Molding JC Latham, by former Alabama OL coach Eric Wolford

We recently released two written iterations of our “Molding JC Latham” series, as told through the eyes of his former IMG Academy coaches, Kevin Wright and George Hegamin (the third was this film breakdown with Wright). In order to gain a more updated perspective on the Tennessee Titans’ No. 7 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft for our third written project, I also spoke with former Alabama offensive line coach Eric Wolford. Coach Wolford, who is now at Kentucky in the same role, coached Latham for both of his seasons (2022-23) as a starter at Alabama.

It was coach Wolford who primarily oversaw Latham’s development into a high-level starting caliber player for the Crimson Tide. On the brink of 30 years coaching experience (Wolford began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Kansas State in 1995), Wolford has coached a number of outstanding offensive linemen, including Joe Staley during a two-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers. Needless to say, his extensive insight was valuable here.

After two seasons at Alabama, coach Wolford has now returned to Kentucky, where by the way, he previously spent the 2021 season helping coach Titans quarterback Will Levis. In 2024, Wolford will coach a talented Wildcats offensive line that includes Tennessee transfer Gerald Mincey. With Wolford back in the fold, the offensive line will be a strength of Kentucky’s offense.

Having close relationships with both Latham and Levis, coach Wolford offered me an incredibly unique perspective. We discussed Latham’s ongoing move to left tackle, why he didn’t play that position at Alabama, and so much more. 

Enjoy this conversation with coach Wolford. This was the final installment in our “Molding JC Latham” series.

JM: First things first. How do you like the fit between JC Latham and the Tennessee Titans?

Eric Wolford: The Tennessee Titans drafted a player that truly loves football. That comes first and foremost with JC Latham. I think that’s been forgotten a little bit. A lot of these guys that play nowadays, they play for the money and what football brings them away from the field, the notoriety, the publicity. That’s true for both college and pro football. 

I was with the San Francisco 49ers for two seasons. I truly felt like there were players in that room that played football for the money and everything else it brought them.

That’s not JC Latham. He’s a true grinder away from the building that does the things he needs to do to become a great player. He’s put the work in. He’s willing to strain himself. It’s tough to find guys that really love football, and he loves football. 

He just turned 21 in February. He’s a young player that hasn’t been playing on the offensive line for very long. He played some defensive line in high school before they moved him over. He’s a tremendously gifted guy. He’ll tell you himself that he still has a lot to learn.

Being with coach Bill Callahan, he’s one of the best offensive line coaches in the country. I think it’s a great fit.

JM: I’m going to touch on a few of those topics with you. He had been a rotational backup in his first season at Alabama in 2021. You arrived in 2022 and he became a starter. Which of his traits stood out to you immediately upon your arrival?

Eric Wolford: The first thing you see is his physical size. This is a guy with a very low percentage of body fat. He played at 360 pounds this past season. He can play anywhere from 345 to 360. He’s going to try and keep his weight down because he’s making the move to left tackle.

His athleticism and strength are superior to anyone on the field. The other thing that really stood out about him to me is his ability to bend. He’s a heavy handed guy. He plays with terrific hand violence. He’s strong. It’s game over once he gets his hands on you.

The Tennessee Titans drafted a player that truly loves football.

JM: Did anybody from the Titans contact you throughout the pre-draft process? Did they vet him through you at all?

Eric Wolford: I spoke with several of their scouts, both during the season, and throughout the pre-draft process. I couldn’t even tell you who specifically I spoke with. I was in contact with all 32 teams I’d say.

JM: As previously mentioned, you weren’t at Alabama in 2021, but JC Latham arrived and Evan Neal was the left tackle. You take the job at Alabama in 2022. Neal is no longer there, but Latham stays on the right. Typically speaking, at other programs, he may have moved to left tackle, but that didn’t happen at Alabama. You guys brought in Tyler Steen as a transfer from Vanerbilt to play the left side. Latham stayed at right tackle this past season as well after Steen left. What went into those decisions?

Eric Wolford: Coach Nick Saban made the decision. It was his decision. It was brought up [moving Latham to left tackle] several times in our staff room. But that’s what coach Saban [keep him on the right] wanted to do. As you may know, we do what coach Saban wants to do.

He felt strongly about [keeping Latham on the right]. We had signed the No. 1 offensive linemen in the country in Kadyn Proctor. Coach Saban felt like we could help him [Proctor] enough to play left tackle. Coach Saban wanted to keep Latham on the right as a result. That’s the way we rolled with it.

JM: That’s a fair, honest answer. As you alluded to, the Titans now plan to move Latham to left tackle, a position he hasn’t played since his IMG Academy days…

Eric Wolford: Well, we cross trained him [at left tackle] in practice. He would jump over there to the left and do one-versus-one pass-rush drills at left tackle. We did that with him at Alabama throughout practice.

He can do it. It’s like riding a bike.

Coach Nick Saban made the decision to keep JC Latham at right tackle. [Moving him to the left] was brought up in our meeting room, but as you may know, we did what coach Saban wanted to do.

JM: I’m going to get you to expand. The Titans have a great offensive line coach in Bill Callahan, who you mentioned earlier. What are your expanded thoughts on Latham’s ability to play left tackle?

