"In the three games we lost, we gave up 35, 28 and 24 points," says Saban. "Our lack of maturity and knowledge contributed to last year's defense making the mental errors that led to a big play that let the other team back in the game." Having endured those growing pains, Alabama's 2011 defense is now brimming with experience. The returning starters include four All-SEC honorees: safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Dont'a Hightower. In addition, linebacker Courtney Upshaw emerged as a dominant pass rusher late last season and had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Tide's 49-7 demolition of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
Appetite for destruction. One of the focuses of the spring was to improve in the only area the defense hasn't dominated under Saban, the pass rush, and the 2011 edition's most obvious advantage compared to its predecessors is the presence of a promising threat off the edge: Courtney Upshaw.
The senior played through some pain last season and doesn't believe he was as effective as he could have been. With just one season of eligibility remaining, Upshaw is looking forward to not only a better season in 2011, but a healthier one as well. "It just slowed me down. I don't want to say it was that bad, but (it was) to the point where I couldn't do most of the things to help the team out. ... Push off was one thing, try to burst and get a jump off the ball and what not."
Coach Nick Saban spoke highly of Blake Sims' versatility on Sunday, and Phillip Sims doesn't expect Blake Sims to hold a clipboard on the sidelines for extended periods of each game. "Blake gives us a little excitement," Phillip Sims said. "He gives us the 'it' factor that can get outside the pocket and make some plays throwing the football down the field and running around making guys miss. I think that's something the coaching staff likes in Blake and is going to get him on the field this year."
5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide probably deserve to be ranked even higher. But they’ve been so talented over the past few seasons that the younger players simply haven’t had a chance to play. We’ll see more of them this season, guys like sophomore cornerback Dee Milliner, sophomore running back Eddie Lacy, sophomore defensive end Ed Stinson, sophomore safety Jarrick Williams, sophomore safety Nick Perry and redshirt freshman receiver DeAndrew White. Sophomore offensive tackle D.J. Fluker was a starter last season, and so was sophomore linebacker C.J. Mosley. Coach Nick Saban has yet to make a decision at quarterback, but the thinks he has two he can win with -- sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. True freshman Cyrus Kouandjio was the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the country last year, and even though true freshman running back Dee Hart was injured this offseason, he’s certainly going to be heard from in the future. On defense, true freshman end LaMichael Fanning has been impressive to this point in camp, and that’s a position the Tide could use some help at this season.
There's much to like about Richardson from an NFL evaluators' standpoint. His talent is undeniable, his offensive line includes multiple future NFL starters, and the team's defense will undoubtedly allow head coach Nick Saban to run the same patient, run-first offense that has helped the Tide succeed over the past few years. If all goes well for Richardson in 2011, look for him to be selected earlier in the first round than Ingram, the 28th overall selection in 2011.
Lacy has worn a protective piece thought preseason practice, and in recent days has had a portion of his upper arm taped. He has not missed any practice, and despite nursing his right arm at times he appears to be confident with his progress. Lacy confirmed it would be a few weeks before he was out of the protective gear, but continues to be cleared for full contact. He continues to work behind junior Trent Richardson in drills.
Unless you are psychic – which if you were, you can ignore this post – there is no real way to predict what will happen this college season. However, what if you could play every regular season game as well as the bowl season ahead of time? PredictionMachine.com (via Sportsradiointerviews) has done just that – 50,000 times – and what they found was that the SEC continues to rule the roost in the BCS. According to their computer simulations, Alabama will win its second BCS national championship in the past three season, marking the SEC’s sixth straight national title. The Crimson Tide, which plays Oklahoma in the BCS Championship, wins 56 percent of the time by an average score of 27.6 to 23.1.
Undra Billingsley and Ryan Kelly were absent for the second day in a row. Billingsley, a junior defensive lineman, underwent test at a hospital according to Alabama coach Nick Saban. There was not update on his condition or the severity of his illness.
Alabama at Mississippi State. Jackie Sherrill might be out there in the parking lot slashing the tires of the Alabama team bus, guys, but he's not doing it on behalf of Mississippi State. Jackie's actually just really into vandalism and property damage. Always has been.
"I can't wait to see him play this Friday (against the San Francisco 49ers at the Superdome) and see what he does against another team because in practice he's definitely flashed signs of greatness," free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. One of the most impressive flashes occurred Tuesday on the final play of the first live-tackling session of camp. On a do-or-die, third-and-goal play, Ingram took a handoff from quarterback Drew Brees and found himself man to man at about the 1-yard line with one of the best tacklers in the NFL, two-time Pro Bowl safety Roman Harper. Ingram planted his feet, lowered his shoulder and blasted through Harper like a foam tackling dummy as he powered into the end zone.
A fan on Twitter asked ESPN's Chris Mortensen about the possibility of Croyle joining the Ravens and Mort wrote as if it was a legitimate possibility. Mort tweeted that the Ravens liked him coming out of the 2006 NFL draft and also noted that Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is an Alabama grad, like Croyle. So folks in some league circles think it's possible. It doesn't hurt that the Ravens beat writers have Croyle at the top of their veteran quarterback lists so there's probably some chatter out there about him backing up Flacco in Baltimore.
Andre Smith is listed as the first-string right tackle. Anthony Collins has been playing plenty of right tackle during the first week but is listed behind Andrew Whitworth at left.
JaMychal Green (Alabama) How do you feel physically after a long travel day yesterday, and then three quarters of scrimmaging today? We felt pretty good out there. Coach had us prepared. It's a long trip, but I think we found our legs. How do you think the team played today? I think we played a lot better than we had been in Colorado. I think we are starting to get the hang of what coach wants from us, and we are starting to have some chemistry with each other on the floor. What are your first impressions of the athletes' village? It's nice. It's something new. We are all still trying to get settled, but I think it's going to be a great experience.