Alabama Football: Why Right Tackle Should Be Nick Saban's Biggest Worry

Ian BergCorrespondent IMay 28, 2013

Sep 15, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Austin Shepherd (79) - Ryan Kelly (70) - Chad Lindsay (78) and Kellen Williams (63) during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Alabama defeated Arkansas 52-0. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Crimson Tide are restocking talent all over the offense and defense, but one position that has Nick Saban staying late is right tackle.

Alabama is replacing three starters along the line with Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack departing for the NFL. There are answers at center and guard, but right tackle remains a tossup.

Battling on the right this spring were Austin Shepherd, Leon Brown and Brandon Greene.

All three performed well, but Shepherd appears to have the edge.

Shepherd has the most experience of the group, having played in 16 games over the past two seasons.

He will be stepping into a major role with a team that is expected to challenge for the national title. A lot of responsibility and lofty expectations come with the post.

The Tide gave up 22 sacks last fall; nine more than in 2011.

There will be an increased focus on keeping McCarron on his feet. He played the final six games last fall with a major rib injury, according to Chris Lowe with ESPN. Big hits simply can’t happen.

Saban knows that his team is only as strong as its weakest position, and right now it's the right tackle.

The first game of the year comes against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome. It should bring back memories of the 2009 season opener.

The Tide are loaded with talent, but the Hokies defense is no slouch. The return of senior James Gayle is a major cornerstone for the defense, and the 6’4”, 265 pound end will create matchup issues against any of the Tide’s right tackle candidates.

When the Tide faces off with LSU and Ole Miss there will be more mismatches on the outside. This is a major concern with no clear solution heading into the summer.

Austin Shepherd is the favorite, but JUCO transfer Leon Brown is fighting for playing time. Brown was an early enrollee and was rated as the No. 1 tackle in the 2013 JUCO class.

Brown checks in at 6’6”, 310 pounds, with quick feet and an explosive first step. The Tide need a player that can protect McCarron’s front side on the play-action.

McCarron took some hits on the turn out of the play-action last fall. It won’t be better this year with another inexperienced right tackle taking the field.

The program is at an all-time high heading towards an unprecedented third straight national title. The Tide are set to make BCS history, but one hiccup along the offensive line and the team will fail to reach expectations.

Alabama will look to employ the tight end more often this year with early enrollee 5-star TE O.J. Howard taking the field, so that will take some pressure off of the pass protection. As talented as he is, he will still fail to provide enough of a diversion to cover bad play.

There is a fine line between undefeated and planning trips to Pasadena, and marching into Orlando at the end of the year.

This team wants Pasadena. They are a right tackle away.