Alabama Football News

Rubbing the “Crimson Ball” and Looking at the Future

Though it’s way too early, let’s look at what the Crimson Ball sees so far

Rubbing the “Crimson Ball” and Looking at the Future

By: Larry Burton

What you see in early in practices in the spring has never and I repeat never been the way the way the team will look when the fire of the SEC schedule is burning later in the fall. What we do get is an idea of what is being looked at and which players are being given serious looks at different positions. Remember though, spring is a time when Saban likes to experiement and just because you see an offensive player on defense in some snaps, or a player far from his normal position, this is normal.

Positions –

Quarterback – Saban likes to go with experience at quarterback, so look for Jacob Coker to finally get the nod. What he still has to prove is that he’s gotten rid of a delaying “hitch” in his throwing and that he can get the ball out quicker and make better and faster decisions than he did last year. If he doesn’t, the battle is wide open.

Alec Morris may be the second most experienced option and could well be the smartest of the rest. Last year’s starter Blake Sims said Morris was an astute student of analyzing defenses and often gave him valuable advice from what he saw. There were rumors last season that Morris may have been the man turned to over Coker if Sims had gone down. Either way, the coaches know that while Morris doesn’t have the experience, he has the tools and the smarts to be a good choice. I look for him to be second string if he doesn’t win the battle for first.

Running Back – No surprises here, this is Derrick Henrey’s year. Baring anything unforeseen, like another visit to the dog house, we will finally get to see what an offense will look like with lots of meaningful plays from Kenyan Drake, the man who had more yards per carry than any other Alabama running back since he’s been there. But he won’t get all the “other” carries. Bo Scarbrough will get plenty of carries too. But that may not mean that when Scarbrough is in that Drake will be out.

Look for some two back sets as well as seeing Drake line up in a slot receiver role with either running back behind the quarterback. This will just give defenses something else to worry about and keep them from concentrating on stopping the running back. If Tyren Jones escapes Saban’s dog house, he seems to be the fourth back in the system.

Receivers and Tight Ends – Gone is sure first round pick Amari Cooper, but overall, the depth of talent is probably higher than ever. Though Chris Black will finally have the chance to live up to his potential, others like ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster look to be the leading early contenders, but there is so much talent, even among true freshmen, that you’ll see a lot of faces with opportunities to shine as the season goes on.

O.J. Howard has shown glimpses of greatness so far in his career in Crimson, but this year he’ll need to string together a whole season and help the offense whose apparent weakness is depth at tight end. Dakota Ball and Ty Flournoy-Smith are the apparent backups, but you can bet that Saban will experiment with a few players in looking for a little more quality depth.

And as mentioned earlier, look for the running backs to be heavily involved in getting their share of passes too, especially Kenyan Drake. Do not look for Alabama’s passing game to take a step back, look for it to take a step forward.

Offensive line – Again, rather than cry over players who have left, Alabama fans should be thankful for the depth of talent they’re left with. As with most positions where new players take up the banner, they are being filled by players from Saban’s five year run of number one recruiting classes. Don’t forget, for two years in a row Alabama landed the nation’s number one offensive tackle.

It all starts with center and Alabama is blessed to have two proven players who can play that position and another young gun with lots of potential. Though Ryan Kelly will be the starter, Bradley Bozeman, who looks like the leading right guard candidate can fill in or take over if need be. Cameron Robinson looks to return to left tackle and Alphonse Taylor looks to be at his side at guard taking departing Arie Kouandijo’s place and Dominck Jackson, a Jr. college transfer to fill Andrew Shepherd’s spot at right tackle. That just leaves the backups and there are lots of options there for offensive line coach Mario Cristobol to look at.

Offensive Conclusion – If the offense stumbles, it will be because the quarterback isn’t functioning as needed, but perhaps the most important part of the offensive puzzle is Lane Kiffin. Since he was retained for at least another season, all the rest of the pieces are in place for this to be a very special, high scoring offense. The future of the offense looks very, very bright.

Defensive line and linebackers – I get tired of writing and you may be at the point of boredom in hearing that this year’s defensive front could be one of the best in the nation and with the potential to be one of the best in many years.  I don’t tire of always being right when I say this however, at least anymore than the fans are bored with the results of seeing them post nation leading figures.

The best news is that gap between first and second team players at almost any of these positions is all but unnoticeable. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has the option of throw wave after wave of fresh players at an opposing offense and grinding them down as the game goes on.

