After a disappointing end to a season that started 6-2, the Alabama Crimson Tide find themselves lacking some depth heading into the summer.
Granted, that highly touted recruiting class is coming on campus, but it is still a mystery as to whom and to what extent some of these players will be able to contribute to this team right away.
For this reason, the Tide will be relying on an upstart running back, some anchors on the offensive line, and a very seasoned veteran to be the leaders for Alabama in 2008 and the keys to their team’s success on offense.
Terry Grant, RS Sophomore RB
Few players at Alabama make a name for themselves on their first play in college. Terry Grant did just that, taking his first collegiate carry 47 yards for a touchdown.
Grant put the stamp on the beginning of the Saban era and erased all memories from the 2006 season when starting running back Ken Darby didn’t record a rushing touchdown all season.
Grant set a school record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman with 8. He also averaged 5 yards a carry, in a year which a hernia injury hindered his production in the second half of the season, and the team struggled just as he did in the second half.
After off season surgery, Grant has now erased any doubts that his starting spot may have been in jeopardy with yet another stellar spring. Grant re-established himself as the primary back for Bama and will be an intricate part of the Jim McElwain as a receiver out of the backfield.
Grant caught two touchdowns during the A-Day game, including a five yard pass which he turned into a 75-yard score. With no returning key receivers, Grant will have to carry the load early both rushing and receiving until the Tide can get some reliable wide outs.
Andre Smith, Junior LT and Antoine Caldwell, Senior C
Ever since the 2005 Iron Bowl, the offensive line has been a point of extreme importance to Alabama and its fans. After that game in which the Tide allowed 11 sacks, the offensive line had a makeover, and there was a new emphasis placed on recruiting offensive linemen.
The biggest pick up so far in this push is Andre Smith. A former All-SEC and All-American among freshmen and first team All-SEC last year, Smith has participated in the most plays than any other player on the Tide roster.
Antoine Caldwell, who was already on the team for the debacle against Auburn, has emerged as a force on the offensive line for Alabama. Having moved around on the offensive line, Caldwell has settled on center for this upcoming season. Caldwell was a freshmen All-SEC and All-American himself and a 2006 second team All-SEC.
Going into what figures to be the final season for both players, each have garnered many awards and watch lists their way. Smith has been named a preseason All-American by Playboy, both have been placed on the Outland Trophy watch list, and Caldwellis on the Rimington watch list.
Both will have to do their own part for Alabama to have a successful season by opening holes for Terry Grant and keeping John Parker Wilson upright. As much of a miniscule part of Alabama’s success this may seem, it will be huge once the big boys begin to show up in the SEC schedule.
John Parker Wilson, Senior QB
Wilson is coming off of his second season as the Alabama starter and his second season going 6-6. Wilson is still shattering the Alabama passing records, besting his own records from 2006 in 2007. He finished last season with 2,846 yards and 18 passing touchdowns, both new school records. He also shattered the school record for attempts in a season by 83.
Three of the top 4 marks in attempts in a season have been posted in the past three seasons, so there is no hiding the fact that Alabama is beginning to pass the ball a lot more.
Short of injury, JPW will finish this season as the first Bama QB to post 1,000 attempts in a career, currently sitting in 3rdwith 841 and only 29 attempts behind Brodie Croyle at number one.
Wilson should also be the first Tide quarterback to post over 7,000 career passing yards and has a legitimate shot at reaching the 8,000 mark.
After reading all of the above stats, there is no doubt Wilson is a QB who will have his mark on the record books. However, this season will tell if he will be one who is worth remembering.
Sure, he has been a good QB for Alabama, but he is currently remembered for his numerous mistakes at the worst possible times as well as the fact he has never beaten LSU, Mississippi State or Auburn as a starter. Wilson has key victories to his credit over Tennessee and Arkansas, but as the previous statement shows, his consistency has been a problem.
For Alabama to have any hopes of an SEC West title or a New Year’s Day Bowl, Wilson will have to have the best year of his career as well as play the most consistent he ever has.
New offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has seemingly had an impact on Wilson, but it is yet to be known if this 3rd system in as many years will be the charm to make Wilsona quarterback Bama fans would want to remember.