This series continues to look at some of the positional questions we have for the various SEC teams. This will not be a look at positional battles per se, instead it will be focused on aspects of those positions from last year and question what we will see in 2017.
The skill positions on offense are done. We could skip straight to the defense, but missing out the offensive line seems like a huge oversight given their importance to the game. Here are three offensive line questions for the SEC West:
Will any line be better than Alabama?
It is tricky to project offensive line play sometimes because there are so many variables within the unit. All it takes is one player performing under their level – or just not developing chemistry with their line mates – for the whole thing to completely fall apart.
With that being said, it is hard to look past Alabama as the expected top offensive line in the West – and the entire conference – this fall.
The Crimson Tide returns only three of five starters, but two of them are on the preseason All-SEC first team. When you factor in that the Crimson Tide always has high-level recruits ready to go and that they will be blocking for a superior downhill runner in Bo Scarbrough, then you have a nice situation in Tuscaloosa.
Can Mississippi State rebuild quickly?
Attrition can hit an offensive line group quickly and when it hits, it hits really, really hard.
The Bulldogs offensive line quintet last years was one of the best in the entire SEC, but three of those players have moved on to actual life things. The result is just two starters return, but more than that is the lack of depth behind them. Mississippi State returns just 30 starts on its offensive line, meaning that players lower on the depth chart over the last couple of seasons are going to need to step up in a hurry.
Left tackle Martinas Rankin returns to anchor the Bulldogs line and he is one of the best at his position in the league. The team is also helped by the speed and strength of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and his dual-threat ability that has the opportunity to keep a regular pass rush at bay over the first month while this line figures itself out.
Which other group will step up?
It is a big mess after Alabama when trying to find the next offensive line that will step up and play consistently well against the best defenses in the conference. There are a number of possibilities here, but there is really nothing set in stone that would make you pick one over the other every single time.
The Auburn unit is getting a lot of hype this preseason, but it is hard to see where there play at tackle is going to come from. The quick release of Jarrett Stidham will help here. LSU is very much in the same boat as their interior line play looks set, but their tackle play has giant question marks.
Arkansas is a school that is renowned for its physical and effective offensive line play. Last year, however, the Hogs were just plain bad up front and couldn’t move the ball. This would seem to be the unit with the most room to grow – they have four starters returning and history on their side – but you wouldn’t want to bet on anything just yet.