W2W4 – Alabama vs Michigan

For those of you who may be new to the site or new to the W2W4, I’d first like to say welcome!  You are about to read the first installment of the never acclaimed and non award-winning W2W4 series where I basically try to highlight the matchups, tendencies, plays and players that should have an impact during each Alabama game.  These are my thoughts and predictions on the game – what are yours?  Feel free to post a comment on the site and let your thoughts be heard….or seen!



W2W4 – Michigan


Let’s face it – everything is bigger in Texas.  The state is bigger.  The cities are bigger.  The hats.  The boots.  The Jerry Dome.  Did you know Jerry World is the largest domed stadium in the world and has the largest capacity in the NFL?  Yep.  It was originally expected to cost a mere $650 mil but it actually ended up costing Jerry a cool $1.15 billion.  Inside the dome, Jerry’s massive high-definition screen that hangs from the ceiling is the second largest in the world.  It’s huge!  Oh, and Alabama’s opponent is only the NCAA’s all time biggest winner – Michigan.  Did I mention everything is bigger in Texas?


From the Bama perspective, it gets no bigger because, as usual, the expectations for Alabama are as big as they can be.  As usual, it’s BCS championship or bust once again at the Capstone.  So, by playing in the Kickoff Classic sponsored by Jerry Jones’ Ego, Alabama is walking in the tallest cotton as they kick off the season with a marquee matchup against Meeeeee-chigan.  The game, complete with the huge presence of ESPN Gameday, simply cannot get much bigger.  So, hide the women, hide the children and strap a bullet proof vest on J.R. Ewing because Alabama is more than ready for this gunfight in the OK Corral! 


So, now we’ll take a look at the game itself.  W2W4 stands for “what to watch for”, so, what should you watch for?  My prediction is that Alabama is going to make Michigan look like they were inside the outhouse when the lightning struck!  BOOM!  It’s time to beat Mee-chigan and the Big Ten yet again with a big ole ugly stick.  Chant it with me:  SEC!  SEC!  SEC!  Let’s get it on…


W2W4 – Alabama on Offense


So I just finished watching MichiganState’s 28-14 victory over Michigan from last season.  You may recall that MSU coach Mark Dantonio is a Nick Saban protégé and the fact that he has beaten Michigan four straight years is certainly of significance here.  Last year, MichiganState absolutely dominated Michigan with their power running game, so that bodes well for the big elephants along Bama’s offensive line.


When it’s a big game, Nick likes to open things up early, a la the national championship game against LSU, so expect to see Alabama go to the air early and often.  If Alabama takes to the air, you can expect someone’s band to be playing (meaning a big play is going to happen for somebody) because Michigan loves to bring the house and blitz in passing situations – probably because they can’t get any pressure on the QB by using just their front four.  After observing Michigan’s D against Dantonio’s offense (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Alabama’s offense), here are some other fearless predictions of W2W4 when Alabama is on offense.


Hammer Time:  If MichiganState could dominate Michigan’s d-line, think of what Alabama will do to it.  And remember, Michigan lost their top two defensive tackles, so I expect Alabama to be able to work over the soft underbelly of the Michigan D.  I also expect us to be able to get to the edge repeatedly because, honestly, the slow pursuit of the Michigan LB’s could get them called for delay of game…


Honey I Shrunk the Defensive End:  One of Michigan’s DE’s weighs 229.  Typically, this Smurf-erine lines up against the right tackle.  Alabama’s right tackle is none other than DJ Fluker, who weighs 335.  MEDIC!


Kris Kross Will Make You JUMP:  Michigan loves to blitz up the middle which vacates the middle of the field.  As it happens, Alabama loves to throw short crossing patterns over the middle to beat the blitz and the man-to-man that goes with it.  Since Michigan tips off their blitzes every time, look for AJ to hit a few crossers over the middle that turn into big yardage.


