Seeing that we've thoroughly broken down the weaknesses that led to the Auburn and Oklahoma losses, now know which juniors have declared for the draft and also the type of players Alabama is currently recruiting on both sides of the ball, mainly defensive line, it is time for us to briefly turn our gaze to 2014.
The obvious statement of the century is that for Alabama to have success in 2014, meaning if the Tide plans on returning to the promise land, adjustments and improvements have to be made. Saban and company simply cannot continue to approach the game in the same fashion as in years past and expect different results.
From my where I sit today, the greatest threat to Saban's legacy is the HUNH offense. The question many people seem to be asking inside the Alabama fan base, and outside as well, is how will Saban and Kirby Smart adjust their defensive philosophies to combat the growing number of teams in the SEC who use some variation of the HUNH?
So it's pretty clear that Alabama wants to get lighter and faster along the defensive line. Nick Saban has mentioned this on multiple occasions, including this past weekend when talking with Rashaan Evans. The reason our ears should perk up at this is because you can't change personnel to this extent without adjusting the scheme. And that's why, after playing a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 (with either the JACK or SAM often playing on the line) for the past several years, I think Alabama might be slowly making the transition to more of a permanent 4-3.
But what other changes or improvements must be made?
#1 Corners have to play better. (duh)
None of the changes Saban may or may not make up-front really matter all that much if the corners and safeties can't hold up in coverage. If the plan is to place more pressure on the quarterback with a greater sense of urgency, that would obviously help our corners out a great deal. However, if Smart continues to employ the 'mush rush" technique, our DB's will have to grasp the defense at a quicker pace and learn to play better in space.
For the first time since 2007 (and maybe even 2010), the Alabama defense will be without a true #1 corner heading into Spring practice. So, the 2014 defense will live or die by some variation of Eddie Jackson, Maurice Smith, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Cook, Geno Smith and possibly new comer Tony Brown.
Combine this with Ha Ha and Vinnie both entering the NFL draft, safety is also a bit of a concern. Who will play opposite Landon Collins? Nick Perry? Geno Smith? Blake Sims? At this point, your guess is as good as mine.
#2 The Alabama quarterback must stretch the field
Listen, I loved AJ as Alabama's quarterback and he very well may go down as the greatest QB to ever wear Crimson but if he struggled in one area it was in consistently and accurately hitting the deep ball. The Alabama wide receiving corps has the speed to beat opposing DB's down field and we just weren't able to do that in 2013 with any amount of consistency. Blame this lack of "explosiveness" on Nuss if you will but Alabama hasn't had a QB who can accurately complete down the field passes since Brodie Croyle.
If we want to take pressure off a young offensive line, all the while taking advantage of the wealth of talent at running back, the quarterback, whoever he may be, must be able to stretch the field with his arm and force defenses to respect the Alabama passing game.
#3 The offensive line needs to return to the 2008 and 2012 "glory days"
2013 would not be considered a great year for Alabama offensive line play. In fact, the eye test showed that this unit may have been the weakest under Saban since 2007. Notice against defenses like A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky the group was able assert their will but against the better defensive lines they faced (VT, Auburn, uh...Oklahoma?) they were unable to control the line of scrimmage in a way we've come to expect. It's not a stretch to say they were great in pass protection (outside of the Sugar Bowl) but were woefully inconsistent in the running game.
So, who will replace Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen? Will we see some competition at Center, Left Guard and Right Tackle? Will the 2014 unit be able to establish themselves as a dominate force in the running game once again and open running lanes for Yeldon, Drake and Henry? Will they be able to keep a young, first time starting quarterback up right long enough?
Honorable mention: Defensive line must find a way to place more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
I list this as an honorable mention only because pressuring and sacking the QB depends on the over-all scheme of the defense and the type of offense they are facing. Well, we don't know what type of changes, if any, Smart will make so for now all we can do is make assumptions.
In 2013, the Alabama defense faced no less than five offenses that incorporated a mobile quarterback or used the HUNH. Against Manziel and even to an extent Nick Marshall, the goal was to use the mush rush to contain and make them beat you with their arms. I would give this unit a C in achieving this goal. However, we saw on the final drive against LSU the pass rushing capabilities of the Alabama defensive line. So the ability is there but will we, or should we, see it more?
In your opinion, which area do you feel Alabama needs the most improvement? And if change comes, will we see the Tide return to its rightful place as the kings of college football in 2014?