Alabama Football: Tides' Strengths and Weaknesses Heading into Spring
Alabama is heading into the 2013 spring practice session looking to build on an unbelievable title run that has led to three national titles in four years. This season could produce a third straight, making the Crimson Tide the first program in the BCS era to accomplish the feat.
But before the Tide can win anything, they have to address a number of weaknesses as spring unfolds. The strengths that will be on display will help ease the transition at certain positions, but there are still questions for the Tide this spring.
This is a look at what this program must focus on to track down another crystal ball this season.
Weakness: Defensive Line
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The defensive line for Alabama has been one of the consistent strengths for the program under the guidance of Nick Saban and Co.
The stats are never going to be groundbreaking from the Tide defensive line, but the front three serve upfront as a wall for the defense. Alabama likes to plug holes with big, strong linemen and use athletic big men on the outside to smother outside rushing lanes.
This spring the Tide will replace three playmakers upfront with the departure of Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Quinton Dial.
All three were major contributors in the past for the Tide, and the recent announcement (via AL.com) that Jack linebacker Xzavier Dickson is shifting to the line shows that Alabama is searching for answers upfront.
The defensive end position is returning experience with Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan, but nose tackle is a concern. Brandon Ivory, Wilson Love and Darren Lake are entering spring battling for the start in the center of the defensive line.
Spring and summer will serve as a proving ground for the defensive line with a number of talented players battling for starts.
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The Alabama secondary has been the backbone of the defense for the entire Saban era, and this year it will continue to be one of the top units for the program.
The Crimson Tide lost Dee Milliner and Robert Lester from last year’s squad, but they return a number of talented players that have all seen the field in the past few seasons.
Stepping in for Lester will be Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, and Geno Smith is expected to get a starting nod in favor of the spot left open by Milliner. Both Clinton-Dix and Smith return with playing experience this fall.
Deion Belue returns with starting experience, as does John Fulton. The cornerbacks will be as talented as any in the country next season despite the departure of projected first-rounder Milliner.
At safety, Alabama also returns starter Vinnie Sunseri, a hard hitter that has cut his teeth as an aggressive zone defender.
This season will be another strong performance for the Tide secondary, as the group anchors one of the best defenses in the country.
Weakness: Offensive Line
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The Alabama offensive line walks into spring with three faces gone from last year’s road-grading squad, as starters Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker have now departed for the NFL.
Barrett Jones will be impossible to replace, as he was an all-world performer for the Tide in his years as a starter. Warmack and Fluker were considered to be among the best at their trade in 2012 as well.
Replacing starters of that quality is difficult but not impossible. Austin Shepherd and Ryan Kelly are expected to step in at right tackle and center respectively, and Chad Lindsay is the leader for the left guard position.
There will be a battle for every open spot, but there is talent throughout the roster to make the transition easy; however, until there is a solid answer this spring, the offensive line is still a weakness.
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Last year Amari Cooper burst onto the scene as one of the best young receivers in the country, finishing with eight starts and freshman All-American honors (Alabama Athletics).
Stepping in after the veteran group was plagued with injuries last fall, he capped off the year with 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Heading into spring, the team is loaded at receiver with Kenny Bell, De’Andrew White and others joining Cooper in the battle for playing time.
The Tide have a very prolific passer in AJ McCarron so expect a shift in offensive production this fall. Alabama has the tools to pass the football more than ever, and this team will do it.
This squad will finish as one of the best position groups in the country by the end of 2013.
Weakness: Spread Defense
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No matter how you slice or dice this conversation, the perception remains the same: Alabama is not very efficient at battling the spread offense.
Auburn, Texas A&M and South Carolina have all had a lot of success against Alabama using spread, no-huddle schemes.
In 2009 Auburn jumped to an early 14-point lead and held it until late in the fourth quarter. In 2010 the Tigers took over the second half gaining 243 yards to Alabama's 58 yards.
South Carolina came away with a surprise win in 2010 where the Gamecocks put up 35 points on the lauded Tide D.
Texas A&M throttled Alabama for the first half of the 2012 game, jumping out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter.
This team plays the soundest defense in the country, but the team's problems in space against the spread are a cause for concern in Tuscaloosa.
Heading into spring, Alabama has to place more focus on defending the spread scheme. There is a shift happening in college football, and an increasing number of schools in the SEC now run a spread offense.
To survive at the top, the Tide must adjust or the dynastic run will come to an end this fall.
Strength: Early Enrollees
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Alabama reloaded on talent in the 2013 recruiting cycle, but the most impressive haul was the early enrollees that landed on campus for the Tide.
The headliner for the class was undoubtedly Derrick Henry, who is expected to come in and challenge for snaps at running back immediately. His 6’3”, 240-pound frame will make him a force in the Tide offense this fall.
Others that can contribute are offensive tackle Leon Brown, who will enter the battle for right tackle, and O.J. Howard at tight end.
A sleeper for the Tide is Raheem Falkins at receiver. Despite the crowded and talented position group, the 6’5” receiver could be a situational receiver that brings a height and range to the offense that no other receiver on roster can.
This was a strong early enrollee class that will produce a number of contributors for the 2013 team.