Split Screen:  Alabama also loves to screen and this can be awfully effective against a blitz.  On third down, I’d love to see Yeldon or Hart catch a screen in the open field with blockers out in front and I think we will…


Let’s Get Physical:  I should have placed this higher in the listing, as I think this may be the most important offensive W2W4.  If, as we stated above, Yeldon and Hart are in on third downs for some swings and screens, it will also be of paramount importance that, when called upon, they be able to pick up the Wolf blitzers (CNN shout out to my man Wolf).  Yeldon and Hart are Bama’s least experienced backs, so it stands to reason that AJ will be at risk if either is forced to pick up a blitzing backer.  Remember this and say it with me:  AJ can’t get hurt.  AJ can’t get hurt.  If either of the young backs blows an assignment, look for Lacy and Fowler to become your third down backs in order to make sure AJ is standing upright.  Michigan LOVES to blitz so “we must protect this house!”


Overkill:  MichiganState had tremendous success in moving their TE from one side to the other just before the snap of the ball.  Look for Alabama to move their H back or TE over from the strong side to the weak side and have them snuggle up next to big DJ Fluker.  This way, they can all take turns planting the tiny Wolverine ends into the artificial turf. 


Big Time:  New OC Doug Nussmeier will call a bomb early in the game.  Mark it down.  AJ has a big time arm and Coach Nuss is at a big time program.  Let. It. Rip.


Swami Sez:  Four Alabama backs will get carries.  Yeldon will get the most carries and have the most yards.  Hart will show a burst that makes you slap yo mamma a high-five.  Christion Jones will lead the WRs in receptions.  DeAndrew White or Kevin Norwood will haul in a pass of over 30 yards.  Oh, and Jalston “The Beast” Fowler will pancake somebody and make ESPN’s Top Plays.  Did I mention I have a man crush on The Beast????  Yessir – I’m a Beastie boy!



W2W4 – Alabama on Defense


This is where the fun begins.  This is where we separate the men from the boys (at Auburn, they separate their boys from the synthetic marijuana parties, the bars and handcuffs).  For all of the accolades that Denard “Shoelace” Robinson has garnered over the years, here are some stats to salivate over if you are a Bama fan.  Last season, Shoestring completed a mere 55% of his passes.  For those of you who are, like me, mathematically challenged, that’s about the same completion percentage of a blind squirrel throwing acorns at a large bucket.  Shoelace did lead the Big Ten in…..interceptions!  Yes, he had 15 picks.  When pressured, Slip On has the worst mechanics I’ve ever seen and he even compounds the bad mechanics by making ill-advised throws.  In the MichiganState game alone, he could have easily added three more picks to his illustrious resume.  Now, don’t get me wrong, he is awfully exciting when he gets out of the pocket, but MSU had a little sumpin’ sumpin’ that evidently tied his shoelaces together when he tried to run.  I’m guessing that MSU coach Mark Dantonio has swapped a few Shoelace stories with his good friend Nick Saban and a plan to stop Robinson was devised shortly after this game was scheduled.  W2W4 on defense?  A loooong day for Robinson & Co.


Won’t Be Fooled Again:  Michigan works out of the shotgun spread look most of the time and Denard loves to play action to the back and then roll out to one side or the other.  Bama’s outside contain men MUST stay home or else they’ll be looking at the butthole and elbows of Denard as he rushes past them.  No one kept their containment better than Courtney Upshaw so it will be interesting to see how well Hubbard and Dickson keep containment on the edges.  We.  Must.  Contain.


Double Up – UH UH:  Double QBs can be trouble and Michigan sometimes likes to utilize Robinson and fellow QB Devin Gardner together in their offensive sets.  This alignment could catch Alabama’s young pups on defense out of position as I could see Michigan working in a double pass out of this set.  Be on the look out D!


Blitzkrieg:  Denard Robinson reads the blitz like Helen Keller reads War & Peace, but not quite as quickly.  Look for Alabama to overload blitzers on Robinson’s right side, as he rolls to his right roughly 100% of the time.  BTW, he never sees blitzes coming, he always reacts late and he usually puts the ball up for grabs if he can get the ball out of his hands.  Against MichiganState it was almost like he realized it wasn’t really him the defense was after – it’s this ball!  Argh – get it away!  No wonder he threw 15 picks.  Can you tell I’m not high on him as a QB?  A friend of mine said, “You know what they call a quarterback that can run but can’t throw?  A running back.”  That still makes me laugh!


Option No Option:  For all of Robinson’s prowess running the ball, he is not all that effective running the option.  Robinson excels in broken plays out of the pocket, sprint outs and boots but he really doesn’t run the option well whatsoever.  Weird.


