Auburn Football 2012: An Early Look at a Heated Rival

Kevin McGradySenior Writer IJuly 10, 2012

PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban hits a bunker shot on the tenth hole during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at the Spyglass Hill Golf Course on February 9, 2012 in Pebble Beach, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

For Auburn fans, one of the most important games of the year to gauge success or failure is the Iron Bowl. Any contest is especially hard to predict five months out, and this one is usually even harder.

The Alabama football team came out of spring practice with more questions than answers. This makes an accurate analysis of this team particularly difficult, and the following are just a few reasons why.

The Alabama offensive line is only replacing their center this year. Most predicted that rotating a highly regarded former guard and tackle to the position would provide a seamless transition. For some reason, this did not occur and the unit did not communicate as well as expected. The precision that one expects from a veteran offensive line simply wasn't there.

If there was a guess to be made, then it can be assumed this problem will be corrected in fall practice or early in the season, and should not carry into the Iron Bowl. Of course, Florida was in the same position in 2010 and their line never met its potential.

The Alabama running back situation is much the same. They have one returning running back of their two-pronged punch from 2011. Second on the depth chart is a fullback that runs a 4.8 forty. This is a confounding situation considering they have two former five-star athletes in the next two positions down the chart.

One reason these highly thought of recruits are buried in the depth chart could be their physical readiness to take the beating a running back endures in the Alabama offense.

One of these recruits is three inches taller than the departed Trent Richardson and missing at least 20 pounds of injury-preventing muscle. The other is a thinly built scat back type that will never be a power back in the SEC.

Alabama no longer has any of the receivers that led the Tide passing attack to team-record production in 2010. They do have several highly talented prototypical receivers on the depth chart. They do not have a big, physical receiver that could provide a physical mismatch. They do not have any particularly strong receivers.

Alabama is very comfortable at tight end, but they lack an exceptional receiving tight end. They have moved a former running back into this position to utilize in an H-Back role when needed.

In all, this Alabama offense should be solid, but will miss the punch of the second first-round running back lost to the NFL in as many seasons. They do not appear to be poised to make up that punch with their passing attack.

The Alabama offensive line is set up to bulldoze opponents for a power running back to be the centerpiece of their offense.

Their offensive line scheme has never been particularly effective in pass-protection. Alabama allowed 17 sacks in 2011 while only attempting 357 pass plays. They completed 257 pass plays in 2011 for an average of about 12 yards per completion. That is an average of about one sack for every 15 completions and 180 yards of production.

The problem here is the Alabama passing attack was set up by the run. In particular, it was set up by the running of one of the best power backs we have watched in a long time. They do not have that type of runner this season, and it remains to be seen if a slower fullback can fill that void in this offense.

Alabama has a new offensive coordinator. Some would have us believe the transition has been seamless. This is not the case, but may not be the biggest problem either. Alabama’s former offensive coordinator was an excellent analyst of defenses and a very opportune and unpredictable play-caller.

Their new offensive coordinator is not accustomed to the Alabama offense just yet, and it will affect his play-calling recommendations to Nick Saban. This appears to have resulted in a much more conservative play-calling regimen to this point.

Alabama is rebuilding their defense this season. It is a very in-depth rebuild and is causing problems with their shifting zones and blitz packages. It appears they will be starting two true freshman linebackers with three freshman linebackers, and one sophomore completing the depth chart at these positions.

The defense is also giving up 20 pounds per man at the inside and jack linebacker positions when compared to 2011.

All of this, combined with a new linebacker coach for 2012, and it is difficult to see this defense being as strong as in past years.

It appears the 2012 version of the Alabama defense could have trouble against teams that can execute one of the various forms of the split-back offense or the Power-I with proficiency. Alabama will likely have a top defense in 2012, but it will likely be a big step down from the defense they fielded in 2011.

As is the case with many teams, we will have to wait until later in the fall to see how the various challenges are handled by the Alabama staff. Alabama will be a late-blooming team in 2012 and enter the season with a lot of room to improve