Eric Wolford: I don’t have any reservations about him playing left tackle. None whatsoever. The Titans weren’t the first team that brought it up to me throughout the pre-draft process. Many teams saw him playing left tackle. There were several teams that were doing it.

He worked out at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day as a left tackle. He ran through some drills there. You can see it. Obviously these teams saw it. It was an easy transition for him. 

He’s athletic. He can move and he can bend. He studies the game like no other. He’s going to keep working at that craft and master his trade and fundamentals until he becomes one of the best left tackles in the league.

One thing about JC Latham is that he wants to be the best. I use this example all the time. We’d be done with practice on a Tuesday or Wednesday in preparation for an upcoming game. JC would send me a text within an hour of practice finishing. The text would have a video clip attached to it with a question he had about a play we just practiced. What do you think of this pass set, coach? What do you think about this double team? What do you think of my footwork on this rep?

I’m talking within an hour of practice. I just got done showering and I’m getting ready to go to my next meeting, and he’s already sending me clips because he’s watched the practice already. Heck, it was the same thing at Spring ball.

This guy loves football. I can promise you, there wasn’t anybody else in the country doing that.

I don’t have any reservations about him playing left tackle. None whatsoever. The Titans weren’t the first team that brought it up to me throughout the pre-draft process. Many teams saw him playing left tackle.

JM: That’s crazy. You have an extensive resume and you’ve seen great ones, from Alabama to Kentucky. You mentioned your time with the 49ers. You coached Joe Staley there in 2015 and 2016, and I’m sure he was one of the good ones in that room. How do you compare Latham’s level of readiness to contribute immediately to some of the greats you’ve seen?

Eric Wolford: I think he’ll be ready to play immediately. I don’t have any concerns about that. It’s just about how fast he picks up their offense and learns the system. I know he’s going to spend every hour he has doing it. It’s not going to be an issue. He has plenty of time between now and the season for him to do that.

I don’t think he’s going to have a problem physically adapting either. It’s the National Football League. Every week, every game presents new challenges. There may be a matchup you’re aware of. They may give him more help some weeks than others. I don’t care what position it is, even the quarterback, there’s always a matchup where you do things to help the player.

Obviously they have a mobile quarterback in Will Levis who’s going to continue to get better and better. With the combination of Bill Callahan, the few months that he has on his side here, his work ethic as a student of the game, everything falls in JC’s favor to be ready here.

The circumstances to me indicate he’ll go out there and prove he can play left tackle at a high level. He’ll be eager to do that.

JM: This is really unique. You coached Will Levis at Kentucky in 2021, which was Levis’ best season of college football in my opinion. Latham is going to protect Levis’ blind side in Tennessee. Having a close relationship with both, how do you see Levis and Latham getting on? We’ve seen some early clips of them getting along swimmingly already.

Eric Wolford: That’s not going to be a problem. JC Latham is a great guy and Will Levis is a great guy. They both love football. They’re very professional. Knowing both guys and the way they’re wired, I anticipate they’ll have a great relationship.

They’ll probably share some crazy stories about coach Eric Wolford (laughs). It comes with the territory.

JM: We look forward to hearing those (laughs). This has been incredible. You’ve been so generous with your time. In closing, how good can JC Latham be if he reaches his full potential?

Eric Wolford: I think he’s a Pro Bowl tackle, maybe a Hall of Fame type guy. That’s the potential. You saw it on tape this year. I would dispute it with any season. I don’t know if there’s been a better physical specimen that’s come through that league in a little while.

You can see it with your own eyes. He’s a genetic freak. When you pair that with his work ethic, the sky’s the limit. He’s willing to put in the work. Some of these guys don’t even like to work out in the weight room. Just look at their bodies. You know who they are. You can tell.

JC Latham trains hard. He loves the weight room. He eats weights. I think it was in the summer last year, I saw him bench 500 pounds twice. They sat him down and he did 500 on the bench press. I’ll put that against anybody in the league. I think he squatted over 900 as well.

JM: I did hear that he squatted close to 1,000.

Eric Wolford: I’m telling you. We saw it. People can say whatever they want. Who in this past draft could match him physically? There wasn’t a better physical specimen in this class. That’s going to help him with durability, and his ability to move people. That’s the name of the game.

There wasn’t another tackle, another player in this class that could match him from a physicality or strength perspective. There are certain things you can’t teach, right?

JM: He has 95th percentile sized hands at 11 inches.

Eric Wolford: You’re telling me (laughs). And they’re strong, too. He’s freaking strong, man. He was the strongest player in the draft. I know he didn’t do all of the testing, but I guarantee you he was the most powerful and most explosive at his position.

I’d take him over the others all day long.

Author: Justin MeloSenior Writer, Interviewer and Podcaster for Broadway Sports covering the Tennessee Titans and NFL draft. For more than five years, Justin Melo has professionally covered all things NFL draft and Titans for The Draft Network, SB Nation and USA Today. Best known for his Interview Series with NFL draft prospects, Justin has interviewed more than 500 NFL players. Co-host of the Music City Audible podcast alongside Justin Graver (@titansfilmroom).

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