It's just a week away from players reporting for fall camp. Finally there will be something for Alabama fans to talk about other than recruiting, reaching the scholarship cap, and other random speculation.
Saban, par for the course, will only be allowing reporters to view warm-ups for the most part. Granted there is only so much that can be gleaned from that but as time goes on it will give us some idea of group pairings.
There is also the information that leaks out from players and high school coaches that for one reason or another get invited to practice.
Slowly, as the information does get to us, we will finally have answers to some of the questions that have been speculated on since the end of spring practice.
These are the five that I feel are the most important to Alabama's success this season.
5. Who's Going To Be The Backup QB?
Headed into spring practice there were varying opinions on who would take the lead for the starting position. Some thought McElroy would win based on experience within the system while others thought it was Star Jackson's time to shine. Walk-on Thomas Darrah, the message board phenom, had already been granted the job by some.
McElroy easily won the starting role. Behind him though there were big time questions. Poor showings by Jackson and Darrah in practices and scrimmages left Bama fans wondering who would be there to back up the starter, should he go down in the fall?
Jackson is still young. He has the physical abilities to get the job done and is a bright kid. He seems to be struggling with defensive reads and picking up parts of the offense, which of course leads to confidence issues.
Given time, and that's no given in the rough and tumble SEC, he can still develop into a solid SEC quarterback.
Probably the worst thing that could happen to him this season would be for injuries to force him into a starting role.
Darrah has a very strong arm and, with it, a gunslinger-type mentality. There is more to playing quarterback in the SEC than just a strong arm: Some of the SEC's best ever at the position haven't been blessed with cannon's for arms.
Danny Weurffel for example, made up for a relatively weak arm with a great sense of touch and timing in Spurrier's "Fun and Gun" offense. Bama fans will remember Gary Hollingsworth who started at quarterback for the Tide in 89 and 90. He had a fantastic season in 89, in Coach Homer Smith's West Coast offense despite a fairly average arm.
AJ McCarron appears to have a shot at winning the back up slot during fall camp. No it's not ever ideal to have to depend on a true freshman at quarterback in the SEC, even as a backup. However, reports are he's looked great in summer passing drills.
McCarron has a great arm and above average athleticism and intelligence. If he can pick up the offense during two a days the newcomer might win the backup spot outright.
4. Who Steps Up At Safety For The Departed Rashad Johnson?
I think there is little disputing the overall effect Johnson had on the Tide's defense, both from the point of making sure everyone was in position on each play to how well he played the position.
His replacement this year won't have the added pressure of Johnson's defensive captain role. The Defensive Captain role will fall to linebacker Rolando McClain leaving whoever replaces Johnson only having to worry about maintaining a high level of play.
Saban likes to use a lot of cover 1 which leaves a free safety playing centerfield. From there he can read the field in front of him and play sideline to sideline. Johnson was very effective at this last season.
Robby Green really seemed to grab hold of the job late in the spring. Many were surprised as they thought sophomore Mark Barron would step up and take the role.
Barron is undeniably the best physical package Alabama has at the safety position. That makes what Green did in the spring that much more impressive. He didn't accomplish what he did due to poor play by Barron, but because of his own strong play.
The battle for the position will likely not be settled till midway through fall camp. Though Bama will lack experience at the position it will have more overall talent there than it's had in awhile.
3. Who Steps Up At Receiver Opposite Julio?
There will be lots who think that this is the biggest question headed into fall camp, and they might be right: It's definitely important considering how much pressure it would take off Julio as well as the new starter at quarterback.
The target could come from one of a group of returning players. Mike McCoy, Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, and Earl Alexander all have the tools but for one reason or another have yet to have that breakout season.
McCoy started opposite Julio last year but was unable to mount much of a receiving threat. He has the physical attributes to be a good one but has struggled to get open at times. With a strong group of incoming freshman receivers McCoy may be hard pressed to hold on to his starting role.
Marquis Maze matches strong speed with outstanding athleticism. He showed in the spring game the effect he was capable of having, not only in the passing game, but also on reverses. He is capable of lining up outside but is most effective in the slot.
His one shortcoming has been inconsistency.
He will make a fantastic catch on one play, then drop a catchable pass on the next one. If he can develop consistent hands he could be the perfect match to Jones in the passing game.
Hanks showed brief flashes towards the end of last season of developing into a dependable possession type receiver. With another year of maturity it's possible he could be the missing piece of the puzzle in the passing game.
Earl Alexander is a large receiver with good hands. Unfortunately he's been injured most of his Alabama career. If he can stay healthy he would provide a big, physical target opposite Jones.
With Michael Bowman, Kevin Norwood, and Kenny Bell joining the passing attack this fall it's possible one of them could earn the job.
Bowman is a large, physical, athletic type receiver with soft hands. He seems the perfect fit to step into McCoys role opposite Jones if not this year, then next.
Norwood can play either on the outside, or in the slot. He has above average hands and speed.
Bell has blazing speed and is more than capable of stretching the field. He may need a redshirt season to get physically ready for SEC play.
One other receiver, Kendall Kelly, is recovering from off season surgery and likely won't enroll till winter semester.
2. Who's Going To Provide A Pass Rush?
Possibly the biggest shortcoming of last years Tide defense was it's lack of pass rush. In Alabama's defensive scheme most of it's pass rush should be generated by it's defensive ends and it's jack linebacker position.
2008 Jack linebacker Brandon Fanney, who has since transferred, was strong against the run but failed to generate little in the form of a pass rush. Alabama must find a replacement in 2009 that can produce more pressure on the quarterback.
Most speculation has D'onta Hightower moving over to fill the role. Hightower saw action at Jack during January's Sugar Bowl loss to Utah. If Hightower does make the move, who fills his spot?
Can true freshman Nico Johnson step up and fill Hightower's role in the middle?
Sophomore Courtney Upshaw may also get a shot at replacing Fanney. Even if he can't take the starting role, he will likely provide quality depth at the position.
True freshman Ed Stinson was recruited to play the Jack linebacker position. Whether or not he picks up the defensive scheme in time, remains to be seen. Stinson has the size and speed to be dominating either as a linebacker or with a hand on the ground.
1. How Does The Offensive Line Shake Out?
The spring ended with a lineup of Carpenter, Johnson, Vlachos, Boswell, and Davis going left to right. Barring injury or suspension they will likely line up that way on the opening offensive play against Virginia Tech.
The Tide has a strong group of offensive lineman enrolling this fall. Part of that class is giant offensive tackle DJ Fluker. Fluker will likely back up Carpenter at left tackle giving Alabama a giant one, two punch to protect their quarterback's back side.
This is the deepest the Tide has been on the offensive line in a decade. There are talented backups at every spot though some of it is inexperienced.
By the time the Tide reaches SEC play, they should be seasoned enough to help lead Alabama through the remainder of a tough schedule.
Once players report and practices get underway Tide coaches will begin to look for answers to these questions and others. The answers they come up with will determine whether Alabama will be capable of defending it's SEC West title and more importantly, win it's first SEC Title in a decade.