Alabama Football: 7 Things That Need to Be Fixed Before 2012
Alabama's 2011 season culminated with a trip to the Promised Land, the BCS national championship game, but next year is just around the corner.
Nick Saban and the team are focusing on LSU and January 9, yet planning for next year has not gone completely into the back seat.
From recruiting, to coaching, to graduation and the NFL, all aspects are being considered by the staff, even as they are a breath away from the Big One.
Here are seven things that need to be fixed for the 2012 season. Please take note that these are not situations that are at risk for not being fixed, but merely an observation of what must be fixed.
Adjust to the Coaching Carousel
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
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The coaching carousel is a part of college football. Coaches come and go. After they give their best for whatever school they are at, they move onto something else that is the best choice for them and their families.
Offensive and defensive coordinators Jim McElwain and Kirby Smart are on the brink of becoming head coaches themselves and stepping out from under Saban's shadow to create their own legacies.
Both have done a heck of a job for the Tide. They've won one national championship, missed playing for one in 2008 by a nose and are headed to compete for another this year.
McElwain is back and forth involving the coaching position at Memphis, according to AL.com. Jim is almost 50 years old and needs to seriously think about a head coaching position this late in his career.
Kirby Smart has interviewed for the head coaching position at Texas A&M, also from AL.com. A move like this is a serious gamble for Smart.
Smart is only 35 years old, but he has just over 10 years of coaching experience, beginning at his alma mater, Georgia, the year after he graduated as a Bulldog player.
Texas A&M is a six-loss team this year after playing in the Big 12 during an up year. But they are about to move to the SEC. Even "middle-of-the-road" SEC teams like Mississippi State are tough. Look what they did to Michigan last year in their bowl game. They won, 52-14.
With TA&M struggling in the Big 12, they are in for an extremely rough ride in 2012 in the SEC. This would be a situation that could set Smart up for utter failure as a rookie head coach at an underdog program in the toughest landscape.
The gamble could pay off, too. Smart could turn A&M into a 10-win team in the SEC in his first year and set him on the path of the next legendary coach.
In a matter of opinion, Smart would be smart and stay at Alabama a few more years until Saban retires. I just don't see Nick coaching past 65, and at his current rate, Kirby would be the next head coach.
Whatever happens, the coaching carousel has to be dealt with, and Nick Saban is one of the best at selecting staff members.
Settle the Quarterback Situation
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A.J. McCarron won the starting position for 2011, but the future starter is anything but settled.
Phillip Sims, McCarron's main competitor, has sky-high potential. If he adjusts to the college game as expected, he could be much better than McCarron by 2012.
Personally, I don't think McCarron will lose the starting position after helping his team to the national championship game, and if the Tide wins, it's even less likely.
If Phillip Sims doesn't win the starting position, odds are that he wont get to start until his redshirt senior year, as I don't think McCarron will "wow" NFL coaches enough to declare early.
He is only a redshirt sophomore this year, and the way the Crimson Tide uses quarterbacks doesn't exactly make them a hot item for the NFL.
If Sims does not win the starting position, then his best option is to transfer, and there is nothing wrong with that. It would not be betraying Alabama, and true Alabama fans will understand a player considering his own future over the team.
In addition, Sims sticking around as a backup for another two years could hurt attempts at recruiting high-profile quarterbacks. Sims and McCarron at Alabama likely played a part in highly-touted recruits Gunner Kiel and Jameis Winston not choosing Alabama.
The quarterback battle needs to be completely settled by the end of spring practice.
Find a Place for Cade Foster
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Cade Foster is one of Alabama's two participating kickers, with Jeremy Shelley being the other. He had a great freshman season, but has regressed into an underachiever this year.
He can no longer hit the long field goals he was previously capable of making, and his kickoffs have been short all year, with only five touchbacks.
Alabama is signing the best kicker in the nation in 2012, Adam Griffith, and with the 85 scholarship limit, there just isn't room for two scholarship kickers, especially when one has been unproductive.
Foster was a monster linebacker in high school and carried his tackling fuel into the college game. For much of the 2010 season, he led the team in tackles on kickoffs.
Scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis, and Foster's must be in serious question right now. If he keeps it, he could be productive as a linebacker, his natural position. He's a bit undersized for a Saban linebacker, but he could make the transition to safety, just as former linebacker Vinnie Sunseri has done.
Cade has the luxury of being marketable in other positions, something extremely rare for a kicker.