Dream On:  When Michigan could not run the football, they struggled last season.  Michigan’s four worst rushing days last year were against Va Tech (56 yards in a near loss), Notre Dame (114 yards in a near loss), Iowa (127 yards in a loss) and MichiganState (82 yards in a loss).  In the other nine games they ran for at least 179 yards and won by double digits.  If you think Michigan is going to run for 179 yards, well, dream on.


Vinnie B. Goode:  Chuck Berry sang about Johnny B. Goode but, if he saw our defense, he’d likely sing about Vinnie.  No one will be on the field more or have more responsibilities than Vinnie Sunseri will have on Saturday night.  Personally, I can’t wait to see how he’s used on Saturday as he slides from pure safety to the star position on D.  I’m gonna guess he’ll be used as a blitzer more than once.  I hope the Michigan medical staff is aware this may happen…


Swami Sez:  I predict that Adrian Hubbard makes you say HOLY SH!T at least three times on Saturday.  Vinnie Sunseri will make you rewind the DVR to re-watch a slow motion replay of a vicious hit.  Alabama’s young secondary will get torched at least once because they’ll botch a coverage.  However, Alabama will record at least 5 sacks, at least two picks and more or less will dominate the Michigan running game.  Nick loves to take away what you do best and with Michigan, it’s their running game.


W2W4 – Alabama on Special Teams


You know, I’m just not feeling much of an opinion on the special teams in this game.  Shelley and Mandell should have their usual solid performances so, really, the only question will be how Cade Foster will perform at home in front of his family and friends.  When he hit the 48 yarder during the A-Day game, Foster was mobbed by his teammates.  Everyone knows what this kid has been thru and, personally, I’m hoping Foster will be Australian for “it’s good!”  Meanwhile, I have a sneaky suspicion Griffith won’t kick on Saturday and, honestly, I am hoping he redshirts.  Michigan’s kicking and punting game seemed to be shaky at best last year so I’d give Alabama an advantage here.


Christion Jones will be your return man and while he doesn’t exactly conjure up images of Duece, Javy or Marquis Maze, he’s very good in his own right.  He’s a straight line returner so we probably won’t see the wiggles we are accustomed to.  I did read an article today that said he was a fabulous open field runner so perhaps he’ll show me up on Saturday.  I am a little sad, though, that Deion Belue won’t be returning kicks or punts so we won’t get to see his electrifying return skills.  Instead, Jones, Milliner and Dee Hart will be returning kick offs this season.  I will say that Hart was awesome in the Army All American game a couple of years ago so watching him should be fun if he gets a chance.




After watching MichiganState’s mirror image offense absolutely skin the Wolverines, I can’t help but think that Alabama’s offensive line will dominate the Michigan line.  The Bama passing game will likely be hit or miss as is typical of the first game of the season, and this will likely be compounded by the fact that Michigan’s defensive strength is their secondary.  But, since Michigan has to blitz in order to get to the QB, this will open up some opportunities for the screen game and the crossers.  I suspect that while it won’t always be a thing of beauty, Alabama will be able to move the ball when they need to and should be able to open numerous holes for their array of talented backs.


Defensively, while the national pundits want to question Alabama’s D, Alabama enters the game with the deepest set of defensive linemen and linebackers in the country.  The youth and inexperience in the secondary will be victimized at least once via a long play but, by and large, Alabama’s quality and quantity of their front seven should win the day.


After reading this, many will say that I’m overconfident and will bring up the fact that Michigan has some fancy stats from last year.  Well, they do have some pretty stats but they were all accumulated against their usual array of deadbeat Big Ten foes.  At the end of Saturday, we’ll learn that this is the same Michigan team that was outgained by Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl 377 to 184.  Wolverine fans want to hang their hat on that big win but that’s the problem – as they say in Texas, Michigan is all hat but no cattle….


Final score:  Alabama 27     Michigan  10


2012 Defensive Back Overview

Defensive Back Overview


Ahh yes, we’ve finally come to the position on the Alabama football team that, perhaps, isn’t quite as full of hope and glee.  Nope.  Get ready for some harsh reality here, folks.  For the record, you should know that the previous overviews were written without having the benefit an official depth chart to go by.  The previous overviews were basically information gleaned from Saban’s pressers, media articles, folks who attended practices and scrimmages and some educated guesstimates by me.


