Published May 3, 2012 - 12:00pm
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Head Coach: Nick Saban returns for another year with another national championship under his belt. It’s becoming common knowledge and expectation that really any team Saban fields will have a shot for all the marbles in January. That’s just the way it is. He is 55-12 in five seasons at Alabama, and he is widely regarded as the best college coach in the country, as he has won three national championships at two different schools, and two at Alabama. Not only does Saban recruit great talent, but he also has the ability to develop talent as good as or better than anyone in the business. He gets the most out of his players and runs a tight ship. Very rarely do you hear about anything negative regarding players’ behavior outside of Saban’s watch. It’s quite remarkable.
Offensive Line: Alabama’s offensive line is yet again regarded as one of the tops in the entire country for 2012. With three returning starters at this unit, they are primed to be road graders for the running backs. Barrett Jones moves to center for the departed William Vlachos, and Chance Warmack and DJ Fluker both return. Assuming Cyrus Kouandjio recovers from a knee injury, this line has the potential to be both run blockers and pass blockers. The backs and quarterbacks are breathing easy.
Running Back: Yes, Trent Richardson is gone, but there’s nothing to frown about regarding this position. It’s strong; quite strong actually. Eddie Lacy missed the spring with an injury, but he should be good to go for the season. Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and newcomer TJ Yeldon will all be in the mix. Lacy figures to get the bulk of the carries, as he backed up Richardson a year ago. We saw Fowler’s big-bodied potential last year in the Ole Miss game. But don’t sleep on either Dee Hart (missed 2011 with knee injury) or Yeldon (true freshman), because both will likely play. I was able to see Hart play in high school, and he could be the answer on special teams returning punts and kicks. Yeldon will get some playing time, but no one – not even Nick Saban – knows how much of a factor he’ll be in the SEC. But he’s certainly a fantastic looking prospect.
Quarterback: AJ McCarron and his vintage ‘Bama-esque’ haircut returns to lead the Tide another year. We all saw Greg McElroy lead the Tide to the national championship and win against Texas, and we all knew that it did not take an All-American at quarterback to lead the Tide to another one. McCarron is the perfect quarterback for this offense; he’s a game manager. It’s true, all quarterbacks have to be game managers, but some have to put up better numbers. Last year, McCarron was in a situation where, fortunately for him, he did not have to do that. But this year is a little different with Richardson gone at running back. The biggest “unknown” for McCarron in 2012 is how well he will gel with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The offense will not change much, but Jim McElwain, who accepted Colorado State job, knew how to manage quarterbacks. McCarron’s backup will be Phillip Ely, and last year’s backup, Phillip Sims, transferred to UVA. As long as McCarron stays healthy, there will be no problems here.
Wide Receiver & Tight End: This group has the biggest questions exiting spring and heading into the summer months before season. There will be a somewhat entirely new look next year, as Darius Hanks, Marquis Maze and Brad Smelley are all gone. The good news is that there is game experience among the rest of the receivers and ends. Receivers DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell will lead the receiving corps, while Michael Williams will hold down the tight end position. One receiver to keep an eye on is Kevin Norwood, who had a very impressive national championship game.
Defensive Front Seven: The front seven was really hit by the NFL Draft this season, as several players were selected in the top rounds. As with any 3-4 defense, it starts from the nose tackle position as really the anchor of the defense. Defensive end Jessie Williams will be moving over to nose tackle to step in to the position vacated by Josh Chapman. Defensive end Damion Square returns and looks to have continued success with another year of this defense under his belt. He is a very big player and one to keep an eye on. The biggest obstacle in the front seven will be replacing three starting linebackers. Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris have all played their final game in crimson. Therefore, new players have to step up. Nico Johnson is the biggest key to this group, as he is a returning starter and senior leader of this group. Trey DePriest, CJ Moseley, Adrian Hubbard, Tana Patrick and Xzavier Dickson will all be in the mix, and all were highly regarded prospects out of high school. So, what Alabama has is several very talented but unproven players. If anyone can make this group gel, it will be Nick Saban.
Defensive Backfield: Even though Alabama lost the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron and DeQuan Menzie, the Tide returns a whole slew of talent at the position. Returning safety Robert Lester will anchor this unit. The safety spot vacated by Mark Barron will be an ongoing battle between Vinnie Sunseri and HaSean Clinton-Dix. Sunseri will likely get the nod, but Clinton-Dix is very talented. Both are more than capable to take care of business. Dee Milliner should anchor one corner spot, and the other will be up for a major battle between JUCO transfers Deion Belue and Travell Dixon and John Fulton. So, while the secondary is somewhat ready for these talented players to take over, incoming freshmen Landon Collins and Eddie Williams will give anyone a run for their money. These two are probably the two most talented safeties in the country in this past recruiting cycle. Both should see time on special teams, at least.
Special Teams: This group was unfortunately the talk after the regular season matchup that featured the top two teams in the country in Tuscaloosa. The biggest news on this front is that return man Marquis Maze is gone. The Tide will have to find another dynamic return man, which shouldn’t be very hard with all talent! Place kickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster both return. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. They showed up very well in the national championship game. Punter Cody Mandell also returns for the Tide. Special teams will be just fine.
Can the Tide make it back-to-back? The chances of Alabama repeating as national champions is slim. It’s hard enough to make it through the SEC gauntlet, especially in the SEC West, but if anyone can do it, it would be a Nick Saban-coached team, wouldn’t you think? The schedule is particularly tough. However, we’ll know game one what kind of team it will be with Michigan in Big D.