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Jumbo Package: Answers to Alabama's growing pains on offense begin with solving the interior line

Alabama has had unsteady play along the line before, but a quarter of the way through the season, even personnel are up in the air.

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Growing pains

Here's why Nick Saban's concerns about Alabama's retooled offense are legitimate -

"People are missing the point that, for the first time in the decade of Nick Saban's time in Tuscaloosa, they're having to replace the center, the tailback and the quarterback all in conjunction with each other," said Savage, a former NFL general manager. "That's a challenge when you subscribe to the philosophy of being strong down the middle."

Growing pains are definitely evident with the offense this year. We saw this coming, in many respects, with the quarterback battle. I said this on SB Nation radio, and I think it's apt: It wasn't a matter of whether Blake Barnett or Jalen Hurts won the start, although that is important. But, given the players Alabama has recruited, and the offensive staff, the QB competition was always about the battle for the future direction of the Alabama offense. And, with a ton of new starters up the middle, that transition has been ragged at times.

PRACTICE REPORT: Alabama football works to clean up offense before Ole Miss - The Crimson White

Quarterback Jalen Hurts was working with running back Damien Harris, the same combination that led to a fumble in the USC opener. After the read-option drills, the running backs began to run wheel routes and catch passes from the quarterbacks.

Per the CW's practice report, the offense worked a lot on the read-option. That is a good strategy, because with Speaks, Haynes, and Jones manning the Ole Miss interior, anything that slows down those guys and creates space in an ordinary Ole Miss back-seven, is a good strategy. With the Tide's difficulties on the interior line does not seem to be the type of game where Alabama can line up and pound the middle.

Nick Saban says starting jobs at guard spots have yet to be determined |

The shuffling continued in the win against the Hilltoppers. "Last week we played Shank half the game at right guard," Saban said. "And [this week] we practiced Ross back at left guard, Shank at right guard, Lester Cotton at left guard, and we feel confident in all three of those players. Obviously, Shank and Ross have more experience because they have started for a whole season, and I think that experience may be beneficial to them in this game."

But Saban said no lineup determinations have been made. He plans to keep everyone — most especially Ole Miss — in the dark.

Physically, Lester Cotton has done nothing to lose his job on the left side (although, the penalties need to diminish.) Could we see an OL that has Ross Pierschbacher back at LG, Bozeman at center and Shank at RG? The offense responded better when Taylor resumed his position aside Jonah Williams, so I'd guess we see that again on Saturday, particularly if the offense sputters. But, changes at center may spill some dominoes over to the left side as well.

Watch Nick Saban preview Ole Miss |

Nick Saban discusses Jalen Hurts progression, expectations for Bo Scarbrough and preparing for Ole Miss in his final press conference of the week. See the entire press conference above and check out photos below.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Coach Saban is testy in a press conference.

Stupid expectations

Nick Saban: Unfair expectations create anxiety for Alabama's former top recruits |

"I don't think he really has any issues," Saban said sharply." An indictment on the hype machine followed. "I think you all create an expectation to people that there's no basis for," Saban said. "You do that for a lot of guys. It puts a lot of pressure on them, creates a lot of anxiety for them. What we're trying to do here is get guys to develop and be able to comfortable and develop and gain the knowledge and experience that they need to go out there and play with confidence, play fast."

This is the same theme that surfaces with DBs: some players take a while to get there. Derrick Henry was not ready to become an every-down player until his third year as a player. Bo, for his seeming lack of production, is doing other things to help this team win. His pass blocking in particular has been stellar, and he has been an excellent decoy out of the backfield as well. He'll get there, and his offensive line has to help him. Those two are intimately intertwined.

Special Teams matter...or do they?

Putting a Point Value on Special Teams - Football Study Hall

I also looked at the special teams value added within each game with 3 questions in mind. 1. How often does the team that wins the special teams battle win the game? 2. What games' final scores were within enough points that you could say "Special Teams won this game"? 3. Is special teams acumen a repeatable skill week to week for each team? Question 1: Teams that win the special teams battle since the start of 2015 season have won 62% of the time.

FSH is doing a year-long study to try and quantify the impact of special teams. While Alabama has not been dominant this season in special teams, nor has it done anything to lose games. Sure Griffith missed a long kick, and returners are still up in the air, but JK Scott looks to be back to his freshman form.


