In the wake of Alabama’s demolition at the hands of Clemson the national media has more or less moved on from the Tide. Local sports casters are covering Alabama as they always have but aside from them Tuscaloosa’s been as quiet as it’s been since the summer of 2008. At that time Alabama had had a somewhat unforgettable season in 2007 and not much more was expected of them. That team went on to demolish the pre Dabo Clemson team in Atlanta and came 1 quarter from playing for a national championship.
That being said even with Alabama’s high level of recruiting between early defections to the NFL and maddening injuries Alabama continues to struggle to maintain depth where needed. So far Alabama has lost 2 definite contributors for the season.
LB Josh McMillon, starting middle linebacker is out for the season and possibly may not return since he was a senior. McMillon was not the best athlete but knew the defense and was the one getting everyone lined up. Alabama appears to have turned to a true freshman to take his place, Christian Harris out of Baton Rouge, LA. Harris is advanced athletically for a freshman and by all accounts is smart but there is no getting around the fact that he’s going to get confused in the heat of battle. From what I’m reading though is that he does everything full speed so he’s either going to make the play or do it wrong full speed.
RB Trey Sanders was one of the top freshman players in the nation and was on track to have a eye popping season. The day he committed he said it was his goal to win the Heisman as a freshman, now he will spend his first year in obscurity rehabbing his broken foot. Assuming the foot returns to full strength however since this is not a knee he should be good to go next season, where he will be needed even worse.
Everything begins with the offensive line. Alabama actually moved the ball easily on Clemson between the 20’s but failed to score in the red zone which resulted from short yardage failures. The offensive line coach was pretty much shown the door and Alabama hired Kyle Flood who is being tasked with getting this persistent problem fixed. Basically it’s been an issue since Jeff Stoutland left to join the Eagles. It’s great to have a record setting quarterback but in the end big games will always come down to gaining a single yard. They are more or less set with two experienced tackles so most of the competition is in the interior. Recently we have seen numerous lineups that include true five star freshman Evan Neal, Junior Chris Owens, redshirt freshman Emil Ekiyor, Senior Matt Womack, Deonte Brown who is suspended the first four games by the NCAA and a transfer from Florida State named Landon Dickerson who coincidentally is from my wife Shawnette’s High school in Hickory North Carolina. Dickerson had been a starter at Florida State as a freshman but three years of injury followed and he eventually decided to move on. He’s a big strong dude and fits well with Alabama’s goal of getting more aggressive in the run game. Brown had solidly gained a starting job last season but his suspension puts him on the shelf for a while and may have to wait and see if a spot opens up afterwards. It’s anyone’s guess what combination will start against Duke or if it will stay that way.
At running back Najee Harris and Brian Robinson inherit the top spots after Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs both headed to the NFL. After these two Alabama doesn’t have anyone who’s carried a ball in a game. Jerome Ford was looking sharp earlier but twisted his ankle in the second scrimmage and will be out for a few weeks. Ford is a three star player, Alabama has not signed a three star running back since the mid 2000’s. Can he be more than a three star? We will have to wait and see. Glen Coffee was a three star back who flourished under Saban. Freshman Keilian Robinson is a scat back who we have plans for but he’s not currently strong enough to carry the load. Then as a stop gap they moved Chad Townsend back to Running Back. Townsend has flipped back and forth from WR to RB several times and if pressed into service might not be as bad as people think. He physically is more in the mold of former tider Kenyan Drake.
Wide Receiver is just too ridiculous to talk about. We have the best crop I’ve ever seen in crimson and not by a small margin. They could be the best wide receiver group in the history of college football. Time will tell.
Last season the pain we felt in the secondary should bear fruit with a fairly solid secondary. The young players seem to be competing well as well so depth may be ok as well. The same can be said for the defensive line.
The season may boil down to the pass rush. Alabama was torched by Clemson in because they couldn’t apply ANY pressure what so ever to quarterback Trevor Laurence. He essentially looked like John Elway that night and though he is good his stats suggest he’s not THAT good. Most top QB’s are going to hang insane numbers on you if you just let them sit back and scan the field. Compare that to the Clemson rush who made no attempt to hide their desire to aim for Tua’s damaged knees. Low hits were rampant last season once Tua showed he was vulnerable. I expect that to continue this season as well.
Alabama has two players back from injury Terrell Lewis and Chris Allen who could have helped change that game. The season could easily boil down to these two guys. Can they stay healthy and can they apply pressure. If we were to lose one or both of these guys we would easily see a repeat of 2018. Alabama has a few other players they could try, but true freshman King Mwikuta got a mention from Saban as someone who might be able to help. Most pundits will mention Anfernee Jennings as well. Jennings is a solid outside linebacker and he gets good pressure but last season he didn’t have enough speed to effect the quarterback. He was only one year removed from a horrific injury against Clemson the year before in the first round of the playoffs. The injury was so severe it almost cost him his leg. It remains to be seen if he can regain the speed he was showing before the injury.
Of course Alabama is breaking in two new coordinators. I have reviewed them both earlier and both have potential but neither are proven in the SEC so all we can do is hope Saban made the right choices on the staff.