A’Shawn Robinson looks to return to seal the middle as nose tackle, Johnathon Allen returns to one right end position and DJ Pettway returns to the other end spot, but as I’ve said, look for lots of rotation in these slots as there are tons of talent just waiting to be unleashed, like A’Shawn Robinson, Dalvin Tomlinson and DaShawn Hand and even some young freshmen. This is the strength of the defense and it’s as good or better than any team in the nation can field.

At linebacker, it will be interesting to watch Dillon Lee. He’s a wild man who may the wild card who creates chaos, fumbles and big plays. He’s just a fun guy to watch and there are some plays where you wonder if he’s not even sure himself what he’s going to do when the ball is snapped. Look for him to work at different spots, but mostly at strong side linebacker. On the weak side is Reggie Ragland and he’s going to prove himself to be a star. At Jack linebacker, two people have a shot to land the spot. Ryan Anderson seems the leading candidate, but Rashaan Evans could wind up there just as easily.

Jaran Reed is just one of the many defensive tackles that will see playing time, but he may see the most. Middle linebacker has several folks who will have Reuben Foster and Shaun Hamilton fighting it out with Foster getting the lions share of the snaps.

Without a doubt, this is a talent laden defensive front, the deepest in the nation hands down. It can survive injuries due to this depth and not miss a beat. This will be the heart of the Alabama team this year and could set the tone for the entire team even more so than the offense.

Defensive Backs – Every year it seems I write that the question mark on this team could be the ability of the defensive backfield to be a shut down unit. This despite having stars make it into the NFL seemingly every year. There’s always a star or two, but as a unit, there always seems to a problem. To help this situation, Saban brings in new defensive backfield coach Mel Tucker. Hiring Tucker was something Saban simply had to do.

Kirby Smart and Saban had been working with the defensive backs, but this is a job that needed a full time coach, not someone who also had so many other things to dabble in. Besides being a killer recruiter, Tucker also brings a long history of knowing how to both develop and game day coach defensive backs. This could be just just what this team needs to finally develop good players into a solid unit.

Now to man that unit, a few people are presumed starters. Eddie Jackson seems to be fully recovered and could be one of the lock down corners that Tucker can develop.  The other spot is up for grabs in my opinion and will be contested by Marlon Humphrey and and Tony Brown.

At safety, Geno Smith is seems to be the sure pick for free safety and for strong safety there will be a battle between Tony Brown and maybe two others such as Hootie Jones and Maurice Smith. The good news is there’s lots of talent, the bad news is that no one stands out to be the clear winner. After doing a lot of research in this new coach, Mel Tucker, I’m convinced that he can and will squeeze all this talent and produce a better product than what we’ve had in the past. Also if Kirby Smart should wind up with a new job at the end of this season, that Tucker could be given a good look at the defensive coordinator’s job.

Defensive Conclusion – Overall on defense, this will be another national leading unit which could put up better overall numbers than last year’s unit.

Special Teams – Punt and kick coverage teams will be manned by some of the fastest and hardest hitting freshmen on the team with a few experienced players sprinkled in for good measure. They should do another good job and present no problems.

On kick and return teams, gone is the steady and dependable Christion Jones and DeAndrew White to return those balls. Cyrus Jones and Chris Black are the expected returners, but personally I’d love to see Bradley Sylve get a shot to show off his speed with some returns. In the end, Alabama will do well with whoever returns kicks and they may surpass the totals of last season.

The rest of the special teams all come back for another season. Long snapper Cole Mazza and punter JK Scott are as sure and steady as you can get and Scott could be a sure NFL pick when his time in Crimson comes to a close. At placekicker, Saban’s faith in Adam Griffin has never waivered and this could be the year he finally comes into his own and brings the consistency that’s eluded him so far. He has the leg and this year I think he will find the accuracy too.

Overall the special teams should be a bright spot, especially the punting. Fans will be happy with what they see from this unit.

Final Conclusion – This is a team that could and should have all the talent necessary to make it make into the championship playoffs. The strengths of this team are so unbelievably strong that it’s the opinion here that they could easily overcome any weakness from the other parts. This is a team that could develop into one of the best teams in recent years. Of course they’re well coached too and that sure doesn’t hurt.

Now, as for what the Crimson Ball sees for the season record? Well that’s going to take a little more rubbing and that’s an article for another day.

Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter
 
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