The other day I was contacted by Israel Llata of FiebreTider, a Spanish speaking blog covering the Crimson Tide. I normally don't help promote other 'Bama blogs but a Spanish blog covering Alabama? How could I pass that up?
Anyways, here are my answers to his questions. Most of these topics we will be covering in detail over the coming weeks but I figured this would be a good primer of things to come.
Well, the conditioning program is already finished in Tuscaloosa and we are getting close to the spring to begin, so what are the areas which you feel the Crimson Tide will be scrutinized most in this particular time of the year?
I think roster numbers will start to become a hot topic, especially once Spring practice starts and we see which players actually report. It may not be until after Spring is over when we find out the transfers. The fact is we have to trim a few more guys to make it under the NCAA mandatory 85 man limit by August and your guess is as good as mine on which guys leave. I could see another quarterback transfer after Spring and possibly a wide receiver or maybe even two.
It feels like we were not able to develop a real backup QB behind AJ McCarron to try to secure the position, so that is why we pushed so hard to persuade Jacob Coker as an emergency plan in order to fix a great void in terms of potential players (Blake Sims is not actually the answer we are looking for). But since we signed AJ in 2009, we were able to attract high-school stars like Phillip Sims (no longer in UA), Alec Morris or Cooper Bateman, but nobody has stepped up. You can also understand the issue as a failure in recruitment, but going in the spring the fact is nobody has experience enough away from Sims. Who do you think is the frontrunner for winning the job into the spring? Who is going to get the most of it?
I can certainly understand the point you are trying to make but I have to disagree, to an extent. Certainly, not signing an elite QB in either the 2011 or 2012 class is why we had to sign Coker but Bateman has been on campus since January 2013, red-shirted last year and should push Coker for the starting job this summer. Don't forget Cornwell will be in the mix, at least for Spring (I expect him to red shirt in 2014). Morris and Ely were three-star QB's and were never really considered viable options to replace McCarron. So, I wouldn't say no one has stepped up yet.
We will find out this Spring if Bateman has progressed after spending a year+ in the program. Saban likes to lean on the more experienced senior in these situations but I certainly hope Sims isn't the starting QB in the A- Day game. Coker seems to be the heir apparent but nothing is a given in college football, especially the starting quarterback at Alabama.
TJ Yeldon had his share of good and bad moments in his college career in UA. I had the opportunity to attend the LSU game and he enjoyed a very impressive performance as he also did in the TAMU and MSU games, and not to talk about his freshman year, when he stunned the nation after rolling above the mark of 1.100 rushing yards. In fact, who still did not remember the game-winning reception in Baton Rouge? But the bad thing is he fumbles a lot and he did them in the most crucial times.
The feel now is like Derrick Henry is the guy to get the nod as the feature back. Someone even talked about the fact that Bama would have won the game in the Plains if Henry played on those short situations. How do you exactly expect the management of the position? Do you feel like Yeldon as starting back is in jeopardy? What about the overall competition?
We'll be previewing the running backs in a couple weeks but I'll take this moment to head this discussion off at the pass. Henry is probably still the #3 running back when practice starts in a few weeks. Don't get me wrong, I love the thought of Henry as the featured back but Yeldon is the clear #1 going into Spring and Drake will likely still be #2. Yes, Yeldon and Drake both have had some fumble issues but pointing out their struggles in 2013, and failing to talk about how poorly the offensive line performed in run blocking isn't fair to either Yeldon or Drake. 3rd and one, heck 3rd and two, use to be automatic at Alabama but in 2013 that simply wasn't the case. Sure, some of the blame can be placed on the running backs but if the hole isn't there to run through, what is the back supposed to do?
And I don't want to speculate on what would have happened in the Iron Bowl had Henry played. Honestly, the defense should take a heavy dose of blame for that loss as the offense scored more than enough points to secure the win.
In the present recruiting class, we were able to attract agile, very fast and dynamic defensive players like LB Rashaan Evans, which suggests the fact that we are really concerned about the recent success of Spread Offenses like TAMU, Auburn or Oklahoma, against our defense, which now looks both slow and uneffective. Saban's NCAA proposal on increasing the lapse for the snaps and therefore slow down the attacks, is also something which obviously tells you that those kind of teams are denying us the chance to compete for the crown.
Do you expect a change of approach on defense? Do you feel like Saban's equation on defense, is now ineffective?