Anyway, on to the DBs!  The Bama secondary lost starters (and NFL first rounders) Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron, but many forget that Will Lowery and Dequan Menzie have also departed.  Additionally, safety Jarrick Williams tore his ACL in fall camp and is out for the season and Juco corner Travell Dixon left the team early in camp.  Dixon was being counted on to provide depth and, perhaps, start at a corner position so his loss is significant so the attrition here is significant. 


However, Alabama does return two starters from last season in safety Robert Lester and cornerback Dee Milliner. Lester and Milliner are both very good but they’ll certainly be hard pressed to match the production of Barron and Kirkpatrick.  Meanwhile, Vinnie Sunseri takes on a full time role at safety and, in a bit of a surprise, Juco transfer Deion Belue seems to have secured the other corner position ahead of John Fulton.  I suspect that Fulton will play a lot and will be the first corner off the bench but, behind him, there isn’t much depth.  Saying there isn’t much depth here is akin to saying the GulfCoast got a little bit of rain this week.  Many predict that Alabama will stumble at least once this season and, if they do, my guess is that it will likely be a result of a blown coverage or some sort of gaffe by their extremely young and inexperienced secondary. 


The Starters


Dee Milliner –  6’1, 196.  Former 5 star from Millbrook, Alabama.


Milliner has the size and speed that Saban looks for in a DB and is, in fact, the prototypical  Saban corner.  Milliner has gotten better and better and some scouts say he’s a better NFL prospect than Dre Kirkpatrick.  Milliner is exceptional in run support and is pretty decent in coverage.  He’s a good ‘un…


Robert Lester –  6’2, 210.  Former 4 star from Foley, Alabama.


So much for Lester being just a guy we signed as part of a package deal to get Julio Jones.  Mc-Kiper (I can’t recall if it was McShay or Kiper) actually had Lester listed as a first rounder prior to last season.  However, last year Lester didn’t live up to his previous 2010 campaign so this season really needs to be a bounce back season for the Tide’s leader in the secondary.  He’ll be making the secondary defensive audibles so he’ll be responsible for an awful lot back there.


Vinnie Sunseri –  6’0, 218.  Former 3 star from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


Sunseri has transformed himself from a special teams demon to Mark Barron’s replacement.  Towards the latter portion of the season, Sunseri played a ton at the safety position and, now, with his knowledge of the defense, he’s being counted on to play the star position.  This means that Sunseri is going to be a mighty busy kiddo as he’ll be in every defensive package Bama deploys.  It may not be a stretch to say that our cousin Vinnie will be the most pivotal player on Alabama’s defense this season.


Deion Belue –  5’11, 178.  Former 4 star from Tuscumbia, Alabama.


In a surprise move (to me, anyway), Belue has beaten out John Fulton at the other cornerback position.  I gave the edge to Fulton due to his experience and size but Belue has committed to stopping the run in a way no one expected.  Belue, of course, is phenomenal in coverage because of his quicks but it remains to be seen if he’ll be in the right place at the right time in this complex scheme.  Much will be required of Mr Belue so it will be interesting to see if he’s up to the task as a first year D1 starter.


Hasean Clinton-Dix – 6’1, 203.  Former 5 star from Orlando, Florida.


I’m listing Clinton-Dix as a starter since Alabama will be in nickel and dime coverages more than 50% of the time.  As such, Vinnie will move down closer to the line of scrimmage as the “Star” and Hasean (Ha Ha) will slide into Sunseri’s safety position (marking the first time a Saban defense has used a safety at the star position).  Clinton-Dix has enough coverage ability to play corner, though his range, size and head hunting abilities make him a natural at safety.  Again, he has very little experience in this scheme so it will be interesting to see if he gets picked on early in the season (against Michigan and Arkansas specifically).


The Backups


John Fulton – 6’0, 187.  Former 4 star from Manning, South Carolina.


Fulton has size and experience so it seemed a good bet that he’d win one of the corner spots ahead of Deion Belue.  While that hasn’t happened, look for Fulton to get his share of reps as the first corner off the bench.


