2011 Alabama Football Season Preview

 

What To Expect When He’s Expecting……A Championship!

One of the funniest books I have ever read was a book written to advise an expectant father to be.  This book “prepared” the daddy-to-be on how to navigate the nine months of mood swings, raging hormones and weird cravings and helped him understand how that sweet little wife of his would become Freddy Kruger (but with more of an attitude) during the course of her pregnancy.  It also tips the dad-to –be that he won’t be getting tickets to the LeMans and that Shakespeare won’t be heard at the Sonnet Gram.  My favorite part is where the book discusses how to deal with those awkward moments of a lustful Mrs Kruger at the 3 month, 6 month and, yes, the 9 month stretch.  Honestly, it’s a hilarious book and a must read for any guy you know who’s about the experience the joys of holding onto his manhood during his nine month trial by fire.

What does that have to do with football?  Glad you asked!  The time between A Day and the national championship is roughly about the time that it takes to conceive (this time is typically measured in single digit minutes for most of you) and birth a baby and, to be sure, it’s no less stressful.  Today, we’ll take a look at what you should expect while you are expecting….a national championship.  Now, before you go telling me to pump the brakes on this hot rod, you need to know that if you are a Bama fan, each season is a book entitled “Great Expectations.”  Just as Estella was Pip’s long sought after trophy, the crystal ball serves as the Bama fan’s just reward for going thru the excruciating fall labor pains that we call football.  Last year, the crystal trophy broke our hearts when it fell into the hands of our sworn enemy.  But.  This year.  This year will will be different.  RIGHT!?!  WHO’S WITH ME?????  No, seriously.  I’ve bought tickets to New Orleans already.  Who’s going with me????

OFFENSIVE PREVIEW – The First Tide-mester

Quarterbacks – First, a word from our sponsor, Nick Saban:  “You’d have to check the record but I think he’s only had one quarterback in the last 15 years that hasn’t had the opportunity to play at the next level .”  Of course the Nick-tater is talking about Jim McElwain’s ability to coach up a QB and, if memory serves, he’s working with (according to Rivals and Scout) more talented QBs than he’s ever worked with in the past.  If that doesn’t give you a warm fuzzy about the quarterback position then you aren’t the Bammer I thought you were.    Good QB coaching starts when the youngster is in the womb and with both AJ and Philip taking redshirts, they have been raised properly and given plenty of instruction up to this point.  Word on the street says that Mr Sims has emerged front and center of this QB dual and, if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about these two, you know I’m giddier than Kate plus eight, going for nine!  P Sims has that “it” quality that you look for in a leader.  But, that “it” quality isn’t really tangible, so let me let these two speak for themselves.  First, what say you, AJ McCarron, about the scrutiny of the QB battle (taken from a Sporting News article)?

How does McCarron avoid the subject? “I try not to get interviewed a lot.”

And what about you, Philip Sims?  How do you deal with the pressure of the QB battle?

“It’s going to get to you no matter what,” the 6-foot-2 native of Chesapeake, Va., said. “You’re going to hear about it. People are going to ask you questions no matter where you are. So running from it is only going to make things worse. Just face it. It’s a competition that everybody wants to know what’s going on. Just embrace it and keep going with it.”

Now, which answer are you more impressed with?  Which one is taking this head on and which one is likely to let the moment get the better of him?  It’s ok.  I won’t think less of you for making the right choice here…  J

In Saturday’s scrimmage, the buzz coming out of the locker room said that P Sims was extraordinarily good while AJ was just good.  Word also has it that as Sims ratcheted up the extraordinary meter, AJ began to become frustrated, seeming affected by the pressure that Sims was putting on him.  For anyone who can’t or won’t believe this information, I point you to the A-Day game where this very thing played out for all to see.  One appeared calm and cool at all times and one appeared to be very pouty towards the end.  I’m not bashing, I’m just saying that one is a better leader than the other.

What to expect:  If I were Nick Saban, I’d tease every single one of you by inserting a THIRD quarterback to take the opening snap of the season.  Blake Sims, anyone?  But, we all know it will boil down to the other Sims v McCarron and the guess here is they’ll each have opportunities in the first three games until one breaks free and wins the job.  You’d better be practicing your La Maz breathing skills, for each time either one of them drops back to pass, you’ll be hyperventilating and looking for a brown paper sack…preferably with something very strong in it to wash down your emotions.  My pick is that P Sims wins the job and he’ll have an up and down season just like G-Mac did during his first year.  Hmmm.  That year was good enough to birth our 13th National Championship, right?

