Alabama Football: 6 Tiders Who Need to Improve the Most This Offseason
If Alabama is going to have a true chance to bring home a third consecutive BCS national title, there are a number of players that must step up their game.
The Tide will most certainly enter the season loaded with the talent needed to make such an unprecedented run, but, as coach Nick Saban would be happy to tell us, there is a lot of work yet to be done before title talk can be justified.
Alabama is facing the task of replacing key players on the offensive line and lost some of its defensive leaders as well. And don't forget running back Eddie Lacy. Again, there is work to be done.
Saban has brought in the kind of recruits needed to fill these holes, and Alabama has a stable of elite talent waiting in the wings. Nonetheless, the Tide's success in 2013 will largely depend on improvement from some of their returning playmakers from 2012.
Here is a look at some of those who must take it to the next level when the Tide takes the field again this fall.
Kenyan Drake and Dee Hart
Redshirt freshman Dee Hart was in the mix at running back early in 2012 and was also returning punts for the Tide. Unfortunately, he was lost for the season with an injury in the Ole Miss game.
Hart's replacement was another freshman, Kenyon Drake. Drake picked up some quality experience in a reserve role, averaging over six yards per attempt and scoring five touchdowns on 42 carries.
The problem is this. Freshman sensation T.J. Yeldon is expected to replace the departed Lacy and Jalston Fowler will be back from his injury to man the H-back position. More importantly, Alabama is bringing in a number of star recruits in the offensive backfield including Yulee, Florida's Derrick Henry.
Henry is likely to garner playing time right away and is already taking classes in Tuscaloosa as he enrolled early. If he does break into the lineup immediately, there are going to be very few carries left for Drake and Hart.
Both upcoming sophomores have the talent to play at a top SEC level. At Alabama, though, this is not enough. The duo must separate themselves from Henry and the other incoming freshmen if they expect to follow in the footsteps of Lacy and run their way into the NFL.
Tide linebacker Adrian Hubbard has everything he needs to become Alabama's next defensive star. His size, speed and nose for the ball earned him the starting nod at "Sam" linebacker in 2012.
Even so, Hubbard tallied just 41 tackles on the season. To be fair, he also had seven sacks and forced three fumbles.
Still, Hubbard will be a junior in 2013 and the Tide will need him to prove himself as one of the conference's elite defenders if a title run is once again in the cards.
Alabama will be depending on Hubbard to take more of a leadership role this fall, and if he can show the same improvement next season that he made this season, he will be well on his way to national prominence.
Jeoffrey Pagan and Brandon Ivory
They didn't always get the attention they deserved, but the departures of Damion Square and Jesse Williams will leave a giant hole in the Alabama defense.
Rising juniors Jeoffrey Pagan and Brandon Ivory will likely be assigned to replace them. The two played regularly last season and are among the Tide's top three returning tacklers among defensive linemen.
With impressive speed for his size, Pagan is the one more likely to separate himself from the rest and emerge as the star of the line this fall. As big as he is, 6'4" and 285 lbs, Pagan at times plays more like a linebacker than his size would predict.
The key for the Tide during its current run of national titles has always started on the front lines. If this tandem can live up to its promise and expectations, Alabama will once again dominate up front.
Upcoming sophomore Landon Collins made headlines a year ago when, seemingly against his mother's wishes, he signed to play for the Tide.
As one of the most coveted recruits of the 2012 class, Collins came to Alabama with a ton of hype.
In his freshman season, Collins was limited to little more than special teams play but was routinely the first man in on tackles in that role. He finished the season with 17 tackles.
Alabama will bring back a bevy of experience in the defensive backfield including Deion Belue, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri and John Fulton. While all of them need some significant improvement in their own ways, Collins is the one who has the potential to prove himself as the cream of the crop.
They say that competition makes everyone better. If Landon Collins can earn his way onto the field more in 2013, everyone in the 'Bama backfield will be better for it.