Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide have several areas on their roster that they hope to improve over the duration of fall camp.
Alabama finally kicked off its preparations for the 2012 season last week—with head coach Nick Saban calling the team’s summer preparations the best he has seen from any of his clubs since arriving at the Capstone.
While that news has to be pleasing for Tide fans, the Crimson Tide still have plenty of goals left to accomplish before leaving for its season-opening mega tilt with No. 8 Michigan in Dallas on Sept. 1.
On a roster heavy on talent, but light on experience, Saban and his staff still have time to evaluate the areas that concern them the most before turning their attention to the Wolverines.
What issues will the coaches be looking to monitor during fall camp?
Here are five things that must occur in Alabama’s fall camp.
Sophomore TE Brian Vogler is one of three players competing for the H-back role.
Saban’s NFL background has played a role in the way he manages his roster—in particular with the way he is able to craft specific roles for specific players.
Examples of this are plentiful throughout Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa—whether it be converting Brad Smelley from a high-school quarterback into a pass-catching H-back, or turning Javier Arenas from a player that was recruited to Alabama as a return man and molding him into a nickel corner that would become a second-round draft pick.
Which players on the roster could craft a similar niche in 2012?
On offense, Smelley’s old job is up for grabs while the defense will be searching for extra defensive backs that can line up in its nickel (“star”) and dime (“money”) packages.
Saban is hoping to get Ely ready to play this fall in case his number is called.
In a welcome contrast to this time a year ago, A.J. McCarron is firmly entrenched as the team’s starter at quarterback.
But the transfer of Phillip Sims (to the University of Virginia) leaves a glaring hole in the spot behind McCarron—with redshirt freshman Phillip Ely, true freshman Alec Morris and sophomore Blake Sims (who also plays running back) each yet to play in their first college game as a quarterback.
The upcoming practices should serve as a baptism of sorts for the trio—with their development over the next month being a crucial factor for the future of the Tide’s offense in case anything were to cause McCarron to miss any action.
McCarron must get comfortable with new OC Doug Nussmeier in a hurry considering the Tide open with two top 10 opponents in the first 3 weeks.
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has a lot of challenges on his plate before the Tide takes its first snap this season.
Establishing a unified tempo between players and coaches on the offensive side of the ball will be critical with games away from home against preseason top 10 teams Michigan and Arkansas within the first three weeks of the season.
McCarron and a veteran offensive line will help him out considerably with that task, but getting them to mesh with a relatively new group of skill players is something that will likely come together over time.
Hubbard is one new starters that Tide supporters expect to have an immediate impact.
Part of the reason that Alabama was able to field the nation’s best defense last season was because of the many difference makers—players like Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron—on hand at every level of their defense.
While the talent of the players who will replace those Tide greats is not in question, the challenge for this year’s unit will be finding players that will step up and make the types of game-changing plays their predecessors always seemed to make.
Players like Jesse Williams, Trey Depriest, Adrian Hubbard and Vinnie Sunseri have all shown flashes to this point in their careers—but each will have to add a level of consistency to help the Tide’s defense remain as one of the nation’s most dominant units.
With the showdown against Michigan looming, keeping players like Lacy healthy is key.
Another issue that arises from facing quality opponents early in the season is the need to avoid injuries in fall camp.
For a team that is known for their physicality, that challenge may be one of the more underrated topics that will fly under the radar until the season begins.
The good news is that the team came into camp at full strength—and it's paramount it stay that way for the duration of camp and leading up to the showdown with the Wolverines.