Alabama Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason
After ending their season with two consecutive defeats, Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide will enter the offseason with plenty of motivation to improve in 2014.
The main priority atop Saban’s offseason wish list will be finding a replacement for quarterback AJ McCarron.
However, there are other areas of the roster that will grab his attention before spring drills arrive.
What are the Tide’s biggest concerns heading into the offseason?
5. Adjusting to Uptempo Offenses
On the surface, the offenses of Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma don’t seem to have many traits in common.
However, all three units pushed the tempo against Kirby Smart’s defense and all three teams found a good measure of success doing so. Those clubs averaged nearly 484 yards of total offense and 40 points per game against the Tide.
As ESPN’s Alex Scarborough notes, Saban spent last offseason trying to adjust personnel along the defensive line in an effort to counter spread attacks.
This year, don’t be surprised if he looks at the rest of his schemes in an effort to fix other areas that have been exposed against offenses that push the tempo.
4. Developing New Leadership
The losses of McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley mean that new leaders will have to be developed.
Unlike the last two seasons when the theme of avoiding complacency surrounded the Tide’s offseason preparations, the 2014 edition of the Tide will enter the season with a collective chip on their shoulders to reestablish their standing as the nation's most dominant program.
With teams around the SEC and nationally sensing a chink in the Tide’s armor, they won’t have time to lick their wounds.
This year’s team has to find new leaders who will change the course of the program. Similar to when Saban took over in Tuscaloosa back in 2007, the Tide are hoping to hit the reset button and rebuild the foundation of the program.
That process starts with identifying new leaders who will hold teammates accountable in the offseason.
3. Offensive Line
Another area where Alabama clearly struggled this season was on the offensive line.
Granted, the Tide had to replace three All-American starters from the 2012 national title team, but Mario Cristobal’s unit never seemed to jell for a consistent period of time.
With the loss of guard Anthony Steen and the potential loss of junior left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio to the NFL draft, the offensive line will once again require an overhaul.
Reestablishing a dominant, physical identity in the trenches is among the chief concerns offensively for Doug Nussmeier’s troops.
After years of possessing the nation’s most dominant secondary under Saban, the 2013 defense was continually picked apart by some of the better quarterbacks on the Tide’s schedule.
Considering that top corner Deion Belue was a senior and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is another potential early draft entry candidate, the Tide’s defensive backfield will look different next season.
However, the corner position was a bit of a revolving door last season with Belue representing the only reliable option at that spot.
Saban and Smart will be closely monitoring the development of young players such as Eddie Jackson, Geno Smith, Maurice Smith and Jonathan Cook this offseason in hopes of reestablishing consistency at both corner spots.
1. Finding AJ McCarron's Successor at QB
The question of identifying McCarron’s replacement has been bantered about all season among Tide fans, with a clear-cut favorite yet to be uncovered among a group of six potential replacements.
Rising senior Blake Sims has the most experience, but he’s proven to be more effective as a runner in the limited snaps he’s taken as McCarron’s backups over the last two seasons.
One name to keep an eye on is freshman walk-on Luke Del Rio, the son of Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com notes, the younger Del Rio has already drawn praise from McCarron and even earned a place on the Tide’s travel squad this season.
While there are several positions that will be an open competition in spring drills, none will carry as much weight or importance as finding a replacement for McCarron.