The Alabama Crimson Tide came a missed field goal return away from completing a perfect regular season and playing for the SEC Championship en route to their third straight BCS National Championship. As a consolation prize, they’ll take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It may not be for a national title, but the Sugar Bowl is an opportunity for Alabama to finish the 2013 season on a high note and build momentum heading into 2014. However, they will have to do it without one of their key offensive leaders as offensive lineman Anthony Steen has likely played his last snap for Alabama.
According to CBSSports.com, Steen had surgery to repair a torn labrum and is expected to be unavailable for the Sugar Bowl this January. Steen was the only senior starting on the Tide’s offensive line at guard and acted as a leader for the group as they averaged 212 rushing yards per game. They also were able to keep AJ McCarron upright for most of the season, allowing just 10 sacks on the year, after giving up 23 in 2012. Nick Saban praised Steen’s consistency this season and his leadership despite not being a “rah-rah guy” for the rest of the offensive line.
It isn’t the first time that Alabama has lost one of their starting offensive linemen before a big game. Leading up to the Iron Bowl against the Auburn Tigers, Alabama lost center Ryan Kelly to a sprained knee, forcing the Tide to shuffle Chad Lindsay into the starting lineup. Their offense survived that shuffling quite well despite losing the game, accumulating 495 total yards of offense on the day, their fourth highest total of the season. That merely shows that there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings for Alabama just looking to get their shot.
So with Steen out, Saban could turn to a number of options to fill in for him depending on who separates themselves during bowl practices this month. Redshirt freshman Alphonse Taylor has appeared in eight games this season and could get elevated to the starting lineup. Lindsay could also move over from center with his three starts on the year. Kellen Williams is a senior that has been in a reserve role all season but could get a look in his final game with the Tide. True freshman Grant Hill could get a look as well despite playing tackle this season after getting recruited to Alabama out of high school as the top-rated guard in the country.
In short, Saban has plenty of possibilities to sort through during bowl prep. Losing Steen will hurt the group’s overall experience level and someone will have to step up to lead by example like Steen did, but the Tide have shown capable of weathering injuries to the offensive line before. Will they be able to roll again in the Sugar Bowl?