TUSCALOOSA — Tua Tagovailoa hadn’t given it much thought before a reporter asked about it Tuesday, but he admitted a change at center could affect some aspects of Alabama’s quarterback-center exchange this weekend.
“I think that's something that's probably under-looked,” Tagovailoa said Tuesday. “I don't think as a quarterback you really think of that, but now that you've brought it up, and I'm really thinking about it, I'm not too sure. It's a good question.”
Tagovailoa explained the biggest change when working with a different center is the literal feel between the two, and how one center reacts to the quarterback’s snap cadence compared to another. There’s also the potential for how quickly the center reacts when Tagovailoa is signaling for the ball under center — when his hands are beneath the center.
“Like there's this thing I do, let's say the cadence is on two, so ‘Ready, set, hut,’ (and by tapping the center with) the top of my hand, the pressure would be an indicator to the center that you should snap the ball, like get ready to snap the ball,” Tagovailoa said. “If we're going quick, regardless if they knew the count, the pressure, you know, with my hand would indicate that now you're going to snap the ball when I say ‘go’ this time.
“(So it’s) just (about) getting reps with them and kind of telling them this is what I want, and you go from there.”
With Chris Owens still considered questionable for Saturday’s game at No. 21 Texas A&M, the top-ranked Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) could be in line for another shakeup of its offensive line as starting right guard Landon Dickerson is expected to move to center. The Florida State transfer has only played one game at center — earlier this season against New Mexico State.
If Dickerson starts at center Saturday, 340-pound redshirt junior Deonte Brown is expected to make his first start of the season at right guard, with true freshman Evan Neal flanking Dickerson at left guard and junior tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr. at left and right tackle, respectively.
Alabama has been trying to develop its best five-man lineup up front, and depending on how Owens’ knee responds to treatment, this week's offensive line makeup could be one that the team utilizes moving forward.
Still, a midseason change in the middle can create unexpected complications, even if there is some familiarity already established.
“Sometimes if it’s a new center, the quarterback may have to take more responsibility in run-game calls or checks, things of that nature, or protections — it just depends on how each team calls it,” Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said Wednesday. “At the same time, I don’t know if it’s as drastic as it used to be with the hands underneath the center and that exchange. … There’s different aspects with (the center’s post-snap blocking responsibility) that you have to get used to too.”
Dickerson isn’t new to centen, having worked on it throughout August preseason practice. In fact, Dickerson spent considerable practice time at all three interior line positions, with a focus on right guard and center.
It’s because of that experience that Alabama head coach Nick Saban isn’t concerned about upsetting the apple cart.
“I think (the center-quarterback connection is) always important, but Landon’s played center before and he’s played it in games,” Saban said. “(And) it hasn’t been a problem in practice.”
Tagovailoa added a change at center isn’t nearly as much of a factor when he’s fielding snaps out of the shotgun formation, which is where the Tide generally like to play on the road.
"It's a lot easier,” Tagovailoa said. “You start off with a clap, and we also have a mix-up of cadences as well. So if it does get too loud — which it probably will — then we'll adjust accordingly from there.”
Roughly 74 percent of Tagovailoa’s 178 snaps out of the shotgun have resulted in a pass (131) compared to just 47 runs, while only about one-third of Tagovailoa’s 263 total plays have originated from under center (85 snaps), according to Pro Football Focus, with 58 percent (49) resulting in a run.
The only other challenge could come when Alabama tries to run its offense at an elevated pace, even out of the shotgun, as both center and quarterback effectively need to be of the same mind. But after going through some of these issues during Dickerson’s first start at center, the expectation is many of those won’t be much of a concern Saturday.