Power Ranking Alabama's Positional Units for 2014
Since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the Crimson Tide have annually fielded one of the nation’s top rosters—and 2014 will be no different.
Despite sending another eight players to the NFL draft, several position units will enter fall camp with top-tier talent from top to bottom on both sides of the ball.
While question marks such as quarterback and cornerback headline the concerns entering fall camp, several position groups such as wide receiver, running back and linebacker should rank among the best in the SEC and nationally.
How do the Tide’s positional units stack up heading into fall camp?
8. Defensive Tackle
Senior Brandon Ivory returns for his second season as a starter in the middle of the Tide’s defensive line.
While Alabama’s rush defense gave up about 30 yards per game more than it did in 2012, Ivory helped Alabama lead the SEC in that category once again. The Tide finished seventh in the nation, giving up less than 107 yards per game, according to cfbstats.
The biggest key with Ivory is staying healthy, as he’s battled nagging injuries during parts of his career. After losing backup Darren Lake to a pectoral injury in the spring, keeping Ivory in the lineup carries even more significance.
The Tide have a trio of incoming freshmen who could provide depth in the middle, but this is a unit that largely hinges on Ivory’s ability to remain in the lineup and be effective.
Alabama’s quarterback derby to replace AJ McCarron did not get any clearer after a subpar spring game performance from the likes of Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman.
True freshman David Cornwell is still recovering from an ACL injury and Alec Morris has been unable to make a dent in the competition in his third year on campus.
With incoming Florida State transfer Jacob Coker the favorite to seize control of the job in fall camp, Alabama could inherit its most physically gifted passer in the Saban era.
While the 6’5”, 230-pound Coker has all of the tools necessary to be an elite passer, he’s still largely an unproven commodity after sitting behind the likes of EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston for the last two seasons.
However, if he does win the job and plays at a high level, one of the Tide’s question marks entering the season may turn out to be one of its primary strengths by season’s end.
6. Defensive Backs
Saban’s pedigree as a defensive backs coach will likely be put to the test in 2014. While there’s still more than enough talent on hand to field a stout secondary, this is a unit that is in somewhat of a transition period after personnel losses and two straight poor efforts to close out last season.
As has been the case in recent years, the Tide will have an All-American caliber presence to anchor the secondary in junior safety Landon Collins—who racked up 69 tackles and a pair of interceptions last season.
Junior Geno Smith and senior Nick Perry will fight for the job opposite Collins, while senior Jarrick Williams is back to reprise his role at the star spot in nickel packages.
Perhaps the Tide’s biggest question mark is at corner, and with the indefinite loss of sophomore Eddie Jackson due to a torn ACL, the Tide are left with few proven options to fill out the two outside spots.
Junior Cyrus Jones—who converted from receiver to corner prior to last season—is the team’s most experienced option. Junior Bradley Sylve and sophomore Maurice Smith have also seen limited snaps, but neither has done anything to cement a spot in the rotation.
Help is on the way courtesy of a pair of incoming 5-star recruits in Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. Brown, in particular, looked impressive during the spring as an early enrollee.
However, despite the incoming talent, Collins and Williams are still the only known commodities among the starting unit. While there is incoming talent, growing pains could be felt—especially early in the season.
5. Offensive Line
Despite Alabama returning three starters along the offensive line, this is another unit that is hoping to see marked improvement heading into the 2014 season.
Right tackle Austin Shepherd and center Ryan Kelly appear to be safe bets to assume the same positions this year. Left guard Arie Kouandjio struggled at times last season, but he maintained his position exiting spring.
Senior Leon Brown started at right guard in the Sugar Bowl and it looks as if he’s found a home there following a solid spring. The biggest surprise of the spring was true freshman left tackle Cameron Robinson—who was an early enrollee and the consensus top tackle prospect in the 2014 class—ascending to a starting role during the A-Day game.
While there’s a blend of talent and experience already on hand, as well as a handful of linemen who arrived in the summer ready to jump into the mix, the biggest key for this unit is establishing chemistry amongst the starting five.
Despite the loss of All-American C.J. Mosley and two-year starter Adrian Hubbard, a pair of starters—senior inside linebacker Trey Depriest and junior outside backer Denzel Devall—return to fortify the middle level of the Tide’s defense.
Additionally, juniors Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland have gained valuable reps as reserves in their first two seasons and each performed well in the spring.
If Lee—who was arrested for a DUI in April—can avoid trouble away from the field, he’s a player who could potentially make an impact in his first season as a starter.
"I think Dillon Lee will be a really good player for us," Saban told Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "I think he has a good understanding of what we want him to do. He runs well. He's got good size and plays good block protection, especially at the line of scrimmage."
Promising sophomore Reuben Foster and a stud crop of incoming freshmen headlined by 5-star recruits Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller give the Tide plenty of talented bodies who can provide depth.
3. Defensive End
Saban has spoken about his desire to redefine the role and responsibilities of the defensive end position in the Tide’s scheme.
After landing three 5-star defensive ends in his last two recruiting classes, Saban’s new vision is beginning to take shape. 2013 class standouts A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen have shown flashes of becoming dominant players on the edge, and incoming freshman Da’Shawn Hand has the looks of a potential impact performer this fall.
Additionally, landing JUCO imports D.J. Pettway and Jarran Reed will help add immediate depth and experience. Dee Liner and Dalvin Tomlinson are capable bodies who could also factor into the rotation.
Overall, the Tide’s rotation at defensive end offers Saban and his staff a nice mix of speed, power, versatility and experience.
2. Running Back
Has there ever been a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in the SEC that enters a year with less fanfare than junior T.J. Yeldon?
Yeldon is a potential Heisman candidate who has rushed for a combined 2,343 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons.
However, the offseason banter has focused squarely on rising sophomore Derrick Henry, who burst onto to the scene with 161 yards of total offense and a pair of touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Simply put, he’s the type of freakish athlete that stands out even on a roster as deep as the Tide’s.
But the backfield depth doesn’t stop there.
Veterans Jalston Fowler and Kenyan Drake are proven entities who have the ability to take over games, and younger talents such as Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones are chomping at the bit to earn carries in a loaded backfield.
This group is undoubtedly among the nation’s top backfield units.
1. Wide Receiver
While junior Amari Cooper is among the nation’s best pass-catchers, he’s hardly the only weapon that the Tide’s new quarterback will have on the outside.
Veterans Christion Jones and DeAndrew White bring experience and explosiveness to complement Cooper, while rising young talents such as Robert Foster, Chris Black and Raheem Falkins are fighting to earn reps when the season rolls around.
Talent, depth and versatility are all present in a unit that may be the most talented segment of receivers fielded in the Saban era.
Add in a burgeoning star at tight end in sophomore O.J. Howard and it’s clear to see that new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will have ample weapons to attack defenses with through the air.