Find a Go-to Receiver
Ex-Tide receiver turned Atlanta Falcon Julio Jones.
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Marquis Maze has been the go-to receiver this year, but he is no Julio Jones, and it has been evident this year with his 56 receptions for 627 yards, though those are respectable numbers.
Part of that is A.J. McCarron's accuracy on long passes, where Maze is the most dangerous. McCarron makes smart throws, but his predecessor, Greg McElroy, was a lot more accurate with the long ball despite his lack of arm strength.
Maze, along with several other productive receivers, will be graduating this year, and Maze seems to have a future in the NFL.
In the recent past, Nick Saban has signed a plethora of four-star wide receivers, but none have any proven production yet, mostly due to lack of playing time.
Receivers Kenny Bell (sophomore, 16 catches, 229 yards) and DeAndrew White (freshman, 14 catches, 151 yards) look the most promising at the moment, but JUCO transfer Duron Carter could be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Carter sat out this year for some sort of academic problem involving credits, but he'll be ready to go in 2012. As the son of legendary NFL receiver Cris Carter, a lot is expected from 6'4" Duron.
Get Cyrus Kouandjio Ready
Barrett Jones (pictured), the starting left tackle, is expected to be replaced by Barrett Jones.
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Cyrus Kouandjio, one of the best left tackle prospects in recent history, signed with the Tide for the 2011 season, but only after teasing Auburn with a short-lived verbal commitment. He immediately made a push for a starting position.
Barrett Jones was moved to left tackle instead, and Cyrus was his primary backup. He injured his knee this year, ending his season.
Jones, a redshirt junior (he only redshirted his freshman year due to a shoulder injury), will be leaving for the NFL. As a likely first-round pick, it would be foolish to stay, as he already has his degree. He has done enough for the Tide, and it's time for him to cash in.
Since Nick Saban arrived, the team has not had to deal with issues at left tackle. Andre Smith and James Carpenter held the spot before Jones, and both were first round NFL Draft picks.
Cyrus has all the tools to succeed and now has adequate experience as well.
Make Sure Demetrius Hart Can Handle Alabama's Run System
Trent Richardson (pictured) is expected to shoulder a load that Demetrius Hart could have a hard time matching.
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Trent Richardson is poised to leap into the NFL on a sure path to domination. That leaves Eddie Lacy as the new starter. But who will be the "Furious" to Lacy's "Fast?"
Jalston Fowler has been a good third-string running back, but when Richardson needed a breather this year while Lacy was dealing with turf-toe, Fowler was nowhere to be found.
He had a great early season against beat down opponents, but against LSU and Mississippi State (both games were closer than fans had hoped), Fowler had no carries. He had only one carry in the Iron Bowl.
Demetrius Hart is fully expected to be Lacy's backup. He missed this year due to a torn ACL he suffered in the summer 7-on-7 drills, but has recovered excellently.
Hart is a great running back, but what is expected of him in Alabama's system of bruising-yet-agile running backs will be quite a task for a 5'8", 190-lb. running back.
It's not far-fetched to say he'll have trouble breaking the kind of tackles that Richardson, Lacy and Fowler have.
Running backs coach Burton Burns needs to ensure that Hart can handle the load rather than just run him to the outside a lot in a predictable fashion.
Recover from the Graduation/Draft Exodus
Dont'a Hightower is expected to declare early for the 2012 NFL Draft.
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It's no secret that Alabama will be decimated by graduation and the 2012 NFL draft. Here is a list of graduating starters, though there are many graduating second-string players.
-WR Marquis Maze*
-WR Darius Hanks
-TE Brad Smelley
-C William Vlachos*
-DT Josh Chapman*
-LB Jerrell Harris
-LB Courtney Upshaw*
-CB DeQuan Menzie
-S Mark Barron*
*-Strong NFL Draft stock.
That is nine starters lost to graduation. Here is a list of starters expected to declare for the draft early.
-RB Trent Richardson
-LT Barrett Jones
-RT D.J. Fluker (unlikely, but he has good draft stock).
-LB Dont'a Hightower
-CB Dre Kirkpatrick
-S Robert Lester
By a realistic estimation, the outlook seems to have around eight returning starters. Alabama under Nick Saban is known to "reload" rather than "rebuild," but raw talent cannot make a title run without experience. 2010 is a prime example of that.
The 2012 outlook looks great, but the Tide must recover well from its personnel losses.