We have all heard, ad nauseum, about the three big pillars Bama
lost on the O-line. Yes, that was a big blow, but not the only spots of
concern for the Tide.
OFFENSE: As you all know, the RB corps is loaded - and crowded. Undoubtedly, some of the young freshmen will be redshirted. I think we will see a steady rotation of Yeldon, Drake and Henry during the season. I look for Jalston Fowler to play mostly at "H" back and FB. I think we'll see Dee Hart mostly in the slot and on special teams (where he could be great - a la Javier Arenas). The TE and WR corps should be both talented and deep. Amari Cooper should continue to be an incredible talent, but with Chis Black and Kenny Bell healthy, this could be the best receiving group Saban has had at Bama - if not one of the best groups in the nation. AJ McCarron should be dreaming about the potential - if he is not having nightmares about the protection. Last year, AJ played most of the season with a very clean uniform, but I don't think that will be the case this year. It is not so much a lack of talent as it is a lack of cohesiveness. This group has not played together for 2-3 years like last year's group and there will be some growing pains. This was evident during the spring game and a lack of a strong running game. The O-line is going to be a work in progress all summer. The opener against Va Tech and their 9 returning defensive starters will be telling.
DEFENSE: Lots of players returning with tons of game experience. Saban & Smart did a good job of getting a lot of players on the field last season and that experience will pay dividends this fall. To me, the biggest shoes to fill will be that of NG Jesse Williams. In Bama's 3-4 scheme, the NG is an unheralded but vitally important position. The NG's ability to command double and triple teams is the key to freeing the fast LB's to do their damage. It remains to be seen who will seize the position. Otherwise, the LB group looks solid and extremely athletic. Very good at Safety, the CB's appear to be the biggest point of concern for the D. Geno Smith, Deion Blue, and John Fulton showed glimpses of being very good during the season, but also had some shaky play at times. We will see if Saban can work his magic (again) on this defensive backfield. But overall, the Tide defense will again be a very strong unit. Time will tell if they can be as dominate as the past couple of seasons.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The biggest question here is how Cade Foster will do as
the full time PK. He has a very strong leg, but has had accuracy issues
on short kicks. Behind him is a redshirt FR that was rated as one of the
top kickers in the nation a couple of years ago. Cody Mandell has the
potential to be a Ray Guy candidate at punter - he is very good and,
more important, very consistent. I think we will see Dee Hart have a
great season as a return specialist and I won't be surprised if we don't
see a couple of the incoming FR like Altee Tenpenny do some return
MY BIGGEST POST-SPRING CONCERN: A lack of intensity in the spring game. Lots of mistakes during the scrimmage that are way out of character for Saban's team. To me, it almost seemed like the players were not taking it all very seriously. I hope this team has not developed some sense of entitlement and take for granted the hard work that has earned previous teams success. On the other hand, a sloppy spring gives Saban something to kick butts about during the summer.
SEASON OUTLOOK: Make no mistake that the Tide will be strong. But will they be 3-peat strong? The first two games will be a big indication how good this team can be. The Hokies have a lot of returning talent, a new OC, and a lot to prove after last season. And we all know about A&M. If Bama takes care of business in the first two games, it should be clear sailing till LSU comes to T-town for another "Game of the Century". Although there is no sure thing in the SEC West. Ole Miss is much better, Arkansas and Bielema will be an unknown as will Auburn and their new HC. Provided they get thru the regular season, UGA, SC or FL will be waiting in Atlanta. A sure-fire cinch for another title? I don't think so, but the championship potential, and talent, is there.