Every season has its memorable moments and game-changing performances, so we’re counting down the 25 most important figures within or around the Crimson Tide program (or foes) who will determine whether Alabama’s upcoming season is a success.
No. 23: Ryan Kelly
In baseball, it’s called VORP, a statistic used to determine a player’s “Value Over Replacement Player.”
It’s a bit more challenging to apply it to a football player, especially an offensive lineman who doesn’t accumulate many measurable statistics, but Kelly might just have the highest VORP on Alabama’s 2014 roster.
The reasons are twofold.
For starters, Kelly is a solid veteran, as he enters his fourth year at Alabama firmly entrenched as the Crimson Tide’s starting center. His 2013 campaign had its fair share of highs and lows, as he missed three games in the middle of the year with a knee injury and the regular season finale against Auburn with another knee ailment. On the field, he was reliable, athletic and constantly growing as a vocal leader on an offensive line that was replacing two first-round draft picks and a three-time All-American.
During the spring, he embraced the increased leadership that was expected from him as the Crimson Tide looked to break in (at least) two new starters. He had no problem speaking for the group.
“We just need to be more together as five,” Kelly said after a so-so performance at Alabama’s A-Day scrimmage. “Obviously, offensive line is a big part of that, that we are all together on the same page. So communication is key and something we will work on all summer.”
Kelly’s importance only grew when fifth-year senior Chad Lindsay opted to finish his college career elsewhere. Lindsay, who transferred to Ohio State, played so well in relief of Kelly last season that a large number of fans thought he should remain the starter even when Kelly returned to full strength. He did exactly what a reserve is supposed to do: Fill in seamlessly and make everyone forget that a second-team player is occupying a starting spot.
Without Lindsay, Alabama’s a bit thin at arguably one of the most important positions on the field. The versatile Grant Hill received some repetitions at center during the spring and two freshmen, JC Hassenauer and Joshua Casher, will add depth to the position when camp opens in August, but there isn’t someone with the experience Lindsay had before he was thrust into full-time duty.
A fully healthy Kelly would render that problem obsolete and significantly enhance Alabama’s 2014 offense.