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Alabama Football 2017: Offensive Tune-up week

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With Mercer coming to visit, now is the Tide’s chance for the final tune-ups before the toughest games of the season

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Alright you heathens. This article is specifically handcrafted to allow all of you to get all of your major grievances, worries, and hypothetical solutions off of your chance with no fear of the “well Coach Saban knows more than us” rebuke that so often follows any sort of expressing fear.

Usually, I try to stay in the “step back off the ledge, the sky is NOT falling” mindset here on RBR to keep all of you sane, even when I’m not actually that positive about it myself. So today, you all get every single worry I have about the Alabama offense (and OWB will have the defensive counterpart later this week), and you all have free reign to call for changes, benchings, firings, etc. that you think will turn this flawed, human offense into the perfect death star that we all know it can be.

So, we’ll start with everyone’s favorite topic, and the one I’ve avoided most strongly all season: Jalen Hurts.

There’s been a lot of improvement from his freshman year until now, it can’t be denied. He’s totally eliminated turnovers, both fumbles and interceptions, from his game, and is getting many more air yards per attempt than he did as a freshman while not regressing in his running prowess. He almost never throws off his back foot any more, and has drastically reduced his number of misfires on what should be easy passes.

But is all of that good enough to beat Auburn, Georgia, and then two more teams of the likes of Oklahoma, Clemson, or Miami?

Some of the same issues we’ve seen over and over again over the last two seasons are still popping up. He still bails on the pocket too early when there is any sign of pressure, and often bails right into the nearest defender. He’s made it a point to try and continue looking downfield while scrambling this year, but it’s been rare that he actually finds someone to throw it to, so he ends up hesitating and not making the yards he would have gotten last year by just running for it.

He still locks on to Calvin Ridley (though that may be a product of the receivers, not necessarily Hurts, but I’ll address that in a minute), allowing defenses to key in on where he’s looking. He’s still plagued by occasional misfires and skipping the ball on the ground two feet short of the receiver, or forcing the receiver to slow down to catch and underthrown ball on drags and slants.

Again, he’s improved tremendously from last year in all of those areas, but will it be enough for the upcoming stretch of games? And going forward, how much more can he improve before he hits his ceiling?

As for the receivers, it’s hard to say anything negative at all about Calvin Ridley, but how about the rest of the group? Senior Robert Foster has barely seen a target since his fiasco minute in the Texas A&M game while Cam Sims gets about one catch per game, usually on routes that are more suited for small, shifty guys, rather than utilizing his 6’5” frame. The three freshmen? They occasionally make a play (hats off to Devonte Smith for his game-winner last weekend), but more often that not they can’t haul in anything that is even mildly contested by a defender.

Which, speaking of, seems to be almost every time they’re targeted. I don’t have access to All-22 film to see for myself, but I have to wander why seemingly nobody except Ridley is ever able to get any sort of separation from a defensive back. The refs have clearly shown they are not going to call a pass interference for a defensive back holding down their arms, so they are going to have to start either making the contested catches or getting some separation on their routes.

Despite many of us hoping that Daboll’s arrival would change things, the tight ends are still largely ignored in the passing game unless Smith or Hentges happens to sneak out uncovered. Why are they not involved more?

The offensive line has been inconsistent in their pass blocking this year, going stretches where they are really good, but also stretches where they are really bad. At least they’ve cleaned up the penalties this season. The right side in particular has really struggled with picking up any stunts or blitzes, and Matt Womack struggles with the outside speed rush while Lester Cotton struggles with anything not run-blocking. Pierschbacher seems to have regressed this year—often seen on the ground rather than his feet— and now he’s injured too. Jonah Williams and Bradley Bozeman have generally played pretty well, but 2/5 does not make a totally competent offensive line.

The running game is much more absolved from this than the passing game, but it’s not immune. Damien Harris has quietly been awesome all season, but Bo Scarbrough doesn’t have something in his game that he did last season. I thought we were starting to see his old self in the 4th quarter last week when he took three straight outside zone runs for big gains, but then he exited the game with some injury after that. Josh Jacobs has fought a hamstring all season and just now came back in at the end of the last game, so who knows if he’ll be a back we can depend on going forward or not. Meanwhile, ultra-hyped freshman Najee Harris has displayed pretty poor vision and sub-par speed in his back-up duty this season. Obviously, that’s a common trait for many freshmen running backs (example: Damien Harris 2015), but if Bo and Josh aren’t healthy going into the postseason, the offense needs someone to effectively spell Damien.

As a playcaller and schemer, is Brian Daboll someone who can propel Alabama to a championship? Earlier this season, it seemed he was really focused on quick slants and curls to get the ball out of Hurts’ hands quickly on blitzes. In the last couple of games where strong teams were really blitzing, he seemed to call more deeper pass plays with no outlet, hoping that Hurts would somehow escape the pressure on his own. Why are we not seeing any running back screens or checkdowns??

He’s also inexplicably abandoned the run in full on Sarkisian/Nussmeier style a few times in the last couple of games, and that is something we can’t afford to see in the future.

Obviously, a lot of this has to be taken in perspective to most teams in the league. No offense will ever be perfect, and ours is better than most. That does not mean we can’t fret about it on online message boards. So fret away, my fellow fretting fans.