TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 3: Runningback Jalston Fowler #45 of the Alabama Crimson Tide follows the block of lineman D. J. Fluker #76 during the fourth quarter past safety Luke Wollet #39 of the Kent State Golden Flashes on September 3, 2011 at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama defeated Kent State 48-7. (Photo by Greg McWilliams/Getty Images)
The starting five is as established as any position group on the roster, so the focus throughout camp will be on who can emerge as the first player off the bench. A player such as Shepherd, who saw action in seven games last season, could be the frontrunner. Williams has also seen some playing time. Taylor, who switched from defensive tackle to guard during the spring, is an intriguing prospect because of his massive size (6-foot-5, 340 pounds).
World champion runner Kirani James will lead a small group of current and former University of Alabama athletes at the Summer Games in London as part of a contingent of 173 former and current athletes and coaches from Southeastern Conference schools who will be competing at the 2012 Olympics. James, the reigning 400-meter world champion and an NCAA champion in the event while at Alabama before leaving to join the professional ranks, will represent Grenada in the Olympics. His best time in the 400 meters is 44.36 seconds, and he broke records held by Usain Bolt in world junior events before arriving at UA.
Alabama won a school-record four national championships in 2011-12, capturing titles in football, gymnastics, softball and women's golf. Previously no programs other than football and gymnastics had won it all. So why won't the Crimson Tide have more of a presence in London? Perhaps because football isn't one of the sports. It never has been. Golf was an Olympic sport in 1900 and 1904, and it's coming back in 2016. Softball was part of the Olympics from 1996 through 2008 but no longer is. Alabama has won two consecutive national championships in gymnastics, but college competition rates a notch below the Olympic level. "It takes special talent," said Lyons, who came to Alabama last fall after Executive Director of Athletics Dave Hart left to become the athletics director at Tennessee. "It goes with the long-term vision and goals that we're trying to inspire in our Olympic sports, like track and field and swimming, aspiring to have those caliber of athletes.
For former University of Alabama swimmer Arlene Semeco, the London Olympics will be not only the Venezuela native's best chance yet at earning an Olympic medal. It may also be her last chance to do so. The 28-year-old Semeco graduated with two degrees from Alabama (human environmental sciences and food and nutrition) while setting a school record in the event that has become her specialty, the 50m freestyle. Since her time in Tuscaloosa, Semeco has competed for Venezuela at the Olympics twice but has yet to reach the finals in any event. This time around, Semeco believes that could change. "The first time was just a blur," said Semeco of her time at the Athens Olympics in 2004. "I honestly don't remember anything about it. I think I was just so overwhelmed. The second time it was very different. I knew what to expect, I knew how to prepare for each race and how to properly recover afterwards. I was so much more confident."
It didn't take the worst scandal in the history of college sports happening at a Big Ten program, a program whose football culture was so out of balance it broke the scale, to know that Jim Delany's little kingdom always has had its own cracks in its own castle walls. But this summer has been especially instructive along those lines. Resurgent Michigan is going to open its season against reigning national champion Alabama in the Cowboys Classic. Which head coach is trying to decide whether two players that got arrested this summer will play in that game? Sorry to disappoint Ralph Cindrich, but it's not Nick Saban. It's Brady Hoke. While most leagues with two divisions look forward to thrilling races this season to determine who'll meet in the conference championship game, one league has lost one-third of one division to NCAA sanctions that include no postseason.
Best-case scenario: The most impressive thing about Alabama's season was not just that Anthony Grant had the onions to suspend his two best players down the stretch but also that Alabama played so well after he did. That bodes well for the upcoming season, in which Grant will incorporate talented freshman small forward Devonta Pollard with essentially the same team that finished 7-3 down the stretch. If Alabama can find some outside shooting to go with its typically stingy defense, it should be in the NCAA tournament yet again.
Must-see matchup: vs. Alabama, Sept. 15
The Razorbacks haven't beaten the Crimson Tide since 2006. But two years ago in Fayetteville, Arkansas led until Mark Ingram's touchdown run with 3:18 left. Last year Arkansas ran for 17 yards on 19 carries. The return of Knile Davis means that won't happen again. Coach John L. Smith knows this is an early chance to shift the SEC West's balance of power. "It's not the season, but it is crucial," he told ESPN. "It's vital that we go to the field and it's vital that we win that football game. For us to show everybody and to show ourselves that we have a chance, we've got to go win that game."
3) Mike Johnson: Injuries have slowed the 2010 draft pick and it seems that everyone has forgotten the praise the Falcons received for snagging a two-time All American lineman in the third round. Injuries are new to Johnson, the owner of the Alabama record for playing in 54 games and also started in 41 consecutive games. A new voice in offensive line coach Pat Hill may do some good for Johnson. While everyone is talking about the right guard battle looming between a number of different players, Johnson is left out of the discussion. He could also be very valuable as a cross-trained right tackle.