Running backs – To hear most tell it, with the injuries and defections that have occurred at this position since the spring, our three remaining scholarship backs are named Gloom, Despair and Agonyonme.  Well, it’s time to stuff that deep dark depression and excessive misery down the toilet.  Why?  Trent.  Richardson.  It’s time to shine for the young stud from Pensacola and he damn sure ain’t Peg Leg Pete toting the rock.  This kid has the opportunity to be Darren McFadden reborn, only bigger, MUCH stronger, and faster.  Yikes!  While he won’t display the “wiggle” or vision of Mark Ingram, it also won’t matter.  While Mr Heisman could juke someone right out of their boxer briefs and their t-shirts with the bacon collars, Trent wastes no time or effort with wiggle.  “C’mon ride the Train” is his theme song and, barring injury, we should get a chance to see a few passengers bounce right off that bad mammer jammer.  I am concerned about injuries, though, b/c his running style takes a lot of shots.  Soo….

Did you hear the one about Eddie Lacy’s pectoral muscle?  Turns out it was just a sprain or tweak and not a tear – at least that’s what we are being told.  Regardless, the kid is a 4 star stud who happened to lead the team in rushing in its last game against MichiganState.  If Lacy becomes the feature back, well, the poets may be busting out a few Sonnet Grams in his honor because he’s a darn fine back in his own right.  Fumble-itis is his Kryptonite but hopefully he’s got that squared away.

Lastly, there’s beast mode.  Jalston Fowler reminds me of Christian Okoye and I can’t wait to see him come in there and bang away.  I suspect he’ll come in during some short yardage situations and I look for him to move the pile from Tuscaloosa to Northport.  Call him the human episiotomy because he’ll be splitting the defense wide open when he hits that line.  Too graphic?  Wait til you see him destroy a would-be tackler and then I’ll remind you of this passage!

Perhaps the key to this entire position is Blake Sims.  I do think St Nick likes a change of pace back and with the three beasties above, there’s not much of a change of pace.  Can one change the pace of a wrecking ball?  No?  Then enter Blake Sims.  You’ll see him in Wildcat. You’ll see him in motion.  You’ll see him as a tailback.  You’ll see some trickeration that will make Penn & Teller envious.  But, someone on this team is going to have to threaten the corner and share some of the workload at this position and I think you’ll be shocked at Sims’ abilities to do this.  Additionally, when he comes into the huddle, you won’t know how UA will line up.  Is he in the slot?  Wildcat QB?  Single running back?  How do you align your defense?  Don’t underestimate  the value of Blake Sims this season.

What to expect:  The forecast is for wild mood swings, panic attacks and cold sweats followed by a bundle of joy.  Trent Richardson will go down at some point in the season due to some kind of nagging injury and the Glooms-dayers will come out of the woodworks in droves.  The baton will be passed to Lacy and Fowler and, of course, Sims and while none will be as good as Trent, the combination will continue to provide an effective running game.  Sidenote – how funny is it that Brent Calloway is taking snaps at RB?  AU said that would never happen at Alabama.  Ironically, he’s got a better shot at playing time as a RB at UA than down on the plains.

Wide ReceiversThis is the position I’m most worried about offensively.  While Maze can Ah-Maze, I’m not sure he’s a prototypical #1 WR for Saban.  Josh Reed, Julio Jones, DJ Hall, and Dwayne Bowe are his classic #1s with size and speed.  Alabama currently has a collection of guys that are all pretty much the same guy – sextuplets, if you will.  Hanks, Norwood, White, Sylve, Shinn, Bell and Malone are all the same guy to me.  They are all roughly six feet, around 180 lbs, fast but unproven.  One of them will really need to emerge, especially since Hanks is out for the first 2 games of the year.  DeAndrew White has been explosive and word is that Shinn has been very impressive, as well.   To me, though, so much about this position is up in the air and don’t you know it’s a crucial and critical element needed in developing whichever QB becomes THE guy? 