Current recruiting practices do imply a shift in defensive philosophy coming. To what extent those changes are made will not be fully known until we see the team in action. When you look at the roster we still have plenty of size along the defensive front seven to hold up against the LSU's and Arkansas' of the world but we now have depth, speed and agility to hold up for four quarters against Auburn and Ole Miss.
That to me, speaks less to a complete re-haul of the defense and more to the staff wanting flexibility along the defensive line and linebackers to match whatever the offense throws at them.
In my opinion, such a talent like TE OJ Howard, definitely is underutilized in our offense, while the offensive line underachieved and the overall talent of the team never met the expectations. What I think is former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeir was invited to leave his position to Ann Arbor, and the situation now is the controversial Lane Kiffin is in control of the offense (play-calling and x's and o's responsibilities). What do you expect about Kiffin? Are you concerned about his well-known polarizing personality? Why do you think we decided to select him in particular, because nobody else was even interviewed for the vacant position?
I will freely admit I despised Kiffin until he was hired at Alabama but now my Crimson glassed have refocused my opinion of the man, at least for now. I hope fans will join me and are willing to put aside their dislike and give him a chance because I think he will be successful. Honestly, Alabama is the perfect fit for Kiffin. His reputation for mouthing off will be curtailed under Saban's strict no media policy for his assistants and he'll be allowed to simply do what he supposedly does best which is recruit and coach the offense.
Greats like AJ McCarron, CJ Mosley, Kevin Norwood, Anthony Steen or Ed Stinson are gone, so who are the new leaders of this team? Who are your projections? Why? Do you feel like this spring is the concrete time of the year to build that leadership?
I could see guys like Landon Collins, T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper, Arie Kouandjio, Trey Depriest, Ryan Kelly and DeAndrew White stepping up and taking on the leadership roles for the team. All those guys seem to be cut from the Saban mold- Hard workers, who do the right things on and off the field and who have bought into the Process. You are right, leaders are born in the off-season, so this is the perfect time for these guys to step up and take on this role, which may be new or uncomfortable for some of them.
I felt like we were not very deep in the cornerback position. In fact, we even struggled to maintain a playing consistency all season long. Deion Belue was the only player with a secure spot in the team, and when we believed after the Ole Miss game that Eddie Jackson was going to be the answer, especially after John Fulton was manhandled by Mike Evans and the obvious limitations of Cyrus Jones, we found ourselves with no-help in the position when the season unfolded. There is no quality experience in the group and everybody is very young.
This area of the game is Saban's specialty, and he will now receive the assistance of Kirby Smart, who leaves the LB's group to Kevin Steele. So why so many issues in order to build depth? Who you think are the guys to keep an eye on and see how they develop?
For one, the issues at cornerback in 2013 were not due to a lack of talent. Outside of Fulton and Belue, all the guys who played CB at some point last year were first time starters, some even true freshman. And Fulton failing to secure the #2 spot placed the staff in a very precarious position of looking to inexperienced players to fill the void.
The way Saban demands his corners to play places a lot of pressure on knowledge of the defense and reacting, not thinking. Corners at Alabama can't over think their assignment, and when they (freshman) have to think too much, they typically get burned or find themselves out of position. When you ask a true freshman to step into that role, you are asking for problems. Ideally, you have a clear #1 and #2 corner and if a true freshman is to see the field, it's in a blowout.
For 2014, Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve, Maurice Smith, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Cook all have time and experience in the system. Add to that mix 5-star corners from this most recent recruiting class Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey and you have a very deep and talented cornerback group. My gut tells me ‘Bama fans won't have to worry about cornerback play for at least four more years, if not longer.
In your opinion, what kind of unheralded players are you expecting to take a step forward in this spring? I mean, someone in particular who still has not contributed enough and you feel as a valuable player for the next year.
Oh, man, where to begin. Geno Smith will likely be called on to take over for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at free safety but we could also see Nick Perry fight him for the starting spot. Also, Jarrick Williams could have a huge year. Arie Kouandjio and Ryan Kelly will need to step up at left guard and center to supply leadership to a very young offensive line. Trey Depriest will need to have a big year at LB, and help Reuben Foster ease into his (likely) starting role. I'd be remiss if forgot to mention Xzavier Dickson, Reggie Ragland and Denzel Deval at linebacker.
You may see Chris Black finally break out and live up to the hype but he'll have to fight off Robert Foster, Raheem Falkins.
Even the most balanced, un-gump Alabama fan will have trouble drooling over this roster. The fact is, this team is absolutely loaded with young talent who have been sitting the bench for a few years waiting for their time. The question is, who will it be?