Following one of the most traumatic summers in Alabama history, Crimson Tide football is on the minds of the Alabama faithful. They would love nothing more than their football program to return another championship home to the rebuilding city of Tuscaloosa.
When Alabama suddenly became Tornado Alley this summer, the folks of Tuscaloosa and throughout the proud state of Alabama were worried about much more than football. However, with the rebuilding phase in full effect, its time to watch some football, and boy, are they going to have something to watch.
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are looking to improve upon what would be a great season for most schools, but in Alabama it was considered an underachievement. A devastating collapse in the Iron Bowl highlighted the regular season, and the destruction of Michigan State was overshadowed by Auburn's BCS Championship run—the most vital portion of the disappointment of the 2010 season for Crimson Tide faithful.
However, fans of 'Bama should soon get over the disappointment of 2010. Saban and company return an unbelievable amount of talent, specifically on defense, and are poised to make the state of Alabama's third straight trip to the national championship game.
Proof that even a tornado cannot slow down the dominant tide that runs through the beautiful state of Alabama.
Who is the future at quarterback?
Coach Saban must replace the departed Greg McElroy.
McElroy was the epitome of a winner and managed the game exactly how Saban preferred from his quarterbacks. While he wasn't the most talented quarterback to ever strap it up for the Tide, he was a winner and a coach on the field; however, there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings to attempt to replace him.
A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims are both extremely talented quarterbacks that paint a very bright future for the quarterback position at Alabama. McCarron may have the upper hand, but Sims certainly has the talent to come in and make in impact if McCarron does not play up to par.
The 6'2", 217 pound Sims possesses a huge arm and the accuracy to place it anywhere on the field. He threw for a state record 10,725 yards and 119 touchdowns in Virginia and was widely considered the number one prospect in the country coming out of high school. He must improve his consistency in practice if he wants to challenge McCarron for the starting job in 2011.
Although, this group is extremely inexperienced, they do possess two of the most talented young quarterbacks in the country and are poised for a bright, bright future at this position.
To say that the Alabama rushing attack was a disappointment a year ago would, most likely, disappoint the reader; however, considering the talent that existed, a fifth place finish in the SEC was a bit shocking.
The backfield possessed a Heisman Trophy winner and another one of the country's most talented backs and the numbers should have been better.
Heading into 2011, the Tide must replace the departed Ingram, now a member of the New Orleans Saints, but Trent Richardson is more than ready to become the featured back of this offense.
Richardson has waited patiently, splitting carries with Ingram, and awaiting his turn to be the primary ball carrier. Many have thought Richardson had much more natural ability than Ingram, but Richardson was more functional as a big-play threat and receiver out of the backfield, which lead to a nice thunder and lightning attack.
He ran past 700 yards and averaged over 6 yards per carry during another productive season; however, he is poised for much, much more.
Can the Alabama Wide Receivers replace the production of the departed Jones?
Richardson is a freak of nature on the football field. He has excellent size, tremendous speed, unbelievable strength and is a home-run threat every single time the ball is placed in his hands. He is a legitimate Heisman contender and as long as he can stay healthy, he will be in the running until the end.
The 'Bama backfield just continues to gain more and more talent as the years progress. Eddie Lacy and Demetrius Hart are waiting in the wings and may be more talented than the duo that preceded them.
Lacy has shown good power and speed on limited carries and managed to rumble for 400 yards and average a whopping 7 yards a carry in 2010. While Hart is a bit smaller, he produced over 7,000 all-purpose yards in high school and has the ability to develop into an unbelievable dual threat option, if he is able to return from his injury to produce this season.
This may very well be the most talented backfield in the entire country.
The departure of Julio Jones is another immediate concern for the coaching staff.
While Jones did not always produce at this potential, he had enough ability for the Atlanta Falcons to mortgage their future to obtain him in the draft. He was the prototypical size for a wide receiver with all the intangibles needed to be a great player at the next level.
However, it's now time for the players who deferred to Jones over the years to take their shot at being the man.
Marquis Maze is poised to replace Jones in the rotation and prove that he truly belongs. Maze, a 5'10, 180 pound veteran was second on the team in receiving in 2010 and has shown an ability to use his blazing speed to become a steady and consistent target for the 'Bama quarterbacks.
Darius Hanks, Michael Bowman and Brandon Gibson will also factor into the receiver rotation and are all capable of producing at a steady, albeit spectacular pace; however, they all may take a backseat to Duron Carter, son of NFLer Cris, if he is able to get everything in working order and arrive on campus.
Duron was considered an academic casualty at Ohio State, but is ready to reenter the FBS level after spending a year at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where he caught 44 balls. Carter has excellent size for a wide receiver (6'5", 210) and has the ability to contribute immediately.
DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell, and Kevin Norwood provide solid depth to the rotation and all have an opportunity to make an impact throughout the season.
If there is one area on the field that consistently struggled in 2010 for the Tide, it would have been the offensive line. They struggled to protect the pass, finishing 88th in the country, and were not consistent at blowing the defensive line off the ball and opening holes for a dominant group of running backs. If Alabama wants to reach the levels they believe they can in 2010, they must improve the play upfront.
William Vlachos will anchor the line and provide a veteran presence. The 6'1, 294 pounder has been consistent on the line throughout his career and if he continues to play at a high-level he may receive some All-SEC honors. He will be joined by D.J. Fluker, Anthony Steen, Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones to form a talented, but unproven offensive line.
Fluker, in particular, is a mountain of a man that has the potential to be as good as any lineman in the country. The 6'6", 335 pounder, has NFL potential and is one of the best run blockers in the SEC. His improvement at right tackle can go a long way toward shoring up the entire line.
