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February 4, 2014

Nation's best offensive line class tips the scales

Collectively they weigh 1,854 pounds, they being the six offensive linemen slated to sign letters of intent with the University of Alabama Wednesday.

That's a scary proposition for the wallet of the future Alabama starting quarterback, who traditionally feeds his linemen one night a week during the season. It would be wise for whomever wins the position to start stocking up on red meat now.

It's an impressive allotment of talent, those six whom comprise the Crimson Tide's 2014 offensive line class, which is a large part of the reason why the Crimson Tide has a stranglehold on the nation's top-ranked class yet again. Alabama is projected to land the No. 1-ranked class in the nation before today's National Signing Day activity is over.

Some have described UA's expected haul as the best recruiting class ever, at least on paper. Led by the big guys up front, the 2014 class is awe-inspiring even judging by Alabama's elite standards.

They hail from six states, two from the Midwest, and one each from Alabama, California, Florida and Louisiana, and each seems bigger than the last.

There's 6-foot-6, 320-pound tackle Cameron Robinson, a five-star rated player ranked No. 1 at his position. Then take a look at Dominick Jackson, a 6-foot-7, 312-pound guard from the College of San Mateo in California, a two-year school. Jackson will arrive as a junior with two years of remaining eligibility.

All told, Alabama's committed linemen average 309 pounds a man. They range in height from a couple of players pushing 6-foot-7 down to nearly 6-foot.

"When you look at this class, to me, the contrast in size is kind of interesting," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "You've got a couple of dudes that are pure tackles and then you've got some shorter scrapers in the middle. So I think it's a good mix of interior talent with guys who can play center and then guys that can play guard or tackle. I think it's a really good balance of talent."

Thirty years ago the UA roster didn't have a single player listed at 300 pounds, and the largest player on the 1984 team was listed at 281. The smallest member of the 2014 offensive line class weighs 295.

It is part of a trend of larger, faster and more athletic big men in college football.

"I think it was probably right around 2006. That's when I started to notice these kids were huge," Farrell said. "I remember being at a combine and seeing this kid, who was about 300 pounds, running about a 4.7 40 (yard dash). That's when things started to flip and I'm like these kids are not only huge but they're athletic as heck. I saw Cam Robinson and it didn't shock me at all. I was like, 'Hey, there's a 6-7 320-pound high school kid who looks 30 years old.' Honestly, it really didn't faze me what so ever."

The smallest of the group is the only one from the state of Alabama. Joshua Casher from St. Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile is listed at 6-1, 295 pounds. But don't let his size fool you. He's as nasty and effective as guys much larger. He does it with superior technique.

"He's a tough kid. He's not tall, but he plays with such good leverage that he can steer guys where they need to be," Farrell said. "I think he surprises people. They line up against him and these big defensive tackles, who have two or three inches on him and probably 20 to 30 pounds, they think they're just going to run over him. And when he anchors he's hard to move. When he gets into you and gets below your pads he's moving you where you don't want to be moved.

"I've seen some undersized centers in college football just dominate people with good technique, and that's what he has."

Six offensive linemen is the second-most UA head coach Nick Saban has signed in a single class at UA, behind 2010's seven-member class. That group might be hard to top in terms of talent, producing three first-round NFL Draft selections in Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and James Carpenter. That class also included guard Anthony Steen, who is a lock to be drafted in May, and reserve Kellen Williams.

In terms of potential, though, this group at least stacks up at this stage of their careers. Four four-star linemen join the crown jewel of the class, Robinson, a five-star tackle from West Monroe, La.

"The size certainly stands out with Cam," Farrell said. "The strength, if he gets his hands on you he's going to engulf you. He's got quick feet for a big guy. The things he needs to work on are just the simple things: technique, getting out of your stance.

"You want to talk about raw, Cameron Robinson is raw. When you see him line up at a right tackle spot at the Under Armour (All-American Game) with his left hand down and the coaches are correcting his stance, this kid is just scratching the surface of learning how to be an offensive tackle. He's got the feet, he's got the length, he's got the size, he's got the strength, but he needs to be coached. And Alabama coaches coach kids up better than anybody else, I think."

Prying Robinson out of the Pelican State and from the grips of LSU was the major coup of the 2014 class. It is notoriously difficult for any out-of-state program to grab a player away from Louisiana, but Alabama has had recent success there as evidenced by snaring Kenny Bell, Denzell Devall and Landon Collins in the past, and the Monroe trio of Robinson, Cameron Sims and Laurence "Hootie" Jones in this class.

Robinson cited his friendship with Sims and his relationship with the UA coaching staff as major reasons why he chose the Crimson Tide.

"Alabama is a great program. Every time I was able to get down to Tuscaloosa, I was able to sit down and talk to coach (Nick) Saban, coach (Billy) Napier, coach (Mario) Cristobal," Robinson said. "I just developed a really strong relationship with them. That's what I truly based my decision off of, how comfortable I felt while I was there."

With the early departure of Cyrus Kouandjio, Robinson is expected to compete for the vacant spot at left tackle, although that's a tall order for a true freshman.

"I have extremely high expectations for myself," he said. "I plan on coming in and working hard and hopefully competing for a job as a freshman."

Napier, Alabama's wide receivers coach, was key in Robinson's recruitment, as was offensive line coach Cristobal, who left quite the impression as a recruiter in his first class at UA.

"You look at where these kids are from and you can tell Mario's, obviously, a very good recruiter," Farrell said. "He's a guy who's been a good recruiter pretty much every where he's gone. He's got head coaching experience. They got kids from California, Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana and then in-state. It just shows Mario can sell Alabama on a national level. I think any of the coaches there can do that. But I will tell you this, going to Iowa and flipping a kid (Ross Pierschbacher) from the Hawkeyes, going into Big Ten county and pulling a kid like (J.C.) Hassenauer down and going into Louisiana and pulling a kid away from LSU, those things are not easy. They take a lot of work."

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Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or 205.722.0229.

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