Nick Perry – 6’1, 205.  Former 4 star from Prattville, Alabama.


Perry should likely be a special teams contributor as he’s been passed up by the talented quartet of Clinton-Dix, Sunseri, Collins and Eddie Williams.  Well, if he hasn’t been passed up by any one of those four, he likely soon will be.  Perry could play more in the secondary this season if, for some reason, Fulton is forced to move to a full time corner role.  That could force Clinton-Dix to become the third corner, as I truly think the staff trusts Perry at Safety and Ha Ha at corner more than they would want to see Washington or Sylve in the game at this point.


Jabriel Washington – 5’11, 165.  Former 3 star from Jackson, Tennessee.


Washington is very, very small for a Nick Saban corner.  I know, Javy Arenas excelled as a smaller corner so I guess there’s hope.  Washington has speed to burn but is still learning the corner position and, again, size kinda matters.  I don’t foresee him garnering much playing time at this point.


Bradley Sylve – 5’11, 170.  Former 4 star from Port Sulpher, Louisiana.


Speaking of speed to burn and still learning the CB position, Sylve is a former WR who is trying to make the transition to CB.  All accounts are that he’s holding his own and Saban has praised him a couple of times during camp.  But, I don’t think he’s quite ready for prime time just yet.


Landon Collins –  6’0, 202.  Former 5 star from Geismar, Louisiana.

Perhaps the most prized recruit from the 2012 class was Landon Collins and it hasn’t taken him long to assert himself towards the top of the depth chart.  Collins is listed as a second string safety on the current depth chart and the sky is the limit for this kid.


Geno Smith – 6’0, 182.  Former 4 star from Atlanta, Georgia.


Geno Smith was a key target for the Tide staff as they knew full well that the depth at corner was shaky at best.  While it’s a tall order for a true freshman to learn the complex coverages and techniques of a Nick Saban defense, apparently Smith has acquitted himself rather well as he’s listed as the second string corner ahead of Washington and Sylve. 


Eddie Williams – 6’3, 204.  Former 5 star from Panama City, Florida.


Mr Williams was another highly touted recruit from the 2012 class and much was expected of him early on when he was a wide receiver.  However, Williams was switched back over to defense and he’s now attempting learn the safety position in the secondary.  Williams will likely have a long climb ahead of him as there is depth galore at the safety position.  Williams’ size and speed will be a strong asset to the special teams units but it will likely take a lopsided score to see him take up a position in the secondary this season.




First, a note about the “Incoming” section.  These kids have only given a verbal commitment to Alabama and, as we’ve seen in recruiting, things can change before signing day.


Maurice Smith – 5’11, 174.  Current 4 star from Sugar Land, Texas.


Said to be “explosive and strong”, Smith seems to fit the bill perfectly for a Nick Saban corner.  Smith applauded the structure and discipline at Alabama and chose Bama over childhood favorite Texas.  I like him already!


Anthony Averett – 6’1, 175.  Current 3 star from Woodbury, NJ.


As most of you know, Nick is very particular about offering corners.  You’d better have some size (check) and you’d better have some speed (big check).  Averett is a bit raw as a cover corner but he certainly has all the attributes to be a successful one at Alabama.


Final Thoughts


While the safety position is brimming with talent, the corner position is probably the shallowest one on the team.  Milliner could very likely be gone to the pros after this season if he excels and that could leave Alabama in search of more Juco corners in the 2013 class.  Of course, the problem with that is there appears to be very little to no room in the inn, as the 2013 class is nearly full.  I still think Alabama will push to get at least one more high quality corner in the 2013 class because, frankly, they need some help here.

2012 LB Overview

Linebacker Overview


I like our linebacking corps a lot, I really do.  For those that have followed my articles, you know that I have myself a little man crush on Nico Johnson.  I’ve always felt he was capable of big things and, this year, he’ll be the leader on defense.  Supposedly, he’s the only guy that watches more film that Saban, so take that for whatever it’s worth.  Nico will be flanked by some pretty good players in their own rights.  CJ Mosley and Trey DePriest are exceptional and, of course Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson will be beasts rushing off the edges.  In fact, I suspect Hubbard and Dickson will spend some time with their hands on the ground just as Upshaw and Hightower did from time to time, as their presence in the “rabbits” package could wreak havoc.  Linebacker is probably the deepest position on the team, as there are a ton of guys who deserve to play quite a bit.



