Can Brandon Ivory and some untested backups maintain the middle as usual at Alabama? (photo credit Kevin Jairaj-US )
Problems that Could Arise if you Take Off the Crimson Glasses
By: Larry Burton
Does life get any better for a college football team than for this group of seniors at Alabama?
Not in a long, long time and it may get better at the conclusion of this season.
But if you take off the crimson colored glasses and look beneath the glare from all the crystal that is being collected at Tuscaloosa, there are some things that may may not appear very rosy, or in this case, very crimson.
Though nothing good or bad that could happen is written in stone at this point of the season, the following scenarios are could potentially happen given the personnel on the field for Alabama this season.
1. A softer middle in the usual daunting defense is possible. Let’s face it, for the past few seasons, names like Terrence “Mt.” Cody, Josh Chapman and Jesse Williams have simply denied every opponent any running lanes up the middle of the field.
Can Brandon Ivory do that with the help of two freshmen? It could be something that teams are willing to see as they test the middle, especially when Ivory is out for a rest. Though the fear factor may be built up as the season goes on, right now teams aren’t sold on not being able to finally mine the middle of the defense for a little gold.
2. Untested depth on the offensive line mean that even though this starting group of linemen may live up to last year’s play making ability, there isn’t a lot of proven depth behind them. An injury on the offensive line could throw a monkey wrench in the productivity of the offense.
When you remember that both Kouandijio brothers both had season ending knee injuries not that long ago, a repeat new would be losing the whole left side of the starting offensive line. That’s not good on any team.
Alabama is lucky to have a red shirt freshman, Ryan Kelly, step and and adequately fill the shoes of an All American at center, but behind him is an awful lot of young and virtually inexperienced replacements. It all starts at center.
Alabama can take injuries at a lot of positions and keep on rolling, however the offensive line may not be the easiest to get quality replacements to take the place of starters.
3. The most sure thing worrying those in the know is the anticipated play of the defensive backfield. This is not an if, they will give up some big plays this season. As a group, they are talented, but young and inexperienced.
With only one junior in the starting lineup, corner Deion Belue, the remaining players who look to crack the starting lineup are sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety and freshman Geno Smith at the other corner. In nickle, it’s likely they’ll bring in another freshman, Cyrus Jones.
Until this group learns from some hard knocks and gel as a group, there’s going to be some miscues in the complex Nick Saban secondary playbook. Nick Saban already knows this and if we were allowed to stay longer in practice, I’d wager you’d see him a lot more than usual with the defensive backs and he spends a good deal of his time there most seasons.
4. The lack of an experienced backup at quarterback is a bullet has been something that Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have so far been able to dodge. It just doesn’t seem to be important to Nick Saban to get his backup quarterback quality playing time in meaningful situations. So far he has had quarterbacks that have played in pain and with injuries to avoid having to risk a backup in a big game or critical situations, but AJ McCarron is human and he can be hurt.
While Blake Sims has looked good in mop up duty against vanquished foes, he hasn’t had to overcome the mental task of taking a game on his shoulders when the game was in doubt.
And while Alec Morris has all the skills and size to be a great quarterback, he has no game experience and very well might be a deer in the headlights if called upon.
This offense could wind up being the top offense in the SEC, but without AJ McCarron, it’s not the same offense. No one player is as indispensable as AJ McCarron is. If Alabama’s rabbit foot is good for one more season, then all should be well, but playing five years with the starting quarterback finishing every game of the season is rare.
5. “I have looked into the mirror and beheld the enemy!” It sounds like a line from a Shakespeare tragedy. For Alabama, the biggest enemy they will face all season is when they look in the mirror.
Can they keep the killer instinct week in and week out with the last two season’s crowns sitting on their heads? Will they give 100% at practice during the steamy hot days in Tuscaloosa early this fall when most “experts” have already placed them in yet another BCS Championship Game? Will some unforeseen off field distraction cause them to lose their concentration?
We have seen all this happen before. Following the 2009 championship, the 2010 team proceeded to lay an egg, with three losses despite having a team that had all the talent, if not more so, than the team who won it all just the year before.
In one of Saban’s last public appearances, he stressed the need for the leaders on the team to step and lead. Saban knows from experience it can’t all come from him. What he’s hoping for is a team of a 125 leaders, but even he knows that won’t happen.
In his first interview with me following the Capitol One Bowl Game in Orlando, AJ McCarron said in a nutshell why the drubbing of Michigan State still didn’t take away the anguish of losing three games that season following up a national championship year. “We just didn’t do all the things that we did last year to prepare for each game… We’re going back to work this next year doing all the things we’re supposed to… We just didn’t do it this year.” McCarron said with all honesty.
And indeed they did. Can McCarron be one of those leaders who gets this team, his team, to it yet again?
The answer to that is why this will be a fun season to watch and see.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter