Alabama is in the midst of spring football, and the goal for the Crimson Tide, who finished 2013 on a two-game losing streak, is to again climb to the top of the SEC. For Nick Saban's team that means filling out the offensive line and getting the defense back to playing at the high level folks have come to expect in Tuscaloosa.
Offensively, Saban's team was an interesting beast to watch a season ago. The team produced its second-highest total-yardage numbers of the Saban era but also the third-lowest rushing total. Alabama's running production also represented a lower percentage than all but two previous Saban teams.
|Year||Rushing Offense||Passing Offense||Total Offense||Rushing % of Total Production|
* denotes BCS championship season
Some of that was due to AJ McCarron as a fifth-year senior owning the trust of the coaching staff to move the ball through the air. However, some was also due to the offensive line's struggles to make the heavy zone-blocking scheme work at times during the season. In 2014, as the line moves to replace Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen, getting back to the grinding ground game is a must.
Although T.J. Yeldon is the incumbent starter at the running back position, having Derrick Henry in the backfield should allow the Tide to run more of the power that helped create success for the Crimson Tide's national title teams. Dominating the ground game, especially with transition at the quarterback position, is job one for the Alabama offense.
Leon Brown and Alphonse Taylor are working with the first group to replace Kouandjio and Steen, respectively, according to Andrew Gribble at AL.com. The Tide also have Bradley Bozeman, Grant Hill, Brandon Greene and early enrollee Cam Robinson to push the starters on the line.
The talent is in Tuscaloosa at the running back position and along the offensive line. Spring starts the big steps toward shoving the football down opponents' throats and taking the air out of the game with long, grueling drives. To return to the SEC throne Alabama has to push its rushing production back up to the levels of its best teams.
Saban also wants wide receiver Amari Cooper to have the ball often.
Saban told Marq Burnett of the Ledger-Enquirer that he wants Cooper to be a featured part of the offense.
Obviously, he's a guy that we want to get the ball to as many times as we can. (Offensive coordinator) Lane (Kiffin) will do a really good job of getting the ball in the playmakers' hands. I think between the backs that we have and the receivers that we have and Coop's history of being a very consistent performer, I would think that he'll have an outstanding year this year.
When the field is flipped the Crimson Tide have to focus on fixing their individual pieces to make the whole work in unison. That means starting in the secondary, filling out the corners and getting high-level play from the position that failed Alabama several times and led to safeties being overextended for much of 2013.
Johnny Manziel is out of the SEC, but Auburn's Nick Marshall is still going to be a problem for the Tide's defense to battle in the West Division. As Rhett Lashlee mentioned to the Ledger-Enquirer, the rising senior quarterback is looking to improve in the pass game to become a true dual-threat quarterback.
In other words, Marshall wants to go from a quarterback who punished Alabama with his run reads to the type of player who has consistently given Saban's entire defense problems. Add D'haquille Williams and a maturing Sammie Coates to an improved Marshall and if 'Bama's corners are not in top shape, Auburn will be a new sort of a problem.
Alabama has one of the nation's best rosters and the best coach in the modern era of college football. The Crimson Tide also have to make significant improvements on both sides of the ball to wash the taste of 2013 out of their mouth. New faces have to step up on offense and defense, and if they get the growth they need, the team will certainly be staring at a College Football Playoff spot.