Inside College Football: Why Saban added Sarkisian to Alabama's massive staff -

Think what having Saban on your resume means. Kiesau has now rebounded to become Fresno State's offensive coordinator after spending just one year in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Describing the initial interview process, he said, "Saban called and flew me out there. I showed them my presentation. Saban's biggest concern was he didn't want to change the system. He just wanted to eliminate the huddle. ...

"I think the biggest fear in his mind was, 'I don't want to turn into Oregon. That's not us. We're still going to run the ball and have two backs in the backfield.'" Strange, for Saban who once compared hurry-up offenses to chain smoking.

This is a great piece by CBS Sports on the analyst system Saban has created, what they do, and particularly how it pertains to the hiring of Coach Sark. Well worth some time over morning coffee.

The five college football programs with the most NFL players | FOX Sports

Alabama Crimson Tide: 42 active NFL players Notable alums: Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders; Ha-Ha Clinton-Six, S, Green Bay Packers; Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons; Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers; C.J. Mosely, LB, Baltimore Ravens Nick Saban has been a breathtaking recruiter since arriving at Alabama and it shows with 42 active players on NFL rosters. The question? How many more are currently at Alabama, with guys like Cam Robinson, Calvin Ridley and Eddie Jackson projected as high-end pro prospects?

Eight years ago, Alabama had no players selected in the 2008 NFL draft. As of Fall 2016, Alabama is just two players behind LSU's 44 for the most players in the league. #BuiltByBama

Alabama needs to unleash B.J. Emmons

Through two games, Alabama's offense is almost unrecognizable – still dominant, but unrecognizable all the same. Under center is a true freshman quarterback that is less facilitator and more instigator. The offense runs through him and his speedy, athletic receiving corps. The run game has turned into backup music. After watching Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry rip up defenses under Nick Saban it takes some time to adjust to a box score with 45 yards for a leading rusher. Instead of dictating the game, the running game has become the counter-punch. But this backfield is young and it's going to grow up a lot over the course of this season. As it does, expect B.J. Emmons to emerge as one of the best young backs in this freshman class.

Back in July, in our unit preview, I raved about B.J. Emmons and thought that he'd get a lot of work as a third-team back. As the line gels, I expect those carries to increase. He's going to be a special one.

Here's what to expect from the SEC West race (beyond Bama winning it) -

S&P+ ranking: 1 Three most likely losses (per S&P+): at LSU (Week 10), at Ole Miss (Week 3), at Tennessee (Week 7). How they overachieve: Technically, you can’t do better than remaining No. 1. How they underachieve: It begins with a shaky offensive showing against Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide produced almost no big plays against WKU and fell into a lengthy first-half funk. The defense was as dominant as ever, but in theory, you’ll have to score some points. Saturday will be by far the biggest test the young Bama backfield (quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Blake Barnett, running backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and B.J. Emmons) has faced.

Bill C from Football Study Hall, Football Outsiders et al. has the advanced stats preview for the SEC-West. Spoiler: Alabama is No. 1 again.

Comparing Clemson Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Alabama Crimson Time and others to recent CFP contenders

2016 Bama is potential 2015 and 2014 Bama: Rewind, repeat ... rewind, repeat ... Then: In 2014, Alabama finished No. 1 in the selection committee's ranking, in spite of losing to Ole Miss. In 2015, Alabama finished No. 2 in the committee's final ranking, in spite of losing to Ole Miss. Now: Here comes Ole Miss. Nick Saban certainly doesn't want to lose three straight to the Rebels, but as far as the playoff goes, it clearly doesn't matter if he does.

After two games, how do prospective playoff contenders fare next to other would-bes in the first two seasons of the CFB Playoffs? Oklahoma is done, and Alabama is sitting in the catbird seat.

Someone is getting fired

What Auburn vs. Texas A&M means for Sumlin, Malzahn on the hot seat

This might be the most important game in Malzahn's four years at Auburn, and I don't say that lightly. The guy coached in a national championship game. But while his seat was warm before the season, it got only hotter after the poor offensive display against Clemson in the season opener. From the quarterbacks' subbing in and out to the curious decision to not give Kerryon Johnson the ball the entire first quarter, it made no sense.

There is a difference here, I believe. Malzahn can survive a loss to Texas A&M assuming the Tigers are just outplayed by the Aggies, and Gus Malzahn doesn't do anything too stupid (big assumption, I know.) I'm not so sure that a loss to a very average Auburn team doesn't get the gears turning and phones working in College Station to replace Kevin Sumlin. This is as big a game in the regular season for both programs as you're going to witness this early in SEC play.