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RBR Blogger Round Table: Reviewing Alabama's First Four Games

Alabama is officially 1/3 of the way through the 2013 season. What have we learned? What do we know? What can we expect from the next four games?

This is a new series for Roll 'Bama Roll and I hope you all enjoy it. As always, please fill free to provide your own answers or opinions in the comments below.

Today's round table includes: CB969, Ricky Muncie, Gumpin on Saturdays, Roll Tide Yall and Slice of Life.

— Roll Tide

1. What are your general thoughts on the 2013 season so far? Has the team lived up to the preseason hype?

CB- I know it's a cliché but it is apt to say this team is looking for an identity. Every game seems like a different team. I get the feeling this team is a lot like the 2010 team but Nick Saban is working hard to keep that from happening again. As for hype, they don't look as good as the 2009, 2011 or 2012 teams but nobody else in college football looks better. Ask me after Oregon plays Washington on October 12 if I think the Ducks are better.

Ricky - This team has not lived up to its hype.

- cancer remains uncured
- Syria is a concern
- there are not free jet packs for every kid who wants one

Frankly, no team would ever live up to the hype surrounding this squad. I am pleased with the manner in which they are trying to keep their ears away from that noise, but damn it's hard to focus whine the world is trying to prematurely crown you.

GOS- I guess it all depends on what you considered the preseason hype to have been.  Best Alabama team ever?  Certainly not, but that may have been entirely unrealistic from the outset, given the loss of talent, specifically on the offensive line.  But they've shown themselves to be a team capable of competing for a national championship and that's all you can reasonably ask.  I think some of their struggles have been due to injury -- vertical passing game (Amari Cooper) and pass defense (Deion Belue) -- so hopefully those are issues that resolve themselves moving forward.  On the other hand, you can't talk about this team without mentioning the offensive line, which has struggled, likely due to a combination of talent level and lack of cohesion.  One of those issues can potentially be improved upon as the season progresses, and it's the number one to thing to watch in the games leading up to November 7th.

RTY: 2013 has been lackluster in terms of preseason hype; being the returning back-to-back champion and present SEC champion predetermines your place as the number one team in the SEC (and such the world, GUMP) and it carries the expectation you will carry the banner for the whole southeast.

There are plenty of thoughts on the 2013 season, but none that are PG enough to write except, "it is a team replacing lots of starters who played better than many other Bama players in their position throughout time.  Wouldn't you realistically expect a drop off?  This year should be a clinical case on why Bama fans need to cool the preseason expectations.

Slice: My general thoughts are that this team is not as good offensively as we expected/hoped, but the team as a whole is definitely good enough to still win another national title.  I would say they have not lived up to the hype so far, because, again, the offense was the group getting the hype and they've been merely adequate for much of the season so far.

2. Who has been your surprise player so far this season? Who has been the biggest disappointment?

CB- Biggest surprise for the 4 games so far is DT A'Shawn Robinson who has been awesome. For the last two, it has been CB Eddie Jackson. He looks like the next great Bama DB but didn't we say that about Geno Smith a year ago? Most surprisingly improved player is K Cade Foster. Biggest disappointment is DB John Fulton who has failed to evolve.

Ricky- Surprise player for me is Eddie Jackson. The kid appears to have the skills to blossom into a true Shutdown Corner for us, and not just a product of a great system. I would put Landon Collins in as choice 1-A, he lights up the field no matter how he is asked to contribute.

Disappointment for me is a tie, between Ryan Kelly and Amari Cooper. Based on Barrett Jones' pronouncements, I thought Kelly would have a better grasp of things than he seems to. And I don't know how much of Amari's troubles are in his head, how much are from him being schemed out to the benefit of others on the offense, and how much is AJ's foot trouble and inability to zip the deep ball.

GOS- A'Shawn Robinson has been my surprise player thus far.  His talent doesn't surprise, but the extent of his immediate impact does.  This is a true freshman who wasn't even here in the Spring, and, in my opinion, has played like one of the three best defensive linemen on the roster.  His versatility is also impressive, especially for a guy his size.  He seems capable of playing any technique from 0-3, largely because of his quickness at the snap coupled with his ability to absorb blockers.  I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Eddie Jackson.  I think we're all excited to watch his development over the course of the season.