The Starters


Nico Johnson – 6’3, 245.  Former 4 star from Andulusia, Alabama.


Nico will be the leader of the defense this season as he’ll be responsible for making the calls and getting everyone in the right alignments.  As a senior, Johnson has a ton of experience in the defense and, honestly, he was born for this role.


CJ Mosley – 6’2, 234.  Former 4 star from Theodore, Alabama.


Mosley is likely the best pass covering linebacker we’ve ever had at the Capstone.  High superlative, to be sure, but he’s simply that good.  He’ll be in all of the nickel and dime packages, which we play more than 50% of the time.


Trey DePriest – 6’2, 242.  Former 4 star from Springfield, Ohio.


If you can count, you may be realizing that I have more than four linebackers in this list.  Well, Mosley has to be considered as a starter as he’ll be in the lineup more than most other LBs.  But, in the base 3-4 defense, DePriest is the other inside backer and he has a TON of talent.  Love to watch him on special teams and now he’s going to be head hunting near the line of scrimmage.  Sweet.


Adrian Hubbard – 6’6, 248.  Former 4 star from Norcross, Georgia.


They say Mr Hubbard is next to unblockable and, since we have the nation’s best offensive line, that speaks volumes.  Volumes of sacks are expected from Hubbard who should be a holy terror coming off the edge.


Xzavier Dickson – 6’3, 262.  Former 4 star from Griffin, Georgia.


If Hubbard strikes you with speed, Dickson just strikes you.  He was a man among boys in the Under Armor All Star game as he relentlessly went sideline to sideline during the game.  He was fun to watch and I’m excited about watching him blow up some poor RBs who are forced to take him on in blitz situations.


The Backups


Tana Patrick – 6’3, 236.  Former 4 star from Stevenson, Alabama. 


Tana was projected to be the next great Alabama linebacker when he came into the fold back in 2009 and he hasn’t quite had the opportunity to show himself.  He’s currently listed behind DePriest so it will be tough for him to get a chance to play other than special teams.


Anthony Orr – 6’4, 268.  Former 3 star from Harvest, Alabama.


I’ll be honest with you – I haven’t heard much about Orr at all.  Currently, he’s listed as a backup to Xzavier Dickson but I think you’ll see Ryan Anderson take that spot very soon.


Jonathan Atchison – 6’3, 240.  Former 3 star from Atlanta, Georgia.


Atchison chose Alabama over Auburn a few years ago and, outside of that, he hasn’t made many headlines.  Again, I haven’t heard much about him at all during camp but he’s listed as backing up Hubbard for the moment. 


Ryan Anderson – 6’2, 244.  Former 5 star from Daphne, Alabama.


Simply put, Ryan Anderson is a game changer.  Once he gets acclimated to the outside rush position, he very likely will be the next Courtney Upshaw or even better.  This young man has a world of potential and is so strong and fast for his size.  I can’t wait to see this kid play.


Others of Note


The 2012 class brought in a massive haul of very, very good linebackers.  Denzell Duvall, Ryan Anderson, Dillon Lee, Reggie Ragland and Tyler Hays have all been brought up during camp as guys who are understanding the playbook and making plays.  The future is so bright for this position that I had to make a special “Others of Note” just to capture the true talent at this position.  Alabama is linebacker U and will be for quite a while.




First, a note about the “Incoming” section.  These kids have only given a verbal commitment to Alabama and, as we’ve seen in recruiting, things can change before signing day.


Walker Jones – 6’3, 230.  Current 3 star from Cordova, Tennessee.


After the bountiful amount of goodness in the 2012 linebacking haul, Alabama is currently taking it pretty easy on this front.  There is only one commitment at the LB position but you might recognize his last name.  This is Barrett and Harrison Jones’ youngest brother and he’s projected to be an inside linebacker.


Final Thoughts


This group is just sick with talent.  While the edge rushers will be inexperienced, they’ll also be better athletes than their predecessors.  Once they figure out the system and get acclimated to the speed of the game, it’s Katy bar the door…and max protect…and hide the quarterback…because they’ll be coming….and hell will be coming with them!