Alabama Analysis: How the Tide Will Fill Its Holes on Offense
Gone is running back Glen Coffee and his 2,458 yards and 16 touchdowns. Gone is quarterback J.P. Wilson, the record holder in almost every single University of Alabama passing category. Gone is left tackle Andre Smith, the All-American, Outland Trophy winner.
The Alabama offense has some huge holes to fill in 2009 if the team has any hopes of a repeat trip to Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game.
Redshirt junior Greg McElroy surprised many when he grabbed the starting job and didn't look back. McElroy has been solid through the spring and in the beginning of fall camp.
McElroy showed flashes of his potential last season. His 34-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Maze in the annual Iron Bowl game against Auburn ignited the excitement of Alabama fans everywhere.
In McElroy's first season as a starter at Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, Texas, he threw for 4,636 yards and 56 touchdowns. Clearly, he knows how to pass the football.
McElroy is a very accurate passer and a student of the game. He's a very smart player who has put in extra work in the film room.
Redshirt freshman Star Jackson, blue chip freshman A.J. McCarron, and walk-on Thomas Darrah have battled for the No. 2 position on the team.
Jackson, an athletic, mobile player, has struggled to completely pick up on some aspects of the offensive schemes. Still, coach Nick Saban has praised the quarterback in recent days for his leadership, effort, and athletic ability.
McCarron, a true freshman with a strong arm, is a bit undersized and needs to bulk up to take the pounding of a full SEC schedule. Reports out of spring and fall camp have indicated McCarron has been very impressive in his passing ability. He's displayed a strong arm and nice accuracy.
Darrah, a walk-on player, has a really strong arm, but has struggled with consistency.
Jackson appears to be the leader for the number two position, while coaches hope McCarron can have a redshirt year to learn the offense and have a year under the strength and conditioning program to add some size to his 6'4" frame.
Freshman All-American Mark Ingram returns for his sophomore season as the starting running back. Last season, Ingram gained 728 yards with 12 touchdowns as Coffee's back up. Ingram is a 230-pound bruising runner who can run quite effectively between the tackles.
Senior Roy Upchurch, a quick, shifty runner, has shown the potential of game-breaking ability in the past. Last season, Upchurch battled with a neck injury but appears to be healthy now. In limited action, Upchurch tallied 350 yards and four touchdowns.
Junior Terry Grant, a fast scatback, has re-established himself this fall as a potential playmaker in 'Bama's offense.
Grant rushed for 890 yards with eight touchdowns in 2007. In 2008, nagging injuries and some inconsistency kept him off the field. Now Grant has returned healthy and been impressive in practice.
Heralded incoming freshmen Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy are both big, powerful backs. Both have shown ability and impressed in fall camp, but both will need to fight hard for playing time with the three veterans in front of them playing well.
Alabama is extremely deep at the running back position, and early playing time there will be hard to come by barring injuries.
Wide Receiver/Tight Ends
Freshman All-American Julio Jones returns for his sophomore season as the biggest play threat on the Tide offense.
In his first season at 'Bama, Jones caught 58 passes for 924 yards with four touchdowns and displayed the ability to make big catches at critical times.
This season, Saban has indicated that Jones will be moved around to make covering him more difficult for opposing defenses.
Coaches have hoped someone else would step up opposite Jones to take some pressure off of him. The leading candidate through fall camp seems to be redshirt sophomore Marquis Maze.
Maze showed flashes of his potential last year. The speedster has the ability to stretch the field and be the perfect complement to Jones' more physical receiving style. Maze was very impressive during the spring and has received praise from Saban in fall camp as a player who can be a playmaker for the Tide.
Senior Mike McCoy, sophomore Darius Hanks, junior Earl Alexander and true freshman Kevin Norwood have been battling for playing time as well.
Norwood has been impressive and caught three passes for 60 yards in the most recent scrimmage. Hanks has had an impressive fall camp and showed flashes of potential last season.
McCoy has been inconsistent in the past, and has worked hard to improve this summer. Alexander has battled some injuries that have prevented him from contributing as much as he would like, but appears healthy now.
Senior transfer Colin Peek, a former Georgia Tech tight end, was very impressive last season in fall camp. Peek unsuccessfully petitioned the NCAA to not have to sit the 2008 season out.
Peek is a receiving threat and should excel in a Jim McElwain offense. At 6'6", 260 pounds, Peek has the size to take advantage of certain personnel groupings he will face on defense. Peek has battled a fracture on his foot but expects to be ready by the opening game. Peek has emerged as the No. 1 tight end.
About midway through the 2008 season, freshman Brad Smelley worked his way into the playing rotation at tight end. He went on to catch seven passes for 98 yards in limited action.
Smelley had a knack for big catches on third down. At 6'3", 218 pounds, Smelley will likely be utilized as he was last season, as a situational player on passing downs.
Junior Preston Dial, a 6'3", 245-pound tight end, notched one catch last season. Like Smelley, Dial is thought more of as a hybrid, situational player.
Redshirt freshman Michael Williams, a 6'6", 270-pound tight end, emerges as the most likely blocking tight end to replace Travis McCall. Williams is a very strong player with the size to be quite effective as a run blocker.
Juco transfer James Carpenter steps into the LT position formerly held by Outland trophy winner Andre Smith. Carpenter has been solid through spring and fall camp and impressed coaches through both. Alabama DC Kirby Smart stated that Carpenter was a solid, SEC caliber lineman.
Carpenter has been impressive enough that heralded freshman DJ Fluker has been working with the second administrative grouping at RT.
Fluker reported to fall camp in less than excellent condition. Coaches weren't pleased by his offseason efforts in that department and have since had him in a strict conditioning program. Fluker has shown the potential that he was recruited for, but needs time in the program to mature and get to the proper conditioning levels.
Junior William Vlachos, a weight room warrior, has taken over the starting position at center. Vlachos has performed well in camp and has a solid hold on the position.
Right guard is the position that is still unsettled on the line. Redshirt freshman Barrett Jones has now emerged as the leader for the RG spot. Jones manned the spot in the Tide's first scrimmage of fall camp and held onto to it after the coaches analyzed the film.
In a press conference held after the scrimmage, Saban was asked about Jones by media representatives from al.com and responded:
"He has been doing the best job today, to this point," Saban said of Jones after the scrimmage, "but we've got a lot of competition at a lot of positions."
Sophomore Alfred McCullough had also been battling for the position and spent some time with the first grouping, but was inconsistent.
LG Mike Johnson returns as does RT Drew Davis. Both are solid, SEC linemen.
The keys for the Alabama offense this season clearly rest upon how effective Greg McElroy and the new starters are on the offensive line.
With the exception of RG, most of those positions have been solid in fall camp and coaches hope Jones will be the final piece to the puzzle on the offensive line.
Alabama will continue to try and establish the running game and utilize a short to mid-range passing attack. If Alabama is able to receive serviceable play at quarterback and the offensive line gels, look for the Tide to contend for an SEC title and be a player in the national title hunt as well.
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