What to expect:  I expect to see a lot of bubble screens, tunnel screens and quick hitches along with a lot of double move/vertical routes.  I think you’ll see the first half of the season spent keeping it very simple with simple reads and simple routes.  I doubt you’ll see a ton of crossing passes or virtually anything challenging the mid range to deep middle.  That being said, look for Maze to be utilized with the hitches and screens as well as the vertical routes.  Look for Hanks to be overshadowed, due to his suspension, by one of the young pups.  At this time, I’ll say will be DeAndrew White who outperforms him this season (though any one of the six above could emerge).  I know, I know.  You want to know about Duron Carter.  Here’s what I can gather.  DC and his family and the coaching staff all expect him to enroll – probably this week.  It’s disheartening to me that he hasn’t gotten in yet as I think they’ve had PLENTY of time to get ‘er done (meaning this kinda looks suspicious).  Whenever DC finally makes it to practice, he’ll be considered, in childbirth terms, a premi.  He won’t be far enough along in his playbook to help and he’ll have to be nursed until he can gradually be brought up to speed.  Missing this practice time is simply not good for DC and I don’t see how he’ll contribute much if he isn’t in camp by the middle of this week.

Tight Ends: I won’t spend a ton of time here.  As with conception, tight ends are less valuable than wide receivers (c’mon – I gotta stay with the theme, right?  I know – too easy of a joke) and will not be of much help with scoring (one last zinger there).  I do think Michael Williams has become more than just a third tackle and I think he’ll be used a decent amount on little 5 yard curls.  As a big target, he can really give the QBs a safety valve to hit in the face of pressure.  But, by and large (very large at 6-6, 269), he’s a glorified tackle.  As a true hybrid TE (think Colin Peek) I am curious to see how/if Vogler progresses.  Smelley will be the H back in motion and will be used to block the ends on counters and pulling plays but the next really good TE could be Vogler.  He’ll be someone to watch carefully during the KentState game – can he block?  He’s a gifted receiver so if he can block, he’ll be a weapon for next season.

What to expect: This position simply isn’t used in the passing game.  Look for the position as a whole to catch about 20 balls and maybe 2 TDs.  Williams will be vital in the running game and, as I think about it, if we lost him, I’m not sure there’s another beef eater that can play the TE position.  Again, Vogler (and Harrison) must progress.  BTW – I’m hearing Faciane is looking VERY good so it will be interesting to see if he redshirts.  He would have been more highly rated had he not blown out his knee last year in his senior season, and he’s got better size at 6-5, 250 than Vogler and Harrison.

Offensive Line:  Whew.  This is a long article.  But, that’s what you were expecting, right?  “Baby, we can do it – take the time, do it right…” and so we shall.  No quickies here – we are going in depth on this bad boy.  Speaking of depth, great googly moogly at the depth on the offensive line.  We have a very solid two deep and even three deep if the young pups are what they say they are.  This season will be won and lost (as I contend last season was) with this group right here.  Our running game MUST be effective to allow (insert QB of your choice here) to come along slowly and gradually.  The time that we can’t run will be the time that P Sims (there, I said it) will have to put the game on his shoulders.   Who among you is comfortable with that?  How about not being able to run against Florida.  Or LSU.  Like your chances of winning?  I’d say they diminish greatly if we aren’t getting 4 yards per carry, so it’s beyond critical that they get this OL group figured out.  Barrett Jones is the best RG on the team.  He’s also the best LT on the team, even if he isn’t quite what you’d pencil in as the prototypical LT.  I think the strong preference of the staff is to move him to RG so that he can team with big Fluker – the staff has consistently said BJ helps Fluke with being assignment sound.  By moving Jones to LT, you’ve potentially weakened three positions – RT (b/c Jones can’t help Fluker), RG (b/c Steen isn’t as good as Jones) and LT (Jones isn’t the most talented LT on the team).  So, it’s to everyone’s benefit if big Cyrus Koundjio can start at LT.  I’ve told you time and time again how the hardest part of playing as a true freshman is learning the playbook.  Well, at OL, you also have to be able to handle defensive linemen that have been in the weight room four extra years.  It’s a tall, tall order.  I’m so intrigued by this battle, though, and it could determine the difference between playing in New Orleans and playing in Orlando.  Meanwhile, Warmack is pretty solid and they say Steen is our best run blocker.  If Jones does move back to RG, it’s not a certainty Warmack keeps his job b/c Steen is really coming on.  At center, Vlachos is a stud and it even looks like there’s some depth behind him finally.

What to expect:  I’m gonna be honest – I’m not sure what to expect at this point.  Watch the battle for LT very carefully.  If BJ stays at LT, then we’ll have a decent line but, IMO, the best line is a line that has him at RG and a more physically imposing player at LT – that would be big Cyrus.  Meanwhile, depth is outstanding as even Saban has stated they have 7 players that could play right now.  I read that to mean Cyrus is just about ready and, if that’s right, he’ll have three games to acclimate himself before Arkansas.  That’s huge.  BTW – keep your eyes on Lutua and Kelly in the future as both of them have impressed in camp.  They’ll redshirt this season but I think the OL is looking VERY stout for years to come.  I hear they are developing a pretty nasty little disposition, like a menstrually cramping Freddy Kruger.  Here’s hoping that it’s Nightmare on Bryant Drive when opponents line up against our line.


SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW – The Second Tide-mester

We now bring you to intermission.  The Offense is really all that you wanted to know about our team anyway since the D is so ridiculously talented, right?  Well, the one other thing that could possibly prevent us from a heckuva New Orleans party is probably special teams.  But, as with last year, while it seems like a question mark, it could become an exclamation mark if the perform the same or better this season.  Maze will bring a special element to the punt return game.  While he’s not quite Javy Arenas (who is?), he’s explosive and confident and that’s what you need back there.  There are plenty of very talented kick returners (Sylve, White, B Sims to name a few) that we can put back as well, so this should be an above average facet of the team.  Once again, on field goals you have Shelley kicking the shorties and Foster going long and while that’s certainly not my optimal scenario, if it ain’t broke then we won’t fix it.  For those that were there for Fan Day, I heard the punting game was horrific.  Stuart “Howie” Mandell was consistent if not great last season while Jay Williams has the much bigger leg with much less consistency.  I’m sure the preference would be for Williams to win the job since he’s on scholarship…

What to expect:  I think you’ll see Maze house a couple of punt returns and become a real weapon for us this season.  I think you’ll see one of the younger kids bust a kickoff return as well.  I just hope we find someone other than Trent to do the returns as he’s just waaaay to valuable to me to risk in the return game.  Meanwhile, you’ll see another solid effort from the kickers and they’ll be good but not great for us this year.  If it comes down to a final kick to win a game, I hope it’s close enough for Shelley, as he’s the more accurate of the two to me.  Punting?  Eh.  I think they’ll stick with Mandell until Williams shows he won’t be mixing in a 20 yard dribblers to go with the long balls.  Chicks and Nicks dig the long ball, you know, but not at the expense of a worm burner.

DEFENSIVE PREVIEW – The Third Tide-mester

Kids, the best is always, always, always saved for last.  It’s why you finish the meal with dessert.  It’s why they make the Heat play the 4th quarter.  It’s why the Stones don’t open for anyone, not even Miley Cyrus (or is it Hanna Montana – I always get them confused).  It’s why the 1812 overture is the last song during the grand finale of any good fireworks display.  It’s simply the way it should be.  And so, in this write up, it’s only appropriate that the Alabama defense is the last thing that we’ll talk about.  Honestly, it’s probably the least interesting to talk about because you already know the names and know the expectations.  The names are Barron, Hightower, Upshaw, Kirkpatrick and Chapman.  The expectations are to have the #1 defense in the entire country in every single statistic.  The expectations are for this to be the most talented and most complex defense Nick has ever suited up at the Capstone.  That’s right.  Last season was a season of blown coverages and the inability to play a base defense that all 11 players could play at the same time.  The defense blew the LSU game, it blew the Auburn game and allowed the Columbia, SC town drunk, Stephen Garcia, to complete 14 straight passes.  Yep, things were awful last season and yet Alabama ranked FIFTH in scoring defense and SIXTH in yards allowed.  In a DOWN YEAR!  Honestly, take a step back from the delivery table and appreciate what’s happening here.  Put the video camera down and realize that things are going to change from this moment forward.  Nick may never have a more experienced and more athletic team on defense.  In a usual year, Hightower, Barron and Upshaw would have gone pro but instead you have the three of them along with Chapman providing senior leadership that was lacking last year.  This season there will be one or two new starters.  Last season there were nine.  BOOM!

Defensive Line:  Square.  Chapman.  Stinson.  Dial.  Jesse Williams.  Lewis.  Gentry.  Fanning.  Pagan.  Pettway.   Bonds.  These aren’t just names, these are players.  These aren’t just place holders, they are playmakers.  These guys are big and athletic and they’ll be coming in waves.  Rumor has it that Dial has impressed so much that he’s going to start at one end.  Chapman will be in the middle.  Square, who was coming along beautifully until he tore his ACL, will be at the other end.  You’ll see Stinson in pass rushing situations.  Then you’ll see the big Aussie, Brandon Lewis (who has been impressive in camp) and even Nick Gentry in another wave.  Then there’s the young pups Fanning, Pagan, Pettway and Bonds.  What a ridiculous roster of talent.

