Alabama Football: Offseason Goals Nick Saban and Crimson Tide Must Accomplish
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While most college football teams use the offseason to assess their chances at winning big in the coming season, for the Alabama Crimson Tide, it is the beginning of what head coach Nick Saban refers to as “The Process.”
With capturing last year’s national title in the rear view mirror, this year’s edition of the Crimson Tide has plenty of work to do in order to maintain the high standards set thus far during Saban’s tenure.
With just 11 returning starters, Saban and his coaching staff will spend the final weeks before the Sept. 1 season opener against Michigan tuning up the holes on their roster and getting several newcomers prepared to step in and play at a high level.
So what objectives are on Saban’s checklist before they face the Wolverines in Dallas on the opening weekend of the season?
Here are five offseason goals that the Crimson Tide must accomplish.
5. Reload the Defense
CB Dee Milliner (No. 28) is one of several talented players ready to step into more prominent roles on the Tide's defense this fall.
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When you lose All-American caliber talents like Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw among others, it’s natural to assume that there will be an adjustment period for the players filling those enormous shoes.
However, considering how Saban has stocked the Alabama roster with a bevy of gifted prep recruits over the years—expecting the Crimson Tide to field anything less than a dominating unit may be a mistake.
The defensive line appears set with three seniors likely starting up front, but the linebacker and secondary segments will feature plenty of new faces.
While relatively unknown to fans across the country at this point, players like linebacker Adrian Hubbard, corner Dee Milliner and safety Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix are just a few of the talents Saban has been grooming and preparing to unleash in 2012.
4. Finding Playmakers on Offense
WR Kevin Norwood is a candidate to breakout from a deep and talented group of receivers.
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With starting quarterback A.J. McCarron and four returning starters on what should be the nation’s best unit in the trenches, theorizing that Alabama’s offense may be ahead of its defense entering the season would be a somewhat logical assumption.
But without star running back Trent Richardson and having to break in a pair of new starting wide receivers, who will be responsible for helping McCarron and the offense light up the scoreboard?
Identifying which members of a deep receiver group will emerge is likely to be one of the main storylines to monitor throughout fall camp.
3. Get Backup Quarterbacks Ready
Redshirt freshman backup QB Phillip Ely would be next in line should anything force A.J. McCarron to miss time this season.
Perhaps the biggest worry among fans clad in Crimson for the upcoming season would be their backup situation at quarterback—in case anything should force McCarron to miss time in 2012.
With Phillip Sims transferring to Virginia in the offseason, redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and incoming freshman Alec Morris are only one snap away from potentially taking their first snap as college quarterbacks.
The good news is that the coaching staff has had months to get a feel for Ely’s strengths, and they will have fall camp to monitor what Morris is capable of handling.
The main goal for Saban and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be to amply prepare both freshmen in case their services are needed this season.
2. Identify Newcomers Ready to Contribute
CB Deion Belue is one of two JUCO transfers pushing for a starting spot.
Alabama brought in a recruiting class considered by 247Sports to be the nation’s best for 2012, and while some were brought in with the idea of playing right off the bat (think JUCO corners Travell Dixon and Deion Belue), others will get a chance to prove themselves when the team comes together to start practice next month.
In addition to several new starters that will lineup on both sides of the line scrimmage, Saban and his staff will scout their roster for players that can provide quality depth across their roster.
The competition for playing time will be fierce, and adding another wave of talented players to the mix can only help the players that emerge from those battles get prepared for the rigors of a season in the SEC.
1. Prepare for Michigan
With a season-opening tilt against Michigan looming, Alabama will have plenty of motivation heading into fall practice next month.
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With the Crimson Tide playing in what amounts to the biggest game of college football’s opening weekend, Saban should not have to worry about his team’s focus heading into fall camp.
The showdown with the Wolverines—a likely preseason favorite in the Big Ten—will provide a challenge and generate excitement for the coming season from the coaches, players and the fan base.
While there are plenty of talented signal-callers in the SEC, none have the ability to hurt defenses in the variety of ways that Michigan dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson can—which heightens the importance of the weeks leading up to their trip to Dallas to face the Wolverines.
Even though the offseason is more about improving as team than game-planning for the season, the chess match between Saban and Brady Hoke is likely already underway.