Alabama football: Way-too-early look at the 2022 Crimson Tide
Alabama reached the precipice of a national championship once again. However, the Crimson Tide fell just short in the National Championship Game.
That certainly isn’t what the college football world is used to. Alabama coach Nick Saban is supposed to hoist the SEC championship trophy (which he did) then follow that up with the big prize, the national championship trophy (which he didn’t).
The table was set for the Georgia. The Bulldogs were historically good while Bama had to assemble a whole new offense, then continue to reset its top playmakers throughout the season. Alabama had to replace about 100 former Heisman candidates from the 2020 season. That’s a slight exaggeration. Then, the Crimson Tide were hit as hard by injury as anyone can remember in recent times.
An alarmist would tell you that this is the beginning of the end of Saban’s run. However, that depends on how one defines a dynasty. Alabama isn’t going to be in the Liberty Bowl next year. We know that. Alabama will be knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff. We’re pretty certain of that. That’s not how I define the end of excellence.
Is the loss to Georgia on Monday the beginning of the end of the great Alabama dynasty? We’ll see. We’ll know more in less than eight short months when the Crimson Tide kick off the season against Utah State on Sept. 3.
Here is a way-too-early look at Alabama’s 2022 season:
What worked in 2021
New blood worked in 2021 as well as could have been hoped for. Bryce Young replaced record-setting QB Mac Jones and Bama somehow got better at that position. The receiving corps was pirated by the NFL Draft. No problem. John Metchie III and Jameson Williams, like their predecessors, looked like first-round NFL Draft picks before they fell injured. Alabama’s running backs worked well early in the season. However, they were also beset by injuries. Some were season-ending and some were nagging. Both made it difficult to get a good grasp on the talent that was actually at the position. Brian Robinson was outstanding, if not quite Najee Harris.
As usual, there was nothing wrong with Alabama’s defense. Georgia may have had the once-in-a-generation defense, but Alabama’s bunch wasn’t far behind up front. The Crimson Tide finished 2nd to Georgia in the SEC in total defense and rushing defense. Key stops against LSU and Auburn were some of the highlights of Bama’s stout defense in 2021.
What didn’t work in 2021
In one word, “health” didn’t work. Alabama would likely be cleaning out a new space in its trophy case if not for the myriad of injuries suffered on offense. The Crimson Tide’s injury situation could just be bad luck. That happens. However, you can bet that Saban will take a close look at his training regimen. There were too many soft tissue injuries to just allow things to stay status quo. Don’t be surprised if Saban has an outside entity come in and take a look at what Alabama is doing in the offseason. Saban doesn’t want to face another season in which injuries are such a significant factor. He also doesn’t want that to become a pervasive theme in recruiting.
Let’s just say that Alabama is in really, really good shape at quarterback. It was fascinating watching Young transform himself from a very good quarterback into a Heisman Trophy winner. In his first year as a starter, Young set single-season school records for passing yards (4,872) and TD throws (47). Young has an innate ability to keep plays alive in the passing game. However, that seemed to be a detriment at times early in the season when he simply threw the ball away instead of picking up key yards on the ground. That changed over time as he became more comfortable in his first season as a starter. Simply put, there isn’t a better college quarterback in the nation than Young returning for the 2022 season.
This is history repeating itself. Alabama’s best players tend to leave early for the NFL, and this offseason will be no different. Metchie III and Williams both declared for the NFL Draft on Friday. Fellow receiver Slade Bolden also announced he will leave Bama for the NFL. Bolden’s decision was a bit surprising. He could have returned to Bama and been the key receiver for the Crimson Tide. RB Brian Robinson also is off to the NFL. That’s a lot of production the Tide must replace. Fortunately, the next wave is just as highly decorated.
Bama's receiving production:
1. Jameson Williams (1,572)
2. John Metchie (1,142)
4. Slade Bolden (408)
5. Brian Robinson (296)
6. Jahleel Billingsley (256)
10. Javon Baker (101)
3,775 combined receiving yards gone, almost 75%. Cam Latu is returning leader with 410. https://t.co/10susbsho7
— Clint Lamb (@ClintRLamb) January 14, 2022
While the offensive stars on Alabama’s roster bolted for the NFL, Bama’s best players on defense will be back. Edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. is the best returning defensive player in the nation and it’s really not close. Anderson seems to live in the opponents’ backfield and is equally as good against the run as he is against the pass. He’ll set the tone and will be a Heisman finalist if voters care to pay attention.
In somewhat of a surprising move, linebacker Henry To’o To’o announced he would return for another season in Tuscaloosa. He was a godsend in 2021. The transfer from Tennessee was an immediate starter, handled much of the defensive play calls and became an instant leader in his first season at Bama. Defensive tackles DJ. Dale and Byron Young and safeties Jordan Battle and DeMarco Hellams will also return to bolster an already great defense. They’ve also added former 5-star CB Eli Ricks through the transfer portal. Ricks was an emerging star at LSU.
The 2022 season will be much like last season. Alabama will focus on rebuilding an offense, particularly at receiver. However, they’ll have a stout defense to lean on while they sort things out.
Alabama has a whopping 21 4- or 5-star players who are signed or committed. Picking one key recruit is tough — if not impossible — for a couple of reasons. It’s challenging to get early playing time at Alabama because there are so many talented players already in place. It’s become common knowledge that players have to wait their turn. Predicting key recruits is also difficult because there are just so many highly-rated prospects in the 2022 class. However, there are a couple worth keeping tabs on.
Edge rusher Jeremiah Alexander from Alabaster (Ala.) High School is the only 5-star defensive that Alabama has committed or signed, but he’s behind Anderson and freshman star Dallas Turner — the No. 1 edge rusher in the 2021 class. If 5-star quarterback Ty Simpson from Westview High School in Martin, Tenn. plays this season, then something has gone horribly wrong.
Running back Jamarion Miller from Tyler Legacy (Texas) High School is an intriguing prospect. He is a 4-star prospect at a position that often includes freshmen in the rotation. If he is a “special” tailback and the other running backs on Alabama’s roster don’t prove as much, then Miller could give Alabama some more big-play ability at that position.