RBR recently had the opportunity to speak with ESPN stalwart and Muscle Shoals' own, Rece Davis. Davis, a 1988 graduate of the University of Alabama, has served in numerous capacities during his tenure with "The Mothership" after joining the network in 1995. In the past, Davis has hosted standard ESPN programming such as the ever-popular Sportscenter, NBA2night and RPM2night as host. Currently, you can catch Davis during college football season as the host of College Football Live (which airs daily during CFB season) and as the studio anchor for the renowned College Gameday and College Gameday Final programs.
Davis took a few minutes to speak with RBR's own randy-gallivant-in-residence, OWB, about the prospects for the Crimson Tide in 2014, how some top Tide players will fare in the upcomingand his own involvement with the Capital One Cup, a contest that annually awards bragging rights and scholarship dollars to schools who excel in all collegiate sports, not just college football.
OWB: Obviously, Bama didn't end the season the way they wanted to see it end. Specifically, what things will Coach Saban and the team need to do differently to make sure history doesn't repeat itself next season?
RD: Obviously, Alabama puts a lot of talent on the field, there are literally a ton of difference makers on the team. However, Bama must have a quarterback to glue everything together, especially regarding the offense. I don't really agree that the "game manager" tag is derogatory. It's the job of every quarterback from Johnny Manziel to Parker McLeod to manage the game for the offense. The thing Alabama has had during the tenure of Nick Saban is playmakers at the quarterback position. Think about Greg McElroy. In the ('09) SEC Championship Game, Greg made plays that contributed to the success of the team. AJ made plays that contributed to the success of the team. At quarterback, you need a guy who has a skill set, but also a guy who knows how to use that skill set to help his team win games. When Coker arrives at Alabama, we'll see what he brings to the table. He certainly has elite talent, an elite arm, elite size. Coker has the ability to come in and be that kind of guy for the Bama offense...a playmaker. In terms of pure skill set, Coker will have the best raw set of tools in a quarterback that Saban has coached since Jamarcus Russell. However, what will be important is how those tools translate into success on the field. So it's not just about the tools, it's also about what experience he brings to the position and how he uses his skills.
OWB: With the departure of Nussmeier and the hiring of Kiffin as offensive coordinator, it is obvious that Alabama's offensive scheme will be different this year. What does Kiffin bring to the table for Bama? What is a reasonable expectation for the current offensive roster in Kiffin's preferred system? Does the personnel match his game plan? If not, what adjustments can be made to maximize what is a stable of offensive talent on the Crimson Tide sideline?
RD: First I want to say that Doug (Nussmeier) is a good coach, and he will do well at Michigan. But Lane (Kiffin) is a good coach too. As far as what to expect out of the Kiffin offense, Nick said that we're likely to see the same kinds of plays out of "new looks." At USC, whether we're talking about his time working with Sark (USC coach Steve Sarkisian) or his time as head coach, Lane has really used the tight end well. I'll go ahead and say it: any coach who doesn't get the ball to #88 (O.J. Howard) should have his pay docked. Quite honestly, O.J. Howard is a match-up nightmare for defenses. Lane will have to find a way to get the ball to him...he simply has to. Howard has the opportunity to be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the nation with his combination of size and speed. I think Lane will use him in much the same way that we saw Jameis Winston routinely connect with Nick O'Leary in the red zone for Florida State. I really think we'll see that in part this year with O.J., and Coker's exposure to that kind of usage of the tight end will help facilitate that.
OWB: Which leads me to my next question...many Alabama faithful have been grumbling in the offseason about how 2013 ended. What would you say to those who are willing to forecast the end of the Crimson Tide string of successes?
RD: Well, if you think about it, the grumbling only really started after the game with Auburn. Before that, there was no grumbling, everyone was happy and figured to see Alabama with a chance to play for another championship. The kind of unprecedented success Saban has had at Alabama has established the "Championship or bust" mentality among the fan base. It's difficult to be in the National Championship mix every single year, and I don't think a lot of people appreciate how difficult it really is. But if you think about it, during Saban's time at Alabama, the team has been in the National Championship hunt every single year. I include 2010 in that. If you look back, up until the loss against LSU that year, many were still forecasting Alabama to be in the championship hunt at the end of the season. Think about that...what other team has carried realistic National Championship hopes into November each year?
OWB: Alabama has been at its best when utilizing a platoon system at tailback, with the lead back getting 50% of the carries, the backup 40% and the #3 back about 10%. Alabama has an embarrassment of riches at the tailback slot, with guys like Yeldon, Drake, Fowler and Henry somewhat known commodities, and younger players like Altee Tenpenny , Tyren Jones and the soon-to-arrive Bo Scarbrough pushing their way up the depth chart. If that RB platoon tendency holds true in 2014, what do you forecast the pecking order of the top 3 backs to be? Beyond?
RD: All of those guys possess different skill sets, but I see Yeldon, Henry and Drake all getting plenty of work this year. For Yeldon and Drake, though, they simply fumble too much at inopportune times. I can't remember the exact statistic but remember seeing it last year, those two had something like 5 lost fumbles in the red zone, and that is inexcusable. That can't happen. Yeldon and Drake need to learn to take better care of the football and be better in those short yardage situations. I think once the season starts, we'll see Yeldon in that lead role, but both Drake and Henry will get plenty of playing time. You just can't have too many outstanding running backs these days. Players at that position take a real battering, and you have to have quality depth there if you plan on having a successful running game throughout the duration of the season. At a position like quarterback, a player knows what his chances of seeing the field may be if he's second or third string. At running back, every player at the position knows that the next opportunity is just ahead of you, no matter where you are on the depth chart. At running back, you are literally a play away from being the go-to guy.
OWB: Of Bama's forecast first round picks in this year's draft, which player do you expect to see taken earliest? Top 3 players taken?
RD: The top Bama guy in the draft will likely be Mosley. I think before last season, most people would have probably put (Cyrus) Kouandjio at first...but that's cooled a little after his play last year. I don't think you can judge a guy based on one performance, but his inability to handle the outside speed rush, particularly against Oklahoma, may have given some people a little pause with Kouandjio. Honestly, you could still see Moseley, Kouandjio or (Ha-Ha) Clinton-Dix go first, they're all legitimate NFL players. Especially, Mosley and Ha-Ha...both of them will be successful NFL guys.
OWB: We understand you are working with the Capital One Cup this year, tell us a little about what's in store in that regard.
RD: I am working with the Capital One Cup, and I know this: in the state of Alabama, people definitely understand the concept of bragging rights. The Capital One Cup represents the ultimate in bragging rights, because it covers all sports. The standings are updated immediately after the end of each sports season, and every sport factors in. I imagine in the new standings, we'll see UCONN make quite a leap, with both the men's and women's teams winning basketball championships this year. Literally every sport factors into the standings. Alabama, for example, will benefit from the finish the gymnastics team enjoyed in the NCAA Championships. I really want fans to get involved and follow along, and they can do that by visiting capitalonecup.com, or by liking the Facebook page or following the Capital One Cup feed on Twitter. Fans even get the chance to interact with members of the advisory board, which includes me, Barry Larkin, Brandi Chastain, Jenny Finch and a lot of other folks who believe in the work the Capital One Cup is doing. There's a trophy of course, and the bragging rights, but there is also $400,000 in total scholarship money that goes along with it. I'm really pleased to be a part of it because I think it demonstrates what college sports are all about.