(Author's Note: This article was co-written by Alabama writers Trent Calvert and Justin Davis).
As Alabama heads into the 2010 season, it faces nine lost starters on defense and three on offense. That definitely leaves gaping holes to fill, but with Nick Saban at the helm for the Tide, Bama fans don't have to lose much sleep. That doesn't mean there won't be plenty of questions surrounding the team in 2010. Here are 10 of the most important.
Trent: This could definitely be a deciding factor in some of the Tide's games this year. As of today, Alabama only has five days to prepare for Auburn, who will have a full two weeks to get ready for the Iron Bowl. Alabama is working with the SEC to get the issue resolved, but most likely nothing will change.
Justin: On paper this seems like a huge advantage for the opposing teams, particularly South Carolina. If the Tide stay healthy, the only coaching staff losing sleep will be the opponents. The Tide return the most prolific offense they've had in a while, having possibly three power running backs in Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson.
A healthy Julio Jones will create match up problems for anybody in the nation, and a month of preparation won't be enough. Then if offenses double team Marcel Dareus, one of the Tide's talented linebackers will be free to make a play.
Trent: While Alabama has talented defensive linemen on the roster, it would be a lie to say the defense won't miss Cody at all next year. Top candidates stepping into Cody's literally huge shoes are Kerry Murphy and Josh Chapman. Chapman has played well when he spelled Cody during games, and big Murphy is so athletic he can backflip. The monster emergence of Marcel Dareus will help take some of the pressure off the new starters at DT.
Justin: The run defense may take a little bit of hit without the 350 round mound of pound Mt Cody clogging the middle. Kerry Murphy may step into the role of run stuffer after having a year to learn the defense and training under Cochran. Josh Chapman is more of a pass rusher than a run stuffer.
Trent: Barring unforeseen injuries, Eddie Lacy will inherit Roy Upchurch's carries in the running game. If all the praise he is getting is any indication, he will do a good job. He is another punishing runner Bama will add to its already talented backfield.
Justin: Eddie Lacy is described as a mixture of Richardson and Ingram with more speed. Enough said.
Trent: It is highly unlikely anyone will come in and be as good as Javy in his first year, but there are plenty of talented candidates. Top candidates right now are Julio Jones, Marquis Maze and Demarcus Milliner. Other guys like Corey Grant, Blake Sims and Dre Kirkpatrick will get a shot.
Justin: Three possible candidates may emerge. Incoming freshman sensation DeMarcus Milliner is in the lead, followed by Dre Kirkpatrick and Blake Sims, if neither freshman is redshirted.
Trent: Nick Saban's biggest job next year is to get the secondary ready to face offenses like Penn State and Arkansas. Mark Barron is a great player and I think he will do a good job leading the DBs. B.J. Scott and Dre Kirkpatrick will try to fend off Phelon Jones, Demarcus Milliner, John Fulton and others in fall practice to start at CB. At safety, the starters are Barron and most likely Robert Lester.
Justin: Once again, on paper you look at five DBs replaced plus Robby Green's suspension for the season and DeQuan Menzie out for the year as doom and gloom, but Phelon Jones is primed to help. The Tide may get beat for more long plays this year, but for the most part the front seven won't give opposing QBs too much time to exploit this weakness. Plus with the weapons on offense, longer drives will eat up more clock to keep the defense fresh and give less time to opponents.
Trent: With an experienced and potentially explosive offense to lead, McElroy may improve from his role of game manager and enter the conversation with elite QBs like Case Keenum and Jake Locker.
Justin: While G-MAC is a solid QB, he's a game manager of sorts. However, if he adds another undefeated season and National Title under his belt, why not?
Trent: Drew Davis and Mike Johnson were two very good O-linemen last year for the Tide. Their presence will be missed. Chance Warmack will battle others for the left guard spot, and D.J. Fluker and Tyler Love will battle for the right tackle position.
Justin: Right now give me redshirt freshman DJ Fluker at right tackle and Barrett Jones at left guard.
Trent: Nick Saban said it best: There's nothing for this team to be complacent about. They're being ranked highly in the preseason poll because of what the 2009 team did. This team isn't going to get a big head with Saban and Scott Cochran coaching them.
Justin: The Tide will be very hungry in 2010. Keep in mind that Hightower missed the National Championship game and incoming/redshirt freshman are coming in with chips on their shoulders.
Trent: Leigh Tiffin was very successful for the majority of 2009 and P.J. Fitzgerald did a great job of punting the football. Both those guys are gone. The place-kicking and field-goal jobs are up to Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley, while freshman Jay Williams will probably start at punter.
Justin: Didn't you see the "A day" game? Hope extra points is all the Tide need this year!
Colin Peek was a productive transfer from Georgia Tech. As the TE position is crucial in the Tide's pro-style offense, Peek leaves some big holes to fill. Michael Williams, Brad Smelley, Harrison Jones, and Brian Vogler are all viable options.
Justin: The favorite is Brad Smelley, whose role was limited last year, but incoming freshmen Harrison Jones (Barrett's younger brother) and skyscraper Brian Vogler will give him some competition. Probably Vogler has a better shot at this point.