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Alabama Football: Which players need to step up?

Two programs with contrasting demeanors left Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium last week. Alabama entered the contest as the No.1 team nationally. T.J. Yeldon rushed for 123 yards, but he was outshined by Bo Wallace.

Wallace played the game of his life. He tossed for 251 yards and three touchdowns. Kenyan Drake’s (broken leg) injury started the domino effect, but injuries to Denzel Devall (high ankle sprain) and Ryan Kelly (sprained knee) took the air out of Alabama’s sail.

Eight penalties and three turnovers hurt. Opposing fans tearing down a goal post in honor of your defeat doesn’t help either. The Crimson Tide lost to Mississippi 23-17. It’s a defeat that Alabama players, including Yeldon vowed to never let happen again.

“We aren’t going out like this…not letting everyone be right about us. From this point no body is getting by us…it’s over for them,”-Alabama’s running T.J. Yeldon after Ole Miss.

Players to Step Up: Offense


  • RB—T.J. Yeldon

Summary: Leaders are first partakers of their statements. Yeldon is known for being a quiet player, but it’s time for him to lead this offense. He ran with determination as a freshman. Yeldon totaled 1,000+ yards rushing in 2013, but had games in which he was going through the motions. Drake’s injury flipped a switch on in Yeldon. He ran with purpose against Mississippi and registered his second 100+ yards rushing performance of the season.


  • TE—O.J. Howard

Summary: Howard is 6’6” 237 pounds, but hasn’t played like it. His blocking must improve. Howard was guilty of two penalties for Alabama, including its final drive. He has big play abilities, but needs to develop consistency. Howard was targeted five times against Mississippi. He recorded three receptions for 81 yards, but dropped two critical passes in the contest. Lane Kiffin’s system is predicated on players getting involved. Howard has to get more involved.


  • RG—Leon Brown

Summary: It’s unusual seeing Alabama’s offensive line rack up numerous penalties. Brown has been called on many of these fouls, including false start and holding penalties. He has to do a better job of recognizing a quarterback’s cadence. Brown can avoid a lot of holding calls by exploding off the ball and shielding defensive linemen away from the quarterback.


  • WR/RT—Christion Jones

Summary: This has not been the senior season that Jones envisioned. He has 154 receiving yards and has struggled in the return game. Jones tries to do too much at times on returns. Players want to be successful on special teams, but protecting the ball is the main objective. Jones’s fumble against Mississippi was one of two costly mistakes. He’s a productive player, but Jones needs to be sound on offense and special teams.


  • Center—Bradley Bozeman

Summary: With Ryan Kelly out for a few weeks, Bozeman will handle playing center. He filled admirably against Mississippi, despite a few snapping issues. Bozeman has to come to the learning curve quick in understanding blocking schemes and snap counts.


Players to Step Up: Defense


  • Defensive Lineman—A’Shawn Robinson

Summary: Robinson led all defensive linemen with 5.5 sacks in 2013. He’s been quiet so far this season. Robinson has registered nine tackles and a pass breakup, but he hasn’t been affecting opposing quarterbacks. Jonathan Allen and Jarran Reed both have stepped up, but Robinson needs to join the mix.


  • Linebacker—Dillon Lee

Summary: Everyone raved about him in the offseason. Sports writers thought Lee would be the heir apparent to C.J. Mosley. Lee’s style mirrors Mosley’s, but we haven’t seen it this season. Lee has appeared in four games, but has three tackles. He hasn’t show a killer instinct on special teams.


  • Linebacker—Reuben Foster

Summary: He recorded eight tackles in the season opener against West Virginia, but Foster’s production has decreased since then. Foster will have more opportunities with Devall recovering. He has 12 tackles this season, but Foster needs to improve on his instincts and gap assignments.


  • Cornerback—Eddie Jackson

Summary: Cyrus Jones may be Alabama’s ‘most experience’ corner, but Jackson is the team’s best cover corner. Freshman Tony Brown has played well, but Jackson needs to remain healthy and contribute. Jackson is physical with receivers. He displays exceptional on ball skills, but it means nothing if he can’t be on the field. Jackson has five tackles and a forced fumble this season.


