January 1, 2015 seems so long ago. But fear not, Spring Football practice has arrived.
Many questions surround any team that loses key pieces in the off-season. The Crimson Tide is no exception as they will be without the services of many leading players due to graduation and early moves to the NFL. Nick Saban and staff will need to plug those holes in order to keep this historic run going.
1. Quarterback Controversy - You knew this one was coming, right? With another year in the program under his belt, the hope is that Jake Coker might be the heir apparent. However, the Tide has no less than four viable candidates to challenge the senior. Coker is the only returning signal caller with any real game experience. He completed 38 of 59 pass attempts last season for 403 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also saw mop-up duty at Florida State in 2012 and 2013. Alec Morris has spent three seasons at the Capstone and served as the #3 this past season. He saw action in a few games but did not attempt a pass. Rising redshirt sophomore Cooper Bateman handled the kick holding duties in 2014 but has yet to see time under center. RS freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett also hope to be in the mix.
2. Stabalizing the Secondary - The departures of safeties Landon Collins and Nick Perry and the revolving door at cornerback leave a bit of uncertainty in the defensive backfield. On the corners, Cyrus Jones has nailed down one spot while Eddie Jackson appears to be the leading candidate opposite him. But he will have competition. After a year in the system, Tony Brown may be ready to challenge him. Is former 5-star Marlon Humphrey ready to step up as well? Nickleback Geno Smith looks like a leading contender at one safety spot while Hootie Jones has earned increased field time in the secondary. Upperclassmen Bradley Sylve, Jabriel Washington, and Maurice Smith provide depth and experience. Beyond that, there are a lot of young and inexperienced yet talented DBs waiting in the wings.
3. Replacing Three Starting Wide Receivers - There is a bit of a dearth of experienced pass catchers for the Tide. A plethora of skilled young receivers are on campus but the question remains: who will step up and replace Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, and Christion Jones?
Returning wideouts 2014 stats:
Black and Cooper arrived in Tuscaloosa in the same year. However, Black has yet to live up to his great promise. Foster needs to have a breakout year to justify his former 5-star ranking. Raheem Falkins has seen game time but has yet to record a reception. Calvin Ridley and Daylon Charlot do not arrive until summer.
4. Replacing Three Offensive Line Starters - Stop me if you have heard this one before. Arie Kouandjio, Austin Shepherd, and Leon Brown have used up their eligibility at the Capstone, leaving center Ryan Kelly and Freshman All-American left tackle Cameron Robinson as returning starters. Junior Grant Hill looks like a leading candidate at right tackle but RS freshman Ross Pierschbacher will give him a run for his money. Senior Dominick Jackson was thought to be possible starter this past season but an ankle injury put him behind the pack. The 6-foot-7 and 320-pounder should be in the mix for either guard spot. Junior Alphonse Taylor will also have a say. Bradley Bozeman impressed with his emergency fill-in at center for Kelly. He also played some guard in garbage time. Senior Isaac Luatua also returns with some game experience though I am not too bullish on him as a starter. Brandon Greene has mostly worked at tight end but can play tackle.
5. The Health of Kenyan Drake - The rising senior running back blossomed under the offensive schemes of first year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in 2014 and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. In the first four games alone, Drake had four rushing touchdowns and two receiving scores. However, he suffered a gruesome broken leg against Ole Miss and his absence from the field was felt. The Tide will need his special skill set in 2015.
6. New Coaches - In my humble opinion, Saban's move to bring in Mel Tucker as secondary coach was a fantastic hire. The man has served as defensive coordinator in the NFL and even as interim head coach (2-3 for woeful Jacksonville in 2011). Despite being only 43 years old, he brings 17 years of coaching experience to a stable of young DBs waiting to be molded. Tosh Lupoi is promoted to outside linebackers coach after a year as an "intern". He will be tasked with molding Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams into a replacement for Xzavier Dickson (9.0 sacks in 2014) at Jack LB.
7. Will Any of The New Guys Have An Impact? - FINALLY, Bama fans get to see what 5-star Bo Scarbrough can do with the rock in his hands. He was part of the Class of 2014 but academic issues forced him to delay his enrollment to this past January. Being able to participate in bowl practice has given him a leg up on the other freshmen backs Damien Harris and Desherrious Flowers (enrolled). Early enrollment has often equated to early playing time. The following newcomers also enrolled in January:
- Blake Barnett - Likely the highest rated dual-threat QB that Bama has had since Kenny Stabler, he could be the future of Tide football. But is he ready now?
- Jonathan Taylor - This juco DL has a troubled past but is a beast of the field. Can he break into a heavy D-Line rotation of A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, Da'Shawn Hand, Joshua Frazier...?
- Deionte Thompson and Ronnie Harrison - Can these two 4-stars help plug the holes at safety?
- Desherrius Flowers - RB likely redshirts.
- Dallas Warmack and Brandon Kennedy - These offensive guards likely redshirt.
Today will be the first of fifteen allowed spring practices. Next week is Spring Break followed by Practice #2 on Monday, March 23.