With QB AJ McCarron returning for his senior season, Alabama's offense should be loaded again in 2013.
The Alabama football program is on the doorstep of being cemented as a dynasty, and the bad news for the rest of the nation is that the Crimson Tide are showing no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Nick Saban’s club is currently preparing to play for the right to capture its third national title in the past four years. With significant contributions from a number of young skill players on offense this season, the Tide’s attack should be loaded for years to come.
But looking ahead to 2013, there will be some significant losses on the offensive unit—especially along the offensive line.
The NFL draft is a yearly concern at a school that doubles as a pro developmental factory with reports already linking junior Eddie Lacy and right tackle D.J. Fluker as potential early entries for the 2013 draft class (h/t Tony Pauline, Sports Illustrated).
However, quarterback AJ McCarron has already announced his intention to return for his senior season, which assures stability at the most important position on the field (h/t Alex Scarborough, ESPN).
Which backups from this season could be in line to start in 2013, and which positions could see a talented newcomer make a run at a starting spot?
Find out as we take an early look the potential changes on offense for Alabama and project the Tide’s 2013 depth chart on offense.
*Class distinction is reflected to show player's class as of next season.
This is one position that is cemented with the return of McCarron, who will be a fifth-year senior and potentially a cult figure in Tuscaloosa depending on what happens against Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
Sophomore Blake Sims emerged as the primary backup, but expect redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and incoming freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod to join the race to succeed McCarron in 2014.
Whereas depth at quarterback was a concern this season, next spring will give Saban and his staff a glimpse at the future in the post-McCarron era.
Starter – AJ McCarron, senior
Backup – Blake Sims, junior
Assuming Lacy does turn pro, star freshman sidekick T.J. Yeldon, who has rushed for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, will ascend to the top spot.
Another freshman, Kenyan Drake, would face stiff competition from incoming stud recruits such as Derrick Henry, Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones for the coveted backup role.
Also potentially factoring into the running back rotation are Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, each of whom suffered season-ending injuries in 2012.
Starter – T.J. Yeldon, sophomore
Backup – Kenyan Drake, sophomore
The graduation of the dependable Michael Williams will open a position that figures to be one of next spring’s most intriguing battles.
Sophomores Brian Vogler and Harrison Jones (who have combined for four career receptions) are the only returning tight ends with significant game experience.
The arrival of the nation’s top tight end prospect, Alabama native O.J. Howard, is a significant boost to a unit that could use a stud pass-catching option (h/t Rivals.com).
Starter – Brian Vogler, junior
Backup – Harrison Jones, junior
Senior Kelly Johnson filled the H-back role this season and has been a valuable contributor as a blocker in two tight end sets.
Johnson has only recorded four receptions for 34 yards in 2012, but there are some promising young players on the roster that are capable of filling this spot in 2013.
Sophomore Brent Calloway and redshirt freshman Kurt Freitag, as well as the aforementioned Howard, are all prospects that can add a more dynamic receiver target for this position.
Calloway (a former stud recruit that has played at linebacker and running back to this point in his career) may provide the most intriguing option, but this is another spot that will be wide open in spring drills
Starter – Brent Calloway, sophomore
Backup – Kurt Freitag, freshman
The beginning of the 2012 season found Alabama in search of a playmaker on the outside at wide receiver.
Consider that problem solved, courtesy of breakout freshman wideout Amari Cooper, who exploded to grab 54 catches for 894 yards and nine touchdowns.
DeAndrew White, another experienced weapon that suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the season, held this spot before his injury and could make his way back into the lineup next season.
Starter – Amari Cooper, sophomore
Backup – DeAndrew White, junior
Veteran Kevin Norwood is a dependable target that will have an inside track to hold onto a spot he occupied for the majority of 2012.
However, talented younger receivers like redshirt freshmen Eddie Williams and Chris Black, rising sophomore Cyrus Jones plus incoming stud recruit Robert Foster could get looks at this spot or elsewhere in the rotation.
Starter – Kevin Norwood, senior
Backup – Chris Black, freshman
Christion Jones is another player that stepped up at receiver and became another reliable target for McCarron in 2012.
Jones will get the opportunity to hold onto his spot, but the competition to potentially unseat him will be fierce amongst the likes of Black, Cyrus Jones, Marvin Shinn and a host of others.
Starter – Christion Jones, junior
Backup – Cyrus Jones, sophomore
Fluker recently refuted reports that he had already decided to enter the draft, according to Andrew Gribble of al.com.
However, incoming JUCO signee Leon Brown is a player capable of stepping in and replacing Fluker should he eventually make the jump to the next level.
Recent history has shown that Saban has had a strong track record in plucking kids from the JUCO ranks and plugging them to fill immediate holes on the roster, and Brown may just continue that trend.
Sophomore Austin Shepherd backed up Fluker this season and will also be in the mix at right tackle.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Greene is another potential newcomer that could figure into the rotation.
Starter – Leon Brown, junior
Backup – Austin Shepherd, junior
Junior Anthony Steen has been a solid starter for most of the past two seasons, and his return will give a veteran presence to a unit that will look noticeably younger next season.
Arie Kouandjio, brother of starting left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (more on him later), is the backup to Steen at right guard.
However, as Saban proved last season, the spring is a time to experiment and move pieces around in an effort to get the best five players on the field.
Arie Kouandjio is one of several experienced players that could get a chance to earn a starting job in a different spot, and he has the talent to make a run at the left guard spot (or elsewhere) assuming he can stay healthy.
Starter – Anthony Steen, senior
Backup – Arie Kouandjio, junior
For the first time in four years, Barrett Jones will not be a fixture for the Tide’s front wall on offense.
His departure means Ryan Kelly, one of four Tide players to earn Freshman All-SEC honors, will get the first crack at becoming McCarron’s new battery mate.
Redshirt freshman Isaac Luatua is one of several new faces that could enter the mix to challenge Kelly for the center job.
Starter – Ryan Kelly, sophomore
Backup – Isaac Luatua, freshman
Chance Warmack has been another integral part of the Tide’s dominant run over the past four years, with the first-team All-American being a force at the left guard spot for the last three seasons.
Chad Lindsay, a sophomore who has served as Warmack’s backup this season, will be a fourth-year junior next season.
Should he slide into Warmack’s vacant spot, that kind of experience in Alabama’s system will help his transition into a starting role.
Incoming recruits Grant Hill and Bradley Bozeman are both candidates to end up somewhere along the interior spots in the offensive line, with left guard a potential landing spot for both in-state products.
Starter – Chad Lindsay, junior
Backup – Grant Hill, freshman
Cyrus Kouandjio stepped into a unique position this season, becoming the lone new starter on the 2012 unit by taking over at left tackle and allowing Jones to move to center.
Kouandjio wasted little time making an impact, having a strong debut season by showing the strength, athleticism and agility that made him one of the most coveted recruits in the 2011 class.
Kellen Williams served as a reliable backup for Kouandjio and should return to reprise that role next season.
Younger tackles such as Greene and fellow redshirt freshman Caleb Gulledge are also promising options that will continue to develop next season.
Starter – Cyrus Kouandjio, junior
Backup – Kellen Williams, senior