  • Defensive Back—Geno Smith

Summary: He had a great freshman campaign, but Smith has been null and void ever since. Smith has size, speed and on ball skills, yet he struggles with displaying it on the field. He transitioned from corner to safety in the offseason. It’s difficult changing positions, but Smith is a veteran player that has to improve. He has 12 tackles this season.


  • Defensive Back—Jarrick Williams

Summary: Like Jackson, Williams is a playmaker. He is a senior leader in Alabama’s secondary. Williams fractured his foot against West Virginia, but is healthy now and needs to contribute. He’s experienced in playing star, money and nickel for Alabama. Williams is a hard hitter, but he also plays the ball well in the air.


  • Defensive Back—Landon Collins

Summary: He leads Alabama in tackles (38), but Mississippi’s Evan Engram burned Collins a lot last week. Collins must do a better job of getting the defense prepared for opposing offenses. The Crimson Tide doesn’t have many leaders on defense. Reggie Ragland, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen, Xzavier Dickson and Tony Brown have all stepped up, but Collins has to be the glue that keeps this team focused.


Players to Step Up: Special Teams


  • Place kicker—Adam Griffith

Summary: He was highly recruited out of high school, but Griffith needs to show why Alabama brought him to Tuscaloosa. He’s made 72.7 percent (8 of 11) of his field attempts, but Griffith must improve on long distance tries. Griffith displayed many line drive kicks against Mississippi. This allowed the Rebels to obtain good field position. Griffith has to generate more touchbacks on kickoffs.


  • Kickoff/Punt coverage—Alabama’s defense

Summary: Alabama’s special teams hasn’t been solid under Nick Saban. Tackling is an issue the Crimson Tide has had this season. Alabama has resorted to arm tackling, instead of wrapping up. Griffith has caused some issues by out kicking Alabama’s coverage, but the coverage still has to improve on tackling in space.


  • Cornerback—Marlon Humphrey

Summary: Players must excel on special teams, in order to get a spot in the rotation. Humphrey was a two-sport athlete in high school. His speed can be very special if Alabama decides to try him in the return game. Humphrey has to be sound fundamentally, but the freshman has the capabilities of being a deadly weapon for the Crimson Tide on special teams.


Attitude after Mississippi

Is Alabama’s dynasty over? No. Is the Crimson Tide beaten down? No. Mississippi didn’t kill Alabama. It refocused Alabama. If the Crimson Tide would have beaten Ole Miss, Arkansas would get an Alabama team that would have taken them lightly. The Crimson Tide seems to focus better after a loss. Coach Saban and company took this week seriously. Alabama had an intense week of practice. The team is ready to put last week behind and focus on Arkansas.

“Our players responded well this week,” Saban said. “Our focus is on dealing with adversity.”

Alabama vs. Arkansas

Alabama takes on Arkansas this week. Head coach Nick Saban has had his share of game planning against spread offenses. Saban gets the opportunity to return to his natural state against the Razorbacks. Arkansas’s head coach Bret Bielema isn’t moved by bells and whistles. His offensive scheme is simple…run the ball. The Razorbacks dabble little in the spread offense. Arkansas uses a lot of double tight end sets and I-formation.

“Arkansas is a much improved football team,” Saban said. “They could be 4-1. Arkansas is very physical and they run the ball well.”

Alabama got away with penalties and turnovers against Florida, but it cost them against Mississippi. The Crimson Tide can’t afford mistakes against Arkansas.

“I’ve been preaching penalties and turnovers since the Florida game,” Saban said. “No one spoke a word on it. All I saw in the paper was how many yards we [Alabama] has against Florida. After we lost to Ole Miss, all you guys [media] talked about was penalties and turnovers.”

Arkansas enters the contest averaging 316.6 rushing yards per game. The Razorbacks have 20 rushing touchdowns. Alabama allows 64.0 rushing yards per game. The Crimson Tide surrendered one rushing score this season.

Does Alabama still have a chance?

College football is far from over. We have reached the middle of the season, but there are still a lot of games left to play. Alabama is ranked No.7 nationally. With a refocused mindset, the Crimson Tide still controls its own destiny in the Southeastern Conference. The players that need to step up have been mentioned. The question is will they take heed?

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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