What to expect:  Saban’s defenses typically get sacks from someone other than the DL.  I expect to see many more tackles for loss this season by the DL, along with more sacks.  I’m sure Upshaw, Hubbard, Hightower and even Barron may end up being higher atop the sack list, but I think you’ll see this athletic group get their fair share.  Just like your first time, the OL’s line of defense can only hold up for so long before she’ll finally give in.  I look for this group to be able to collapse the pocket with penetration and make life tough on opposing QBs.

Linebackers:  What an embarrassement of riches here.   Once again, this group is a group you all know well.  Hightower, Upshaw, Mosely (how good is he?), Johnson, Harris.  Then you can bring another wave of Hubbard, Watkins, Patrick, and Jordan.  Trey Depriest may be as good as anyone on this list and he’s a true freshman.  Xavier Dickson is showing himself to be the next Courtney Upshaw and Jonathon Atchison is a forgotten but talented athlete who’s waiting in the wings.  I’m not sure which group (DL & LB) has the most depth and talent but I know the third stringers of each group would be #1s on a lot of campuses.

What to expect:  Sacks.  Injured QBs.  Frustrated OLs.  Did you see the MichiganState game?  We forced them to put in their WR at QB b/c we hurt the first two.  That’s what can happen with Hightower and Upshaw are healthy.  Nick LOVES to bring Donte and when he’s right, he’s a wrecking ball.  Last year I pointed out to you where he literally lifted up and threw Florida’s starting right tackle about 5 yards in the air and Donte never even broke stride in doing so.  Between Upshaw and Hightower, there aren’t too many folks that can block one of them, let alone both of them.  Meanwhile, CJ Mosley continues to evolve into a complete LB.  And, if they let Jerrell Harris onto the field, the light bulb has apparently gone off for this young man.  If any team wants to employ 2 TEs or a FB, look for #5 to be a heat seeking missle as he appears to be primed and ready for a breakout year.  The staff is high on Adrian Hubbard, too, and I think you’ll see him a lot against KentState and North Texas.  I’m hoping Alex Watkins will be healthy this year as I think he was finally turning the corner last year.  Oh, and look to be blown away by how good Trey Depriest is.  He’s a special delivery, courtesy of the state of Ohio and I think you’ll be very glad he’s not a Buckeye.

Secondary:  Where to start.  I have seen where Dre Kirkpatrick, Robert Lester and Mark Barron have each been in the top 25 players listed by McShay or Kiper.  At the other corner, Milliner and Menzie are battling it out and the word is that Menzie is showing what he can do when he’s not favoring a torn Achilles.  A groin strain has slowed him down a smidge but I hear Menzie may actually be the best corner on the team.  Gulp!  Think about that for a second.  Wow.  Meanwhile, Milliner and Fulton could certainly be starter-esque and then there’s Phelon Jones, who played some valuable snaps last season in nickel and dime packages.   There’s no shortage of talent here, for sure, and that’s not even mentioning the extra safeties in Will Lowery, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams.  Oh, and there’s this guy named Clinton-Dix that’s impressing everyone in camp.  Folks are saying Perry and Williams have picked up the D and are actually pushing Lester, if you can believe that.  What a deep and talented group.

What to expect:  Well, if someone goes down, there shouldn’t be any dropoff.  Last season I thought Milliner was the best corner we had and now I’m thinking he may be the third best on the team.  Given what we talked about with the DL and LBs, you have to assume we’ll be creating more pressure than we did last year.  Heck, when the trainers ran onto the field last year, that was the only time we seemed to get into the offensive backfield so bettering that shouldn’t be difficult this season.  But, if we can generate some pressure, this talented group of DBs should be able to be very opportunistic and make some game changing plays.  There should be no blown coverages and, if there are blown assignments, there should be no excuses.  This group is primed and ready to be the deepest and most effective part of our defense and, given what we know, that should be tremendous.

Summary

So, there you have it.  There’s your guide to the upcoming season in all three phases of the game.  You’ll hold your breath in fear when we throw passes and you’ll exhale and scream as though you were going thru a natural childbirth when our poor opponents attempt to pass.  You’ll be stuffing your face with chocolate, brats and pickled pigs feet as you stress out watching Jeremy Shelley attempt a game winning kick that’s right at the edge of his range.  You’ll go thru wild mood swings and emotional ups and downs and you’ll swear you don’t even know who this team is at some point midway thru the season (probably due to injuries to RBs or the growing pains of the QB).  But, in the end, you’ll be the proud new father/mother of #14.  Enjoy the season – I can’t wait for it to begin!!!!

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