What Are Tide's Football Concerns?

From time-to-time I'm a guest on sports talk radio programs (yeah, yeah, I know – face for radio). Recently a host asked, "What are Nick Saban's concerns for this year's team."

Nick Saban gives the impression that he is the ultimate micromanager, hence possibly concerned about many, many things regarding Alabama football. On the other hand, he seems to have put the Crimson Tide program at such a level of efficiency through recruiting and player development that his concerns may not be those the radio host was alluding to – replacing starters, etc.

The question, of course, was not really what concerned Nick Saban. I couldn't know that even if he had a concern. The question was what concerned me.

Here's the deal on that. Several years ago I quit being concerned about the Alabama football program. I was convinced that Saban and his staff had full control of recruiting and of preparing the players for the season and for each game. There have been precious few disappointments.

Although there are concerns put forward by others, I put little stock in them. The most popular these days is that Saban has a difficult time with the Hurry Up No Huddle offense. Certainly, Bama had a problem with Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense last year, falling behind by 20-0 in the first quarter. I recently heard one theorist say that A&M shut its offense down after that, but the truth is that Alabama had first and goal at the six-yard line and had a miserable offensive series that enabled the Aggies to earn a 29-24 win.

That same "expert" said that Bama also had problems with the Ole Miss HUNH, but the final score of that game was Alabama 33, Rebels 14, and Mississippi had only 218 yards of total offense.

Saban doesn't like the HUNH, but it's not because he can't deal with it.

There is also the national appraisal that Alabama won't be able to replace three starters in the offensive line, first round draft choices Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker and captain and Rimington Award winner as the nation's best center Barrett Jones. To be honest, that would be my primary concern, too, except that a week into spring practice Saban said that the offensive line replacements – guard Arie Kouandjio, tackle Austin Shepherd, and center Ryan Kelly -- were not a concern to him.

Michael Williams was a three-year starter at tight end, but Saban recruits a lot of tight ends and there is no shortage of men there. Some of them, including true freshman O.J. Howard, offer the possibility of a more dangerous receiving threat than was Williams.

No one is concerned about tailback, even with the loss of talented Eddie Lacy as the starter. He replaced Trent Richardson and Richardson replaced Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram with no dropoff. Saban likes to use several tailbacks and although T.J. Yeldon – a thousandyard rusher as a backup -- will be the bell cow, there are a half dozen others who will be in the mix.

The defensive line lost a couple of starters in Jesse Williams and Damion Square, but no one recruits defensive linemen like Saban and Bama has a number of players who can handle that front.

Losing a first round cornerback in Dee Milliner and a three-year starter at safety in Robert Lester would be a concern to many, but things like that don't sneak up on Saban. He has been recruiting and coaching replacements. Look for Geno Smith, who came on strong late in 2012, to follow the same path as Milliner from Nickel to cornerback, and also expect returning starting corner Deion Belue to perform as Saban junior college transfers usually do with a big senior season. HaHa Clinton-Dix is a big time safety, and he'll be joined by one of several who have performed very well in the past – Vinnie Sunseri, Landon Collins, and senior Nick Perry, who had a very nice junior season.

On special teams, Bama must replace Carson Tinker, a snapper who was a tremendous team leader, and short place-kicker Jeremy Shelley. Again, Saban was prepared He signed the nation's top-ranked snapper in Cole Mazza. Cade Foster doesn't have glittering field goal statistics, but considering most of his tries have been from long range that's not much of a barometer. He or redshirt freshman Adam Griffith should be able to handle extra points and short field goals.

There's always the "what if" concern. What if quarterback A.J. McCarron gets hurt? Well, what if Manziel gets hurt, or Georgia's Aaron Murray, or LSU's Zach Mettenberger?

I'll let Saban worry about that.

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