As far as disappointments go, I guess the conversation has to start with John Fulton.  That's the only way to describe a player who went from starting boundary corner against both Virginia Tech and Texas A&M to not playing a single snap against both Colorado State and Ole Miss.  Fulton is physical corner and solid tackler, but he just doesn't appear to be a guy that can hold up in man coverage.  If that's the case, then, barring injury, he won't see a meaningful snap for the rest of the season.  Geno Smith is also worth mentioning, for obvious reasons.  I expected him to work his way back into a role by this point in the season, but that just hasn't happened.  Some of that has to be attributed to the strong play of Jarrick Williams, but Smith is the superior talent, so there are likely other factors at play here.  And of course the offensive line has been a bit of a disappointment, as discussed above, but that doesn't fall on any one individual.

RTY: Kenyan Drake has shown flashes that make him the surprise player.  Tons of speed and agility; but if you could just get Coach Cochran to get with the guy for some one-on-one motivation.  Kid seems to need a cheeseburger or ten on his upper body.  The future is bright in the offensive backfield.

A.J. has been my biggest disappointment this year. Whether it's handoffs that have been left to soon or inaccurate high passes, it's as if he lost his mojo.  I can't imagine an A.J. to T.J. threaded needle like last year with his head elsewhere this season (I blame

Slice: You can probably chalk this up to the recency effect, but I'm going to go with Eddie Jackson for biggest surprise.  I was admittedly pretty nervous when we found out that a true freshman cornerback would be starting against Ole Miss, but he put those fears to bed without supper.

I think the biggest disappointment has to be Cyrus Kouandjio.  He has not been terrible, but my expectations were really high for him this season, and so far, he has seemed to regress from previous marks, rather than advance to the heights I had in mind for him.

3. Defensively, do you see the A&M game as an anomaly or did Manziel and company expose serious weaknesses that will haunt us all season long?

CB- The Texas A&M game showed me that the Tide defense has trouble against high-powered offenses. But then again, who doesn't. I am not a fan of Manziel the person but as a player he gets immense respect from me. The kid can ball and there is nobody else like him in CFB today. LSU and potentially UGA may be trouble but I don't see an offense or a player like Manziel on the schedule that can compare. Saban and Kirby Smart have a month to work on it.

Ricky- A&M is an anomaly, not just it's because of the unique challenges of their personnel, but also because of the final score. They made it seem a lot closer at the end than it really was. Did they expose weaknesses? Yes. Are they weaknesses anyone else is in a position to exploit? Maybe Cam Cameron -- but we have a lot of time to further narrow those windows for Mettenberger.

GOS- I think the Texas A&M game is more of an anomaly than anything else, for a few reasons.  First, Alabama won't see another player with Johnny Manziel's skill-set and talent all season, or at least not until their bowl game.  Same goes for Mike Evans, more due to his sheer size than anything else.  Football is becoming more and more an offensive game, and sometimes there's just only so much a defense can do when facing that level of talent and execution.

Second, fifty percent of Alabama's starting secondary (the defensive unit who had, by far, the poorest showing that day) is different today than it was on September 14th.  Even more importantly it's the fifty percent that were largely responsible for the defense's poor play.  The safeties were never the issue, and in my opinion both played well in that game.  The Star and Money also weren't an issue.  But the outside corners (Fulton and Cyrus Jones) were, and both have now been relegated to bench roles.  Not only did Deion Belue miss more than half of that game, but while he was in there he actually played quite well.  The issues that plagued him last year seem to be a thing of the past, and while he might not be a first round draft pick next April, I think he can be counted on for a very strong season.  Opposite him is Jackson, and while I don't want to overreact to one strong performance, the early returns are enough to make me optimistic.  At the very least he should be an improvement over Fulton, Jones, and Bradley Sylve.

RTY: This team will have problems against any mobile quarterback that can effectively run the HUNH.  A&M was an anomaly in the regards the team spotted them 14 to start and finish, Bleue was hurt early and we had no other answer for Evans, and Manziel was limited to what he did on about six to ten plays.  Unfortunately for us there are teams where six to ten plays will beat you almost every time.  TECMO BOWL AIRIAL ASSAULT NATUNAL CHAMPIONS, PAAWWWWWL.

Slice: It was definitely an anomaly.  We won't see another quarterback with that mobility for the rest of the year, and that is what hurt us more than anything, as the extended plays really exposed our secondary.  Also, I think the emergence of Eddie Jackson will cement John Fulton's role as a backup, which (no offense to him) is a good thing for the defense.

