BIRMINGHAM — The question mark, at least from those outside the UAB football program, is firmly affixed to the Blazers' offensive line.
Gone are five starters. Gone are five players who earned All-Conference USA mention. Gone are several of the vocal leaders of this football program. Gone are players with a combined total of 135 career starts.
The slate is wiped clean. Or is it?
"We count Brady (Wilson) as a returner, just so we can say we don't have zero returners," UAB head coach Trent Dilfer said with a smile.
Wilson did start seven games last season, with three of those coming as an injury replacement for injured starter Will Rykard. The other four starts came as the Blazers' sixth offensive lineman in the Rhino package.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound redshirt junior from Spanish Fort High is a solid place to start when rebuilding the offensive line.
"He played at a really high level when he played last year," Dilfer said. "He played like a starter. We're really excited about him at center and guard. The other guys are really gifted. I think we've been really pleased with their size, their strength, movement abilities, ability to learn."
Dilfer leaves no doubt that Wilson is the leader of the group.
"He is a leader. He is a very good leader," Dilfer said. "He might not yell and scream. I think leadership gets misunderstood sometimes. He's not the most vocal guy, but when he speaks, people listen. He's one of the hardest workers on the team. He's a Mr. Do-Right guy. He's going to handle his business on and off the field. He's highly respected by his teammates. There's a lot of good there with Brady."
UAB’s OL getting some work in today during practice pic.twitter.com/Lsq2rTaqUs— John Duncan (@johncduncan) March 6, 2023
Tackle Trey Bedosky is the only other offensive lineman with starting experience. He started two games in place of an injured Kadeem Telfort and also played in the Rhino package. Bedosky also missed several games last season. Eli Richey is the only other lineman with any playing experience.
This spring is about finding the pieces to fill out the rotation heading into summer and fall camp. Tackle Quez Yates spent last season getting comfortable and is expected to challenge for a starting spot. Tater Reid got practice experience last season, and Zaire Flournoy is a redshirt junior. Newcomers expected to compete for spots this spring include Tennessee transfer William Parker and junior college transfer Jalen Nettles.
Others could work their way into the mix.
"We have a lot of guys," Wilson said. "It's a younger group, but it's a hard-working group. It's definitely one of the better o-lines we've had, and think we're going to come out rolling."
While they may come out rolling, there is still plenty of seasoning needed.
"Getting them to play as a unit is going to be a challenge because they're young. They don't have a lot of playing experience," Dilfer said after Monday's practice. "We're trying to speed that learning experience up, especially in the pass protection game. There might be some rocky days. Today was probably one of them. But I think that's part of the process of building a great offensive line. Throw them in the fire, make them learn together. That's what we're going to do."
Dilfer and offensive line coach Eddie Gordon aren't just looking for five starters.
"I believe, I think Eddie believes, (offensive coordinator Alex Mortensen) believes in playing 7 or 8 offensive linemen," Dilfer said. "We're looking for seven or eight guys that we can trust to play at a high level. I think that stuff, typically, works itself out mid-camp, late camp. We're going to give a lot of guys opportunities. We have a lot of guys coming off injuries, too. We're respectful of that and want to give them time to mature and get back in the swing of things."
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