Only one season-long starter graduated. Expect more of the same, right? Sure. Well, almost.
The departure of center William Vlachos and left tackle Barrett Jones’ shift two spots right complicates the transition slightly. Four starters return, but only three are in the same spot they were in a year ago.
There are still advantages to the new alignment. Size tops the list.
Swapping the 6-foot-1, 294-pound Vlachos for the 6-6, 322-pound left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio gives this unit a little more curb appeal. The five starters average 6 feet, 5.2 inches and 316.4 pounds. By comparison, Stack.com reported the average offensive lineman at the 2011 NFL combine stood 6-4 and weighed 311.5 pounds.
“We have good size on the offensive line, but I think we’re very athletic in the offensive line,” Saban said. “I think we have a chance to have a really good offensive line. … We have how many games started by the guys that we have back, and Cyrus did play a significant amount last year as a freshman.”
The four who return have combined to start 95 games while the other seven offensive positions have a collective 42 starts.
Kouandjio played in each of the first eight games as a true freshman before tearing his ACL late in the win over Tennessee. Conditioning is his biggest issue at this point, Saban said.
But his neighbor on the line said his intelligence makes up for any recovery side effects.
“Cyrus is a very, very interesting player in terms of increasing his level of play in short periods of time,” left guard Chance Warmack said. “Like he’ll have something that he needs to learn one game, one practice, and he’ll get it (snaps fingers) so fast that you’ll forget you even taught him something. So he’s picking it up so quick, it’s amazing.”
And, yeah, he’s big. Kouandjio is an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than his left-tackle predecessor Jones.
Defensive lineman Jesse Williams said his counterparts look like the cast from “The Longest Yard,” when he digs in.
On the opposite bookend from Kouandjio is right tackle 335-pound D.J. Fluker. He’s even bigger than Kouandjio, but 15 pounds lighter than his listed weight as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
Fluker’s 22 percent body fat “is pretty good for an offensive lineman,” the senior said, “especially a tackle.”
And that plays right into Saban’s point about size.
“Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be athletic,” he said. “And just because you’re little doesn’t mean you are.”
There’s also a continuity factor with veterans in place and a year to learn positional coach Jeff Stoutland’s style.
And that’s a brash and fire-branded with a voice heard clear across campus during practice.
“Coach Stoutland brings a lot of intensity to the table in terms of getting the offensive line as a whole to just be physical,” Warmack said. “That’s the main thing that he tries to coach is physicality, up front, personal, smash-mouth football. I love that about him. He’s going to get it all out of you. I have a greater respect for the man because I understand what he’s trying to get.”
There are still a few kinks to work out before the 2 p.m. Saturday A-Day Game and the Sept. 1 season opener with Michigan.
Jones, the most experienced player with 36 starts, is after all learning his third position in three seasons. His challenges are basic ones.
“Just snapping the ball and blocking,” Jones said. “I mean, it sounds simple, but it just takes a while to get in that rhythm. You’re not used to that. You’re used to just the whole time worrying about what you’re doing. It’s not quite second nature yet to me, snapping. But I’ll get there.”