4. Grade out the offensive line through the first four games. Do you believe this is a National Title quality group?

CB- D, B- (5 false starts), C-, A-. I am encouraged by what I saw vs. Ole Miss. If this unit can continue to gel and figure out who is going to be the center (injured Ryan Kelly or Chad Lindsay), they could be "National Title quality". My vote is for Lindsay. I am waiting on Saban's phone call.

Ricky- Grade is a C. This is not a line that meets our past standards, but it's not a line that loses you games. They just sure as hell aren't winning any for us, either. And that is the big difference.

Honestly, if they are going to do one thing better than another, then pass blocking isn't the bad choice. We have a veteran quarterback and enough weapons to catch the ball that an A- in pass protection and a C in run blocking can still get us to a title. Just not as comfortably as we have become ridiculously accustomed to.

GOS- The offensive line has not played particularly well.  They're not nearly as good as the 2012 offensive line.  They're not as good as the 2011 offensive line.  In fact, they may be the weakest offensive line Alabama has had under Coach Saban.  Furthermore, there are many offensive lines in the country that are stronger than Alabama's.  But with all that being said, if enough improvement is made over the next couple of months and if other areas of the team perform up to their capabilities, Alabama can still win the national championship.  Cyrus Kouandjiao (despite his early season struggles) and Anthony Steen are excellent players, and the others are capable, if not spectacular players.  They're not going to win games against big time opponents this year purely on the strength of their offensive line, but there's no reason why this unit can't do enough to avoiding costing them the game.  If that happens, and the other areas of the team step up, everything will be alright

RTY: I've seen better cohesiveness at an isolationist convention that with the group presently.  The Steen and Kelly injuries aside this group has closely resembled an offensive line from Adam Sandler's remake of The Longest Yard.  The talent is there, just the coaching, communication, and lack of injury need a proper confluence to carry the team into the mid and final portion of the year.  This group can become National Title quality, just look at the perfect season of the cobbled together team if 2009.

Slice: That's a difficult question, and even though we are four games into the season, it might be premature to be asking it, mostly because the composition of the line moving forward may not be what we've seen during the first three and a half games.  I thought center Chad Lindsay filled in well for Ryan Kelly when he went down.  I would even go so far as to say that Lindsay may well have been an improvement over Kelly.  I suspect that some of that is due to Lindsay having been in the system longer and him being more familiar/comfortable with the calls and checks.

TL:DR - I don't know what "National Title quality" is, but I think this team is well capable of taking home the final crystal.  I guess that makes my answer "yes"

5. Looking at the next four games on the Alabama schedule, do you see a possible upset in the making for the Crimson Tide? If you don't foresee an upset, which game will provide Alabama's toughest test?

CB- Of the next four, only Arkansas looks like they might put up a fight for a quarter or two. I expect double-digit wins across the board.

Ricky-  No. No chance for an upset. None at all.  Toughest test is Complacency.

GOS- Over the next four games I expect Alabama to go 4-0, but outside of the Georgia State game we should still be careful not to overlook anyone.  The other three opponents are still SEC teams, all of which (even Kentucky) have managed to pull in strong recruiting classes as of late.  If I had to pick one of those teams to give Alabama a difficult game I'd have to go with Arkansas.  Brandon Allen is healthy and has shown improvement as a passer this year -- especially over the guy we saw fill in for Tyler Wilson last year against Alabama.  They're also strong at running back, especially with the emergence of true freshman Alex Collins, and their offensive line has played well up to this point.  Their defense has a long ways to go, but there is some talent there and after games against some tough opponents in the coming weeks maybe they'll be ready to put it all together vs the Tide.  By no means do I expect Arkansas to win, but I wouldn't be shocked if the game was reasonably competitive, at least for the first 30-40 minutes.

RTY: I'm a Gump, I'll always be a Gump, so I don't set any real issues so long as we play hard and stay focused. But I'll also be honest, UT always scares me because of who they are. We've had many National Championship teams run up against them and feel the difficulty of that Orange you just can't sit with... I'll just hope for the best.

Slice: Nope.  Arkansas should provide a good opportunity to stress our run defense (which has performed well to date) in anticipation of the game against LSU.