The college football season is so close that you can smell the barbecue in the air. Today, everyone is undefeated and unscored upon. For every team, there is so much hope and uncertainty heading into the new season. Alabama is not immune to those feelings, and questions abound.
1. What will be Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s impact on the Crimson Tide?
For those who don’t remember, Sarkisian served as an analysts for Alabama during the 2016 season. When Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin back-burnered playoff prep time in favor of recruiting and assembling a staff for his new job at FAU, he was canned and Sark was promoted with only a week to prepare for the National Championship Game. After the season, he took the OC job with the Atlanta Falcons but now he is back in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban has complete faith in the former Washington and Southern Cal coach who will have some pretty pretty good chess pieces to play with.
It is no exaggeration to state that the Alabama roster currently contains at least four receivers who will be playing on Sundays someday soon, as well as a quarterback who could be the first overall selection of the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite this, we might see the Tide return to more of a ground attack. A healthy running game can set up defenses and hit them with the pass when lanes open up. Much evidence can be seen in the construction of the offensive line.
2. How can Bama replace All-American Jonah Williams and four-year starter Ross Pierschbacher?
By going big. As alluded to above, the offensive line may be designed more towards running the ball. So far, the fans have been left guessing who will start in the interior but it appears that the entire line could be made up of players with experience at tackle. Alex Leatherwood (6’6”/310) and Jedrick Wills (6’5”/320) have potential to be All-Americans at the tackles. FSU grad-transfer Landon Dickerson (6’6”/308) has been lining up at both guard and center the last few practices. Gigantic 6’7”/360-pound true freshman Evan Neal is in line for one guard spot, while former starting right tackle Matt Womack (6’7”/324) is fighting redshirt freshman Emil Ekiyor for one of the other guard positions. At 6’2” 322, Ekiyor is one of the “smaller” linemen.
3. Will the pass rush be the same without Quinnen Williams?
The truth is, Quinnen Williams is a special kind of player. There is a good reason why the Jets took him third overall in the latest draft. Guys like him don’t come along everyday. That said, the defensive line should be pretty good. Raekwon Davis is back for his senior year and will man one end. Former 5-star LaBryan Ray is at the other end and looking for a big junior year. In the middle, the Tide might just have the next in a long line of high-caliber big men in the middle along the lines of Marcell Dareus/Josh Chapman/A’Shawn Robinson/Daron Payne/Quinnen Williams. True freshman DJ Dale (6’3”/308) has been very impressive in camp and could be the starter against Duke on August 31.
4. Will the Tide have a reliable kicker?
They sure hope so. Despite having scholarshipped kicker Joseph Bulovas returning for his redshirt sophomore year, Nick Saban signed top-rated kicker Will Reichard out of powerhouse Hoover High School. Bulovas had a rough go of it in 2018. One issue was missing six extra points. He was 14-18 in field goals but only attempted three in the last four games (Auburn, UGA, Oklahoma, Clemson), none of which were longer than 38 yards.
Reichard has been impressive in practice and in scrimmages but he has yet to kick in front of 100,000+ sets of eyeballs plus national TV.
5. What position is the most lacking?
Easily it’s tight end. Last season, it felt like the Tide had no dropoff from O.J. Howard to Irv Smith Jr. This preseason has yet to see any one prospect emerge as a real pass catching threat. Nobody expected the breakout season for Smith in 2018 and the his subsequent early departure for the NFL. Coupled with the surprising transfer of Kedrick James, Alabama found themselves thin at the position. It is so dire that Alabama was forced to convert linebacker Cameron Latu to the position. Walk-on Giles Amos looks like he might be the starter. Miller Forristall has been the most experienced tight end. He is a solid blocker and has caugft a few balls, but has battled injuries and simply does not have the skills of his predecessors.