Alabama’s O-line is No. 1


LITTLE ROCK — Every time a lengthy watch list is released for another of the position-specific college football awards, it is dismissed as filler material.

How significant can it be if one-third or more of the teams in the country are represented by a quarterback, wide receiver, running back, tight end, defensive back, or linebacker? That’s the excuse for not reviewing the 50-plus centers on the Rimington Trophy watch list.

Come to find out, Alabama’s Barrett Jones is on there and that is news because the announcement was made before Jones played a snap at center. A fifth-year senior, Jones was a left tackle — the position manned by the highest paid offensive linemen in the NFL — for the BCS champion in 2011 and he did his job well enough to win the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in college football.

Moving to center for the good of the team and staying in Tuscaloosa because of a love for Alabama football go hand in hand. Besides, the NFL draft comes around again in April and he is of the opinion that the better the Crimson Tide does, the more his already high draft stock will improve.

Jones moved from tackle to make room for Cyrus Kouandjio, considered the No. 1 high school tackle in the country when he signed with Alabama. As a true freshman last year, he played quite a bit as a reserve left tackle until he was injured against Tennessee.

For the record, Kouandjio is 6-6, 311, right tackle D.J. Fluker is 6-6, 335, and Jones is 6-4, 305. The guards are 6-3, 320-pound Chance Warmack and 6-3, 303-pound Anthony Steen. Add 6-6, 269-pound tight end Michael Williams, who has started more than two dozen games, and you have the best offensive line in college football.

Kudos for the group are handed out because we have heard for months that Arkansas’ front four is the best the Razorbacks have had in years. We’re getting ready to find out.

If Byran Jones, DeQuinta Jones, Robert Thomas, Alfred Davis, Trey Flowers, Chris Smith, and company can’t man their gaps on Saturday, Alabama will run the Razorbacks out of the stadium. Even if the up-front guys do well, the seven behind them will be hard-pressed to handle Alabama’s offense that is more diverse with the addition of the I formation. During the first quarter of the rout of Michigan, Alabama netted 89 yards from the seven times it lined up in the power running formation.

In the afterglow of Arkansas’ Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State, many fans proclaimed that the December hiring of defensive coordinator Paul Haynes was the panacea for the Razorback defense. They did not want to hear that the defense could zero in on quarterback Collin Klein because the Wildcats did not have other playmakers. They also assumed that Jake Bequette, Jerry Franklin, Jerico Nelson and Tramain Thomas could be replaced without missing a beat.

Franklin, Nelson, Thomas, and Tenarius Wright — the defensive end turned linebacker — were four of the six leading tacklers against the Wildcats and Bequette is on the the New England Patriots’ roster. Nelson is on New Orleans’ practice squad. Franklin and Thomas played in the NFL preseason before being cut. That is a decent collection of talent.

On CBSSports.com, you will not find a current Razorback among the top two dozen defensive tackle prospects in the NFL draft. Learning on the go, Wright is the No. 17 inside linebacker, and Alonzo Highsmith is the No. 21 outside linebacker. Neither is expected to be drafted in the first five rounds.

Piling on the woes, Arkansas’ best cornerback, Tevin Mitchel, is out this week. Darius Winston and fifth-year senior walk-on Kaelon Kelleybrew are expected to start at corner.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron is equipped to take advantage.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.