Alabama Football: The Offseason "To-Do" List for the Tide
The offseason may not be as busy as game-time season, but the Crimson Tide have a full plate of things that need to be accomplished to determine the team's appearance in 2012.
Fans will say that the offseason is far too long and they are eager for some football, but Nick Saban would say otherwise. There's never enough time to do everything that needs to be done.
Let not your hearts be troubled, however. The Crimson Tide will be prepared. It's something that Saban and the team excel at.
A famous quote perfectly explains how the Tide's mindset runs leading up to game time.
"The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand."
It is a quote that defines "Roll Tide."
Avoid Personnel Turnovers
After the great "Running Back Exodus" of 2011 and the severe lack of depth that followed due to injuries to Demetrius Hart and Eddie Lacy, Nick Saban is sure to make this a bigger focus.
Phillip Sims is certainly a prime candidate for transfer. Though it is a sore subject for many fans, it is a stark reality nonetheless.
At the moment, it looks like he will have to wait until his senior year to start, and back-up quarterbacks get little to no playing time at Alabama. When they do, it's during sure victories and they just hand the ball off to the running back.
Sims is a great talent, and the Tide sorely needs him. Anything could happen to A.J. McCarron in the toughest defensive league in the nation. Even a freak accident like striking his throwing hand on an offensive lineman's helmet during a throw could sideline him for the season.
Phillip Sims could get his chance, and maybe Saban will keep that in his mind and remind him that A.J. McCarron could go on a tear in 2012 and head to the NFL early.
Alabama also has an army of highly-touted wide receivers coming in and little room in an offense that doesn't pass 40-plus times a game.
There are plenty of guys that are capable of playing, but may not be quite as good as the guy starting. These are the ones that may look elsewhere.
Nick Saban needs to remind them that they are just one bad hit away from taking the field and also that hard work could make them the starters outright.
Make the Position Changes Seamless and Settle the New Guys into Their Roles
There are some big position changes/questions that are very hot topics right now.
Barrett Jones moved from right guard to left tackle this past year like a pro, and odds are, he'll be moving yet again. I would be shocked if he's not the starting center in 2012. He can already play the position, but he needs to make the change just as well as his switch to left tackle.
5-star athlete Eddie Williams can do it all, and the coaches must decide whether or not to play him at safety or wide receiver. He should be stellar at either, but what do they need more, offensive firepower or defensive supremacy?
The team can defend the pants off of just about anyone, but do they have the offensive ability to overcome deficits or overtake monstrous defenses like that of LSU?
Deciding what position the players will play next year will be difficult choices, as they sometimes involve moving them from their natural positions (Barrett Jones is a natural guard).
One thing is certain: Nick Saban doesn't put guys in places where they can't succeed (unless you're a kicker).
Get the Injured Players Healthy
Injuries are the worst thing that can possibly happen in any sport and can cripple a football team.
Alabama has some big names that need to get healthy, most notably left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (and his brother Arie) and running back Demetrius Hart. They went down with busted knees.
They will both be instrumental to the Tide's success in 2012, especially Kouandjio. His health directly affects the stability of the offensive line.
If he's not ready to assume full-time left tackle duties, then Barrett Jones will have to stay there, and the team will be with an untested, sophomore center (Kellen Williams or Chad Lindsay).
That's a big one, as the center position will be more important with a certain increase in the passing attack in 2012 due to the depth at wide receiver and no Trent Richardson.
Big-time college programs get their athletes the best possible rehab for injuries, but even that wasn't enough for Dont'a Hightower in 2010, as he started off terribly sluggish.
The Tide needs to avoid a repeat of that with guys like Kouandjio and Hart.
Get New Receivers on Same Page as Quarterback A.J. McCarron
This one depends on some personal sacrifices and initiatives by the players. Do they head home for the summer to frolic with friends or stick around in sweltering Tuscaloosa to practice their routes in voluntary summer practices?
The receiver squad will be quite young this year. There are no seniors to lead them like Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Brandon Gibson.
Nothing gets quarterbacks and receivers on the same page as summer route-running workouts.
It's short and simple: Stay for the summer and be legends in the fall. Do this, and you can have all the fun you want during the NFL offseason.
Settle the Depth Chart
This one is also short and simple: You put the best players on the field first. Determining "best," however, can be quite a conundrum.
Is it based on talent, potential, experience or a combination of them all?
An experienced player may give the best chance for success, but is it more important to sometimes let the less-experienced, higher-potential player get more playing time?
We saw it this year with Anthony Steen, a sometimes confused, inexperienced bully on offensive line, start ahead of senior Alfred McCullough.
When the championship picture started to come into focus, McCullough and his experience became the starter.
Barrett Jones is the biggest question. Should he play center or left tackle? I examined this further in a previous article, "Barrett Jones to Return, Bound to Play Center."
The question of the depth chart is rarely completely settled in the offseason, but it certainly begins there.
In my opinion, the biggest depth chart question lies in the defensive secondary. Vinnie Sunseri at safety and Travell Dixon at cornerback look to be prime candidates for the starting positions, and Nick Saban will be 100 percent certain if he starts them.
Settle on a Kicker
Playing musical kickers is about as good an idea as playing musical quarterbacks. If you have two, you have none.
It's the position that requires the most confidence and concentration above all others. A missed kick stings worse than a pick-six or a missed tackle.
When your coach doesn't show the utmost confidence in your kicking ability, then the kicker thinks he's going to miss, and then he does.
The sour taste of Nov. 5 was mostly washed away by a national championship, but it still lingers as critics cry for an asterisk after "National Champions."
Jeremy Shelley redeemed himself in the national title game against LSU with five field goals (the majority of all points scored in the game), but will he still have a place as a regular Tide kicker?
I think so in 2012, his final season with the Tide. He'll still get extra-point and field-goal duties, but Saban must be dedicated to him. Attempting 50-yard field goals should not be an option unless it's a dire emergency (like the 1985 Iron Bowl).
Shelley's accuracy as horribly underrated, and he was the true national championship MVP. He can't kick far, but he'll split the uprights every time. The missed PAT in the title game was simply funny, and he was just excited because his team had already won the game.
Newcomer Adam Griffith looks to be the next best kicking sensation, and being relegated to only kickoff duties as he gets his feet wet and bulks up would be ideal in 2012. He can take the reins in 2013 as the do-it-all kicker.
As long as they each have specific, individual duties and do not play into each other's realms, it will be a good system. It won't be a two-kicker system. It will be a field-goal specialist and a kickoff specialist helping the team.
Saban tried that in 2010 and 2011 with Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley, but he shuffled them too much, especially on Nov. 5, 2011.
Give Scholarships to the Deserving Walk-on Players
There are some great walk-ons that have given so much for the team and contributed greatly on the field, and they still don't have scholarships for reasons unknown. It really ticks my 'taters (meaning it really upsets me).
Will Lowery will be a fifth-year senior that has had extensive playing time for two full seasons and still has no scholarship.
It's possible that he and his family have no need for the scholarship, but I really want to see him receive one for his final year at the Capstone.
Guys like Lowery that play better and contribute more than scholarship athletes deserve more.
I will rant about this more in a future article.