Alabama Football 2009: Changes On the Horizon

Kenneth LevitorCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2009

The Bama nation showed up in record numbers for Nick Saban's inaugural A-day game. The 90,000 in attendance in 2008 coupled with last years 78,000 crowd seems to have piqued some interest from the national media. ESPN announced it will broadcast Alabama's A-Day game this year on Apr. 18 at 2:00 p.m.

Other good news is the announcement that stadium expansion will continue. The university trustees agreed to a plan that will eventually increase seating to over 101,000.

The football staff seemed to like last year's experience in Atlanta so much
they will do it again. This year's ACC opponent will be Virginia Tech, with the game set for Sept. 15.

Now we have to acknowledge the NCAA investigation concerning students receiving textbooks inappropriately. Although Saban dealt with the football players by handing down a four-game suspension, the NCAA still has not reached their conclusion at this time.

The infraction was a minor incident, especially when looked at in the context of all schools, and all incidents that occurred the same year. Unfortunately that may be a subject for another time.

Finally, about the team and the players. The Crimson Tide lost key players at some very crucial positions this past season.

Certainly the area that was impacted the most is the offensive line. Left tackle Andre Smith was the Outland Trophy winner and a consensus All-American, which obviously is not something a team easily replaces. At that position anyone is happy to have a conference honorable mention. Having an All-American to protect a quarterbacks' blind side could be almost as important as the quarterback himself.

Seoir center Antoine Caldwell was also an SEC honoree and an integral part of one of the nation's best offensive lines. A graduate student who made the calls determining blocking assignments is also difficult to replace.

Include senior tight end Travis McCall and that makes three SEC honorees that departed the offensive line. Tight end Nick Walker, one of Alabama's clutch receivers last season, and lineman Marlon Davis also depart.

Collectively the loss of them all has to impact Alabama deeply. I'm sure they lost as much talent in offensive line as any other school in the country.

Obviously replacing any one of them would be difficult, but the Crimson Tide have recruited some talented offensive linemen in recent years. Fortunately, returning starter Mike Johnson is an SEC honoree.

Also on board are a couple of people considered among the top at their position the last couple of signing years. John Micheal Boswell, Tyler Love and Barrett Jones were four and five-star recruits in 2008.

D.J. Flukner was 2009's most highly touted offensive lineman signee, with James Carpenter also signing as a four-star recruit. Carpenter was one of the nations best junior college prospects, according to reports.

While the situation looks bleak overall, it's not as as though the coaches didn't know who they had as players, so I'm sure they have plans for this predicament. Some of the players who signed as defensive linemen might have been switched if the coaches thought it was best for them and the team.

One of the most impressive things I've read about Flukner is that he has played only one year on the offense. Although he liked defense, and started there two years, he changed sides for his senior year. That was after learning that the top offensive right tackles were among the highest paid people in the NFL.

It's not only that he had the smarts to change, he had the talent to become one of the best. Hopefully with that kind of mind and talent the Outland Trophy will go to another Alabama player soon.

Naturally most of the people will be looking to see who replaces John Parker Wilson at quarterback. The likely candidate is JPW's backup, and former Texas Tech commitment, Greg McElroy.

His time has been very limited, but as a sophomore he played in four games, going 8 -11 for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The most competition will probably come from Star Jackson, a 2008 signee from Lake Worth, Fl., unless A.J. McCarron really surprises people as a true freshman out of Mobile, AL.

After those key spots Alabama is in much better shape after those key spots. Although their top rusher in 2008, Jr. Glen Coffee, opted for the draft they still have some of his competition around.

True freshman Mark Ingram was a key to Bamas' 2008 start against Clemson, rushing for 96 yards in their win. The Tides leading rusher in 2007, Terry Grant, also comes back to challenge for playing time.

Given Ingram's contribution as a three-star recruit people might expect more from Trent Richardson, one of 2009's most coveted recruits. I hope they understand the five-star running back wont have the same elite blockers Ingram was blessed with if he doesn't have a similar start.

Whoever ends up at quarterback will have the advantage of SEC Freshman of the Year Julio Jones. Fans should not expect to see him more than two more years if he continues being healthy.

The quarterback will have Kenny Bell, Michael Bowman, Kendall Kelly and
Kevin Norwood, all four-star freshmen wide receivers signed in 2009. If any of them can divert coverage from Jones, or take advantage of their lack of coverage, Alabama will have great passing potential.

On defense Alabama should continue their reputation as a stingy defense. The main complaint voiced by those watching last year's defense was the inability to wrap players up and finish their tackles. Several times in their two losses the Tide were
hurt by big plays which could have been prevented if they had not attempted to shoulder tackle ball carriers.

Alabama's biggest loss will be in the backfield where they lose outstanding safety Rashad Johnson. Most of the pressure to step up will fall immediately on the shoulders of a freshman, Tre Kirpatrick, who will have to back up his statement that "Julio Jones doesn't scare me".

If he can compete at a level close to what he has done as a high school sensation the loss of Johnson wont hurt as much.

Sophomore Kareem Jackson and juniors Justin Woodall and Javier Arenas will return to the defensive backfield, taking much of the pressure this year. Fans will hope the undersized Arenas can grab a few more interceptions and provide the same excitement they saw when he returns kicks. He demonstrated the ability last year when he scored after interceptions in his play at nickle back.

Along with Rashad Johnson on defense goes Bobby Greenwood, Brandon Fanney and Brandon Deaderick, all defensive linemen.

Greenwood mainly split time with a fan favorite, JC transfer Terrance Cody, at nose tackle. Alabama will still have the services of "Mount Cody", a near consensus All-American who proved almost immovable in the middle of the 3-4 defense.

A few incoming freshmen at defensive line include Darrington Sentimore, William Ming, Chris Bonds, Anthony Orr and Ed Stinson. 2008 signees expected to help the defensive front start with Marcel Dareus, Michael Williams, Courtney Upshaw and Kerry Murphy. All of them are three and four-star recruits at either defensive tackle or defensive end.

It's probably safe to say Alabama will have the most strength returning in the linebacker department. Calling signals for the linebackers last year was a remarkable sophomore, Rolando McClain. If he remains healthy Bama will likely see him for the last year in 2009 before he moves to the NFL.

McClain will be helped again by one of the Tides most remarkable defensive freshmen in 2008, Dont'a Hightower. He arrived as one of Alabama's most anticipated recruits in '08 and didn't waste time proving himself worthy of the hype.

The most consistent senior at linebacker was Corey Reamer and the most likely 2009 recruit to replace him is either Nico Johnson or Tana Patrick. Both were among the states most highly prized recruits in 2009 and both will be competing for playing time this year.

Last year Alabama played 15 freshmen and nine seniors, so every recruit can be confident that they can play. All they have to do is show the coaches they have the talent and work ethic to earn a spot. Crimson Tide fans will be hoping the defense can support the team while the new players on offense get a little experience.


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