Is Kendall Randolph one answer? Is JC Latham another?
A surface look at the offensive tackles who worked with Alabama’s first-team offense in Saturday’s annual A-Day scrimmage would suggest not.
A deeper one, however, reveals all sorts of reasons why it’s far too soon for Alabama fans to press any panic buttons about what was Alabama’s most crucial competition of the spring. The Crimson Tide’s 15 spring practices wrapped up at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and it doesn’t take a football savant to know that protecting the edges of the pocket for a returning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback is paramount, especially in an era of college football that more than ever demands efficiency in the passing game.
If Alabama’s championship hopes for 2022 are to stay upright, Bryce Young must stay upright as well.
That’s easy math.
The harder math – calculating who will man the all-important tackle spots in the fall, and how they’ll perform in doing so – wasn’t settled or solved on Saturday. Randolph and Latham played well enough in the spring to compete with the first team in scrimmages, including at Saturday’s public unveiling, with Randolph on the left side and Latham on the right. That’s about the only part of the equation that’s clear, along with more confirmation that the Crimson Tide’s pass rush could be downright ferocious in the fall.
The first-team defense was all over Young in a scrimmage where the touch of a pass rusher’s hand was all it took for a sack and a whistle. The White-team pass rush, mostly with edge pressure, notched 10 of those touch-sacks against the first-team offense. On one second-quarter drive in particular, star linebacker Will Anderson Jr. notched two sacks over a three-play stretch with a quick move around Randolph, followed by a power move.
From a pass protection standpoint, it was a mighty tough day for the tackles. At the same time, it’s foolish to come to much of a conclusion about Alabama’s strength at that position in mid-April.
Drop the best of Alabama’s edge rushers – Anderson, Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell – into any spring scrimmage in America and you’ll see struggling tackles. Randolph and Latham, to be sure, regularly face a test in practice that’s final-exam-level hard. UA coach Nick Saban made mention of the big difference the experience of the defensive front seven made for the White team, which won 25-7 and featured the first-team defense.
Saban also noted the lack of offensive nuance in a scrimmage setting, which made things even harder on the line’s pass protection.
“When you play in a game like this, you limit what you do on offense. You’ve really got no way to chip (block) the edges, you’ve got no way to help the tackles because of the limited amount of things you’re doing offensively,” Saban said. “If we have to help guys, we can help guys in pass protection. But that wasn’t the purpose of the game today. It was to evaluate what guys can do.”
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When fall camp arrives, interior linemen Emil Ekiyor and Darrian Dalcourt figure to be healthy, and their presence alone could give the UA coaching staff a chance for a more extended look at the versatility UA’s guards have at tackle. Add to that Tyler Steen, the incoming transfer from Vanderbilt, and there’s plenty more to be said at the tackle position before the Crimson Tide takes the field for its season opener against Utah State on Sept. 3.
If Randolph can hold that competition off on the left side, he could cap his Alabama career with a remarkable finish. Approaching his sixth year at Alabama, he didn’t see the field until his third season; and when he did, he split time between tackle and tight end. That’s quite a departure from the typical path of top-shelf tackle recruits – from Jonah Williams to Alex Leatherwood to Evan Neal – who manned the left tackle spot since Randolph’s career began.
Latham, as a former five-star recruit, is taking the more trodden path to a starting role, but his lack of game experience is something that can only be overcome with time.
Alabama might well be dealing with offensive tackle problems this fall.
But A-Day wasn’t judgment day.
Reach Chase Goodbread @[email protected] Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.