Austin Shepard, Kellen Williams, Aflred McCullough and several others provide the line with plenty of depth and numbers to rotate.
There is no excuse, this group should perform at a much higher level than the 2010 version.
The Alabama defensive line only has to suffer through the loss of one starter, but that was a valuable piece to the defensive puzzle. Marcell Dareus was an absolute monster against the run and provided the Tide with one of the most dominant defenses in the country, but Saban and company feel like they have enough talent on hand to offset the loss and improve.
With the departure of Dareus, Josh Chapman steps in to become the star of the front three for Alabama's 3-4 defense. Chapman is a 6'1, 310 pounder that is nearly an immovable force on the interior and is devastating against the run. When he needs a breather, Alabama tosses in Nick Gentry. Gentry is a bit more athletic and is able to move around the front line.
He and Chapman should form a solid rotation on the interior of the front three.
Damion Square and Ed Stinson will start out the season on the outsides of the front line, and they both possess starting experience and have the talent needed to produce for the 'Bama defense. Stinson is an extremely athletic defender that has the speed and power to get around the edge and get after the quarterback.
Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams both enter from JUCO and both have the ability to contribute immediately, especially Dial. Dial had the opportunity to go to school anywhere this season, but he chose to re-sign with Alabama after failing to qualify the first time. He has the skill and talent needed to be a dominant pass rusher the moment he straps it up.
This unit will certainly miss the talent of Dareus, but they should continue to show improvement as the season progresses and be able to replicate last season's play.
Coach Saban realizes that he lost some talent from his linebacker crops, but he has high hopes and they are all based around one of the most talented players in the country.
Dont'a Hightower has hopes to enter the 2011 season 100% healthy and be a dominant leader for the Alabama defense. Hightower is big, fast, mean and quite possibly the best linebacker in the entire country.
When he is right, Alabama is a completely different team on the defensive side of the ball.
Hightower is a likely Butkus Award winner and should be a unanimous selection for All-American teams by the end of the season. Hightower will be joined by several other talented linebackers.
C.J. Mosley is ready to take over the middle line backer position and has all the skills needed to be a star. Similar to Hightower with the speed, sure tackling and the ability to go sideline to sideline, he has the potential to be another one of the great Alabama linebackers.
Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris will round out the starting line-up, forming one of the most dominant groups of linebackers in the entire country.
Upshaw mans the JACK position for Saban's defense. He was one of the teams best past rushers in 2010, recording 7 sacks, and has the potential to wreak havoc in that area again. He has the speed to get to the quarterback and impose terrible mismatches all over the field. He will join Hightower as an All-American candidate and has the potential to become the SEC's best pass rusher.
Trey Depriest, Adrian Hubbard, Alex Watkins and Chris Jordan form a deep second group that is as talented as many first groups around the country. With this kind of depth, there are very few teams in the country that can match the ability of the Alabama front seven, specifically this linebacker corps.
Heading into the 2010 season, the defensive backfield had several question marks. The coaches knew they had a talented bunch, but they were replacing three key starters off of a National Championship group, and many wondered how the inexperienced group would fare when thrown to the fire.
They did their job admirably and finished 13th in the country in passing defense and now have the potential to be one of the best secondaries in the entire country.
Dre Kirkpatrick will headline the cornerback position and he is poised to become one of the nation's top cover corners. He has been oozing with talent and the maturation process has nearly come full circle. The 6'3", 192 pounder has NFL speed and size and is excellent in the bump. He also is a great open field tackler and can contribute against the run with his sure tackling ability—an all-around player that is one of the best in the country.
Opposite of Kirkpatrick will be the talented Dee Milliner. Milliner entered Alabama as the top corner at the high school level and showed immediately that the hype was real.
He started the majority of the year, breaking up seven passes to go along with 55 tackles. He packs a wallop and is a hard-hitter for the cornerback position. If he continues to improve, he and Kirkpatrick will form one of the best cornerback duos in the entire country, and they will be joined by one hell of a back line. Dequan Menzie, another one of Alabama's talented corners, will also be pushing Milliner for the starting position.
Mark Barron and Robert Lester are two extremely talented safeties that have NFL ability, especially Barron—a likely first round pick in the 2011 draft. Barron will be among the favorites for the Thorpe Award and is a jack-of-all-trades. He showed the ability to cover the pass, help on the run and even bring pressure on the quarterback, a beast. Lester quietly carried along all season and earned his way to a Second Team All-SEC honor with his consistent play.
Saban has also brought in two of the nation's best defensive backs in the 2011 class, John Fulton and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. Both have the ability to contribute if called upon, but with the talent and depth already in place, they will have an opportunity to learn on the job from some of the country's best d-backs.
Overall, this is the best defensive backfield in the entire country, bar none.
The best team in the country? It certainly appears that way. Nick Saban has brought in so much talent during his tenure at the University of Alabama that they will consistently be in the conversation regarding BCS Bowls and SEC Crowns, and this season is no different. They are loaded on the defensive side of the ball, possessing a group that may be more talented than the 2009 group, and are improving on offense.
The key will be surviving a brutal SEC West that has three of the best teams in the entire country and a solid sleeper in Mississippi State. Alabama has the schedule on their side—Arkansas and LSU must come to Bryant-Denny—and on paper is more talented than the two aforementioned teams. They should be able to scratch and claw their way to a 12-0 season and battle for another National Championship trophy.
Tune in later in the week to see if they are Sports-at-Work's Championship Pick.
Last Years Record: 10-3
Projected 2011 Record: 12-0