama. The standard has been set high by the guys before us.”