Last year the crimson tide were the surprise team of the college football season. Nobody could have predicted that they would start the season 12-0, make it to the SEC championship, or even make a BCS bowl game. They exceeded any expectations that they could have had and then some.
This, however, is a new year. The expectations are infinitely higher for the tide and they are ready to show the rest of the college football world that they can rise to the challenge. They are ready to prove that they are a team that is going to be in the national championship talk for years to come.
The three main positions that Alabama is going to have difficulty in, according to experts, are at offensive line, quarterback, and running back. I beg to differ. Lets start at offensive line.
Sure the tide lost two of the best lineman in the nation to the draft, that being Andre Smith who was taken sixth overall and Antoine Caldwell who went in the third round.
Replacing them are junior William Vlachos (6-0, 305) at center, who coaches are saying has great blocking strength, and a junior college transfer junior James Carpenter (6-5, 305) to replace Smith at left tackle.
Not to mention that Alabama signed the top offensive lineman in the '09 class by the name of D.J. Fluker (6-7, 350) who, like Smith, could start right away as a freshman and have the same impact as a run blocker.
These possible starters mixed with senior Mike Johnson (6-6, 305), junior Brian Motley (6-2, 289), and senior Drew Davis(6-7, 305) could make things easier for the Alabama offense to put up some points.
Next lets talk about the stable of running backs that Alabama now has. The leading candidate to start is sophomore Mark Ingram. Last year Ingram set a freshman record with 12 touchdowns as well as recording 728 rushing yards.
As long as he can recover from a pulled hamstring, and stay healthy, he should be the man to beat for the starting job. After Ingram it is up for grabs to be second on the charts.
Roy Upchurch, who is in his senior season with the tide, has shown that he can be a starter, but injuries have set him back the last couple of years. Junior Terry Grant has moved up the chart, thanks in part to a great spring training.
Once thought to not even be third or fourth on the depth chart, Grant has worked hard and the coaches like what they have seen so far. The player with the most hype surrounding him is incoming freshman Trent Richardson, who if he isn't red-shirted could compete for the starting job.
Videos on youtube.com show Richardson dicing, running away from, and bulldozing over unsuspecting defenders. If he is half as good in college as he was in his Florida high school, Alabama fans are in for a real treat. Eddie Lacy and Ivan Matchett also showed great potential to rotate into games this season for the tide.
Wide receiver looks to be another position that has been meager recently at Alabama. That is until last year when a wide receiver by the name of Julio Jones stepped onto the scene. This 6'4" 210 lbs. receiver caught 58 balls for 924 yards and showed defenses how hard he is to take down.
Lining up next to Jones is Marquis Maze and Mike McCoy. Maze had two touchdowns last year, but is the tides first real deep ball threat since Tyrone Prothro. McCoy may not have the numbers that the others have, but he is a great run blocker down field.
Other wide receivers that should make an impact right away are Michael Bowman(6-4, 210), Kendall Kelly(6-3, 220), and Kenny Bell(6-1, 170). Any one of these receivers have the potential to put up the numbers that Jones did last year.
Tight end Colin Peek, a 6'-6" 247 lbs. transfer from Georgia tech, will also be a big target to help the passing attack for the crimson tide.
Greg McElroy looks to fill the shoes of recently departed quarterback John Parker Wilson. McElroy, who backed up Chase Daniels in high school, passed for passed for over 4,000 yards, rushed for over 1,500 yards and, a Texas state record, 56 passing touchdowns.
He has spent the past two seasons backing up Wilson and seeing limited playing time. However, in his limited playing time last season, he was 16 of 20 for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
He has all but wrapped up the starting job this spring. The backups are Star Jackson, who despite his not so productive spring still has the coaching staff excited about his ability, and Thomas Darrah who walked on and could win the backup job.
Now to the strongest group of the crimson tide. The defense. Alabama returns all of their starters but two. This group includes possible all-americans Terrance Cody and Rolando McClain.
These two anchor a defense that got the depth that it very much needed last year. Tana Patrick and Dre Kirkpatrick could figure into the starting rotation to help the tide continue to stop opposing offenses from being able to get into any kind of rhythm.
Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Deaderick, and Javier Arenas, who is also the active leader in punt return yards and touchdowns, also headline this defense that finished third in the nation in total defense and number one in rushing yards a game.
Alabama is not picked by many to even win the SEC west this season. Just looking at the team that the tide has returning, matched with the second straight No. 1 recruiting class, i see a team that has the talent to take it one step further this year and maybe even win the teams first national championship since 1992.