5 questions I still have as Alabama enters the offseason
This is an unusual year for Alabama. The Crimson Tide don’t waltz into the season as national champions donning a big ring on their collective finger. That could change quickly.
Alabama beat the eventual national championship winner, suffered myriad bad-luck injuries and still almost took home the most coveted prize. Bama had a season that most programs would celebrate.
So what are some of the things Alabama will work on this offseason. Here is my list of the top 5:
What is next for Bryce Young?
In winning the Heisman Trophy as a first-year starter, Young accomplished a ton. It’s hard to imagine what could have gone better for Young other than winning a national title, which is probably next. I’m not saying Georgia is a 1-year wonder. However, I firmly believe that Alabama should still be the odds-on favorite. However, winning a national title is a team award. It remains to be seen what Young can actually become. I still see a player who can scare defenses with his running ability. Think of a more patient, passing Lamar Jackson or a Mac Jones with any running ability at all.
Please don’t mistake my scouting of Young. I think he handles the decision to pass or run deftly, almost perfectly. However, there are still some scampers left on the field that would really keep a defense on guard. That, however, is just my evaluation. Young could have something in his back pocket that we don’t even know about yet. No matter. His game will evolve somehow. His ability, attention to detail and coaching is too good for it not to.
Who will be the breakout star receiver?
I’m not sure Alabama coaches even know the answer to this question. Most assume it will be Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton, but we could be in for another surprise.
Hope sprang eternal last spring as John Metchie III was poised to step into position of dire need after Alabama lost so many players to the NFL. Metchie lived up to the hype until he injured his knee in the SEC Championship. No matter, Alabama coaches had to know they had a good one on their hands as soon as Jameson Williams hit the practice field last season, After transferring from Ohio State, Williams blossomed into one of the top players in the nation before he suffered a knee injury in the national title game. Now, hope is hard to find at wideout.
Nick Saban said that he had only had 3 — yes, just 3 — receivers that were ready to play in the national championship game after Williams was injured. Saban also said that trio wasn’t ready to accept the challenge they had been given. Those players are thought to be Agiye Hall (who has since left the program), Ja’Corey Brooks and Traeshon Holden. It’s difficult to fathom that a program like Alabama could be that lacking at one position. In order to fill the gap, Alabama brought in Burton and will welcome back JoJo Early, who was out most of last year due to injury.
What will the o-line look like?
Alabama has a problem that plenty of programs would love the have: plenty of decorated offensive linemen with lofty recruiting highlights. Then there is the flip side. Alabama doesn’t really have proven offensive linemen. They’re versatile but have yet to dominate at any one position. That’s why Alabama made a change, which was oddly similar. Alabama replaced Doug Marrone, who has vast NFL and college experience and went back to the NFL, with Eric Wolford, who has vast NFL and college experience. Did Bama upgrade? We’ll see.
Wolford and his staff have been forced to deal with a variety of injuries and ailments during spring camp. That has made it more difficult to find the perfect spot for the perfect player on Alabama’s front line. Time is ticking. The Tide recently added Vandy transfer Tyler Steen to compete for a starting spot.
“When you pass it, you need to have really good protection,” Saban told reporters. “We had too much pressure in the pocket.”
Versatile is nice but a strong plan headed into fall camp would be much preferred.
Will Will Anderson Jr. stay hungry?
I don’t think this will be much of a problem, but it bears asking. Anderson is one of the top defensive players in college based off his 1 season as a full-time starter in 2021. Actually, he’s more than that. He’s an all-around pass rusher/run stopper who may be a generational talent. Oh, and, by all accounts, he has the right mindset. Anderson takes as much pride in stopping the run as he does sacking the passer. Feel free to gasp now.
We’ve seen players like Anderson have to stay in college a year too long, lose their way and slide down the draft board. Everybody remembers Jadeveon Clowney’s inconsistent junior season at South Carolina. That doesn’t seem to be a concern specifically with Anderson. However, NIL money can change everything. A player like Anderson could be set for life financially if he makes some suave decisions with his investments even before he dons an NFL jersey.
Is Jahmyr Gibbs the guy?
Alabama’s running back room is being remade again. That’s an annual occurrence.
One noted difference this year is Saban’s decision on how to replenish the production. For the first time, Saban’s starting running back might be a transfer.
Jahmyr Gibbs was electric all spring. He’s big, fast and versatile enough to be a threat in the passing game as well as between the tackles. He ripped off a 73-yard TD in the spring game, one of the reasons he was named the game’s offensive MVP.
“Does it stand out to you? Fast is fast, right? The guy getting to top speed is obvious,” Saban told reporters afterward. “I think he gives us something at the running back position because he’s really good at pressing the holes, but he has a great burst to get to top speed quickly in setting up blocks. Very good running back, very good receiver, a good 3rd-down back. Very good addition.
“Look, when we get Jase McClellan back – and those guys practice all spring, we never scrimmaged them – and Roydell (Williams), Trey (Sanders). I think Jamarion Miller, the freshman who’s here for the first time, he’s showing some promise in his ability to develop, as well. I kind of like where we’re at at that position, and I hope we can get the guys back healthy and 100 percent by fall camp.”
As Saban noted, Gibbs will have competition from several returning veterans, but his skill set is unique to the group — and his arrival is just another sign of Saban never staying satisfied.