When last we saw the Crimson Tide they were staring in shock at the scoreboard as Clemson put an end to their perfect season. As Saban always says, the further up the mountain you climb the longer the fall to the bottom. This team woke up the next morning on the bottom and by all accounts started back up the hill. Can they use last years failure as the fire to ignite another run at a championship?
Offensively the big difference this year is experience. Most of the Offense on the field against Clemson were young players who have returned. It was fairly obvious they could not hold the ball long enough against Clemson and that is the primary reason they lost. Knowing this, there is only one possible response and that is to prove yourself on the field. Of all the positions the running back corps is most notable for it’s growth in the last year. Last year we began the season holding our breath with every carry wondering if these guys were ready, or would they fumble. They all had moments but none had a great season beginning to end. Bo Scarborough was slow out of the gates but dominated late until a broken leg took him out. Damien Harris was good early, began to build steam and then a mid season injury left him average at best. Joshua Jacobs was just a freshman and was inconsistent, having some good weeks and bad weeks. What Alabama fans would like to see is Bo come out of the gates like he finished the season and for Harris to play winning ball all season. Same can be said for Joshua Jacobs. Possibly the best of them all came in this winter, freshman runner Najee Harris. Harris won’t be counted on as a bell cow this season but no other back has his ability so if he proves he’s not a fumbler he will play, but it would be good if the veterans carried the bulk of the load because freshman can rarely play their best ball week after week. That takes some time and maturity. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll came from a system that uses multiple running backs with each having special training for certain plays. Look for Bo and Harris to get the bulk of the backfield handoffs and for Jacobs to be more versatile, possibly splitting out to the slot and third down plays. As Harris matures he may join Jacobs in the more diverse roll. Tuscaloosa product Brian Robinson may also have a roll but we don’t know as much about him and it’s possible he redshirts. Harris however has some some of the same open field wiggle that made former Tider TJ Yeldon so dangerous when the ball was in his hands. Yeldon was at times able to turn games on a dime so it’s going to be interesting to see if Harris can be similar.
At wide receiver the last few years we have under-utilized the position thanks to the former offensive coordinators penchant for throwing most passes to his favorite target. It’s not been mentioned in the press but for many years the New England Patriots where Brian Daboll worked have had a small, super quick receiver, usually unknown prior to coming to the team become a big part of their offense. Looking at the Alabama roster little known Xavian Marks, all 5′ 8″ 174 lbs of him sure looks a lot like what the Pats have used in the past. Marks is lethally quick but has been inconsistent catching the ball. To that end they might take a good look at true freshman Henry Ruggs, Ruggs is not that small (6′ 0″ 175 lbs) but I’ve seen him play in all star games and I think he could fill that roll if he has the hands. Otherwise Alabama has a veteran group of experienced players who I expect to turn in a sold season. There is also a new coach handling the receiver corps and off season reports are that the players really like his fire and approach. The other name to keep an eye for is Jerry Jeudy. The true freshman was dominant in the spring. Can he be the next freshman miracle like Cooper and Ridley?
You really can’t overstate the importance that Alabama already has a starting Quarterback. Alabama will NOT spend all Fall and the first quarter of the season trying to figure out who should be playing. They will spend all that time working on getting better. Backup QB Tua Tagovailoa is going to play, but how much depends on him. He will not be viewed as the starter unless Hurts gets… well hurt. Next year may be a different animal all together but for now Hurts is the leader of the Alabama offense. Florida State will not get a training wheel version of the offensive attack, they will get both barrels of a 12 gauge.
Speaking of 12, Look for the Tide to go back to using a formation called the 12 package. This is one running back, two tight ends, two wideouts. From there sometimes you’ll see the running back move out to the slot leaving the backfield empty. This formation is indefensible for a defense, BUT….. With no one in the back field any missed block or a well timed blitz leaves the QB in trouble immediately. That however could be where the X factor of Hurts feet can make things interesting. But mostly you’ll see run pass options out of this with the running back remaining in the backfield. In short, this is Power Football.
Much of this season however hinges on the offensive line. Alabama has not had stability tackle to tackle since 2012. This season the entire line is now coached by former Trussville High School player Brent Key. Last season he did so jointly with Mario Cristobal but now it’s all his. The left side of the line as has been the case for several years looks solid with all veteran players. The issue becomes finding the answer on the right side. The same two guys have had the job all spring but it remains to be seen if they can put distance between themselves and the others or if the others catch up and make the water even muddier. Guard Lester Cotton has the distinction of being one of the most benched players in the Saban era but the other side of that is that he’s got some real ability and he keeps bubbling up to the top. He did not take immediately to playing guard but after yet another offseason hopefully he is finally ready for prime time. At tackle they have this big freakin 6′ 7″ red headed kid from Mississippi named Matt Womack. He is battling a host of other players but so far Womack has been holding his ground.