The season is fast approaching. In anticipation, we'll be doing roundtable discussions about the depth chart and who we expect to make a name for themselves this fall.
Give your best guess on the starting offensive lineup for game one, and your thoughts on some of the more interesting position battles on that side of the ball.
WR - Amari Cooper
WR - Kenny Bell
LT - Cyrus Kouandjio
LG - Arie Kouandjio
C - Ryan Kelly
RG -Anthony Steen
RT - Austin Shepherd
TE - Brian Vogler
H-Back - Jalston Fowler
RB - T.J. Yeldon
QB - AJ McCarron
I think the some of the most interesting position battles will be for the second-tier guys, namely the battle to be the number two quarterback/running back. It will also be interesting to see how playing time will be divvied up between the 37 all-world receivers. Finally, I'll be watching incoming freshman O.J. Howard closely to see how he'll be utilized. He could come in for Fowler as the H-back, or he could come in for Vogler at the Y-position (traditional heavy tight end) and be a matchup nightmare in the passing game.
Offensive Line from left to right - CyKo, ArKo, Ryan Kelly, Anthony Steen, Austin Shepard
QB- I feel silly even writing this..AJ McCarron
TE - Vogler
Anthony Steen said during SEC Media Days that Cristobal has made it clear that every position is up for grabs; that if the freshman are good enough, they could take a spot.
Though this doesn't seem out of line with how Saban has approached position battles in the past, it's hard to believe that a freshman could walk on campus and grab a spot. Same goes for the Wide Receiver group. We have signed some immensely talented wide outs who will most likely push for playing time but are they good enough to break the starting rotation? Falkins seems to have a great shot considering the praise he has received from the staff and AJ, and Chris Black will most certainly be in the mix. And lets not forget about Christion Jones. It'll be interesting to see who emerges early in camp and who may be looking at a red-shirt season.
QB: AJ McCarron. The interesting thing here is who steps under center in garbage time: Blake Sims or Alec Morris. Sims will get his reps but Morris is the true back-up.
RB: TJ Yeldon. Again, who will be the number two? The easy answer is Kenyan Drake but nothing is guaranteed. Derrick Henry looks pretty darn good and I am intrigued to see true freshman Altee Tenpenny run the ball. And what will become of Dee Hart? So many running backs, so few snaps.
H-Back: Hopefully Jalston Fowler is fully healed from his season-ended knee injury. True freshman OJ Howard is going to be fun to watch as well.
TE: Expect a breakout year for Brian Vogler. Unfortunately, there is not much depth behind him. I am not quite sold on Malcolm Faciane or Harrison Jones.
WR: Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell, Christion Jones (great possession receiver), DeAndrew White (deep threat), Chris Black. Underrated Raheem Falkins has a great shot at playing as a true freshman. Will fellow true freshman Robert Foster ever qualify? Has he already missed too much time on campus?
LT: Cyrus Kouandjio - Enjoy CyKo, folks, because he probably has 14 career college games left.
LG: Arie Kouandjio - Hopefully he stays healthy. Look for Alphonse Taylor to push him for the starting spot.
C: Ryan Kelly - This kid is a real leader. No drop off at center this year.
RG: Anthony Steen - Solid as a rock. Bad hair. B)
RT: Austin Shepherd - This rising junior has gone through 4 springs. He is ready. If not, Brandon Greene will gladly step in.
Wild card OL: A'Shawn Robinson. I don't even know which side of the ball he will start out at but don't expect a redshirt from this guy
Quarterback - AJ McCarron
Tailback - T.J. Yeldon
H-back - O.J. Howard - See a trend in the names of the backfield starters?
Wide Receiver - Amari Cooper
Wide Receiver - Kevin Norwood
Tight End - Brian Vogler
Left Tackle - Cyrus Kouandjio
Left Guard - Arie Kouandjio
Center - Ryan Kelly
Right Guard - Anthony Steen
Right Tackle - Austin Shephard
These are mostly pretty well set, at least for game 1. Howard is the only one where I'm going out on a limb at all, but I am betting Fowler isn't ready for a starting position by game 1--or if he starts, it will be ceremonial--and Howard will pass the other guys by the end of fall camp. Initially, I think there was a lot of hope that Leon Brown would take the right tackle position away from Shephard, and while that's still possible given Brown's superior athleticism, I think the staff is happier with Shephard after the spring than they had expected to be. An interesting offensive battle that won't appear in this starter chart is for 2nd-string tailback. Kenyan Drake is the leading candidate, but is odds on to get a stiff battle from one of the deep crop of true freshman studs: I'll take a flyer on Tyren Jones to step up among that group.
So what newcomers are you most looking forward to, or other unknowns that you think could break out?
Well, I already mentioned O.J. Howard, who should be good for 250-300 yards and 3 touchdowns this year. My next choice (obvious though it may be) is Derrick Henry. Can you imagine what would go through a defender's head if they saw Henry (at 6'3" 240 lbs) running full speed at them... with Jalston Fowler lead blocking? Yes, please.
For my less heralded pick, I'll go with Raheem Falkins. It will be difficult for him to get to the "heavily used" part of the depth chart given the depth of talent at the position, but he showed a few flashes of brilliance in the spring game (his 35-40 yard catch on a 5-10 yard drag route was the one highlight of Blake Sims' day).
It's hard to put a finger on just one or two guys. I'm excited to see if Chis Black can live up to the hype. Raheem Falkins is a guy to watch. Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard are obvious choices. The biggest head scratcher for me (and probably most of us) is how will the running back rotation play out? It'll probably be Yeldon, Drake, Henry...Tenpenny? Hart? How will the staff use Fowler?
There's a lot of young talent on this team and my gump is starting to show...
As I mentioned before, H-back OJ Howard is going to be exciting to see as a receiver. He has some great hands and can go up for balls. He might remind some of you old-timers of another guy whose name starts with an O: Ozzie Newsome. The real question is, can he block?
Also be on the lookout for running back Altee Tenpenny. He did not have the luxury of enrolling in January but he is a legitimate runner who could find playing time this fall.
Lastly, I am anxious to see what Chris Black can do at wide receiver after a season ending shoulder injury last August. I am sure many of you remember how good he looked in the 2012 A-Day game.
The guy I most want to see is Reuben Foster. He's got a hell of a steep hill to climb if he wants to get any serious playing time at middle linebacker, but I wouldn't be shocked. He is big, fast, and a sure tackler with a nose for the football.
I'm also curious about the freshman defensive linemen coming in. We've got playing time at defensive end (relatively) available if anybody really steps up, and my my, we also have the best crop of defensive end recruits Saban has garnered at Bama by a wide margin. I've definitely got my eye on Jonathan Allen and Dee Liner as having a chance to get in the mix. I had a mild impression late last season from a couple of Saban's comments that he was seriously considering recruiting a somewhat leaner, speedier, pass-rushier defensive line going forward to combat the increase in dangerous spread offenses, and if so I wouldn't be too surprised to see Tim Williams in on passing downs at some point.
I picked Tyren Jones out of a hat as the freshman tailback to watch, but any Alabama fan that isn't looking forward to seeing all four of him, Altee Tenpenny, Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara toting the rock this fall needs to have his hand cut off to see whether orange and blue blood runs out. We can sew it back on if it doesn't. .