Alabama recruiting: Tide beefs up its offensive line
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Feb 04, 2014 | 2332 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Inconsistent might be the best word to describe Alabama’s offensive line play in 2013. The Crimson Tide started off slow, gained some momentum during the middle of the season, but never reached its potential or lived up to the expectations created by the dominant line in 2012.

As a result, Alabama has made offensive line one of its biggest points of emphasis for the 2014 recruiting cycle, which culminates with National Signing Day today. The Tide is expected to bring in six offensive linemen.

This class features the nation’s top offensive tackle, top center and top junior college offensive tackle.

The Crimson Tide hasn’t pulled in an offensive line class this highly touted since 2009, when James Carpenter, D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen all choose Tuscaloosa as the place to spend their college careers. They were four of seven offensive linemen Alabama signed that year, the most during Nick Saban’s tenure as the Tide’s head coach.

Carpenter, Fluker and Warmack went on to become first-round NFL draft picks, while Steen is expected to be drafted in May.

“In terms of needs, I thought it was really important that we get some big guys with long arms that could play on the edges on the offensive line,” Saban said during his 2009 signing day news conference.

Expect a similar message when the Tide signs this batch of lineman today.

Next season, the Tide will have to replace Steen, a starting guard, and All-America left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who is bypassing his senior season for the draft. But early contributors may be found in this crop of talent.

The class is headlined by the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle, Cameron Robinson, who is from West Monroe, La. He is a consensus five-star prospect and the No. 4 overall player in the 2014 cycle, according to 247Sports Composite rankings.

At 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds, Robinson is considered a can’t-miss prospect, and the Tide was able to lure him away from home-state LSU. He was one of eight early enrollees who began classes at Alabama in January. With Kouandjio leaving early, Robinson is expected to compete for the starting job immediately.

“Cam has rare feet, and he’s a special guy in terms of being able to move at his size,” 247Sports national recruiting director JC Shurburtt said. “He’s not Cyrus. Cyrus came out of high school and looked like he was going to line up and play power forward for the Golden State Warriors. Cam is a bigger kid. He’s going to have to reshape a little bit and get into the conditioning.

“Enrolling early is a big advantage for him. He’ll have those spring practices and that semester to adjust to college and workouts.”

But if Robinson isn’t quite ready by the start of the season, there may be another behemoth in this class who could provide an instant fix.

At 6-7 and 304 pounds, Dominick Jackson ranks as the No. 2 junior college prospect and the No. 1 junior college offensive tackle, according to 247Sports Composite rankings.

Jackson attended the College of San Mateo in California and will have two years of eligibility remaining once he arrives at Alabama for the fall semester.

“Cam’s got the potential, but if you asked me who has a better chance of starting Day One, I’d say Dominick does,” Shurburtt said. “He’s a tough, athletic tackle that has NFL written all over him, provided he comes in and develops as he should.”

Jackson has the ability to play both guard and tackle. Following his second official visit to Tuscaloosa, Jackson told 247Sports he discussed his future position with Saban.

“He said that I could play either guard or tackle, but the big money is at tackle -- the further from the ball, the more money,” Jackson told the website. “I told him I will play wherever he wants me to play as long as I get to contribute and be a part of the team.”

Jackson’s situation is similar to Carpenter’s, who arrived at Alabama in 2009 following a stint in junior college. Carpenter started at left tackle after first-round draft choice Andre Smith left following the 2008 season.

Two of overshadowed players in the class are St. Paul’s center Josh Casher and Plant City, Fla., guard Montel McBride. At 6-1, 297 pounds, Casher is the No. 2 center nationally, according to 247Sports Composite rankings.

“Joshua Casher should be a multi-year contributor along the interior line,” 247Sports national recruiting analyst Kipp Adams said. “He is one of the nastiest blockers I have seen in this class.”

Shurburtt said they’re both physical enough they could have been defensive linemen. At 6-4, 329 pounds, McBride has drawn comparisons to Warmack, who also was a three-star prospect coming out of high school.

Then there are the two Midwest players: Ross Pierschbacher and J.C. Hassenauer. Pierschbacher is a four-star prospect out of Cedar Falls, Iowa. At 6-4, 290 pounds, Pierschbacher has the size and athleticism to play both guard and tackle, bringing versatility to the class.

Hassenauer is a four-star prospect from St. Paul, Minn. At 6-2, 292 pounds, Hassenauer is the nation’s top center. Shurburtt called both Pierschbacher and Hassenauer a “couple of brawlers.”

“The South obviously puts out more recruits and high-level players, but the Midwest puts out more linemen,” Shurburtt said. “And you go to Minnesota and Iowa and get two linemen with the last names Hassenauer and Pierschbacher, who are physical and nasty on film. That could be a legendary duo for the Alabama’s offensive line for years to come.”

Adams said Alabama is bringing in a top offensive line class.

“Tough to declare it as the best offensive line class of all-time,” Adams said. “That will be determined four years from now. But the six offensive linemen Alabama is bringing in look to all have All-SEC potential, and it would not surprise me to see all of them playing on Sundays. It is that good of a group.”
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