Looking At How Tide Might Line Up
Alabama has a number of starters or experienced back-ups to departed starters (think T.J. Yeldon moving up to No. 1 tailback after Eddie Lacy left for the NFL) from last year's national championship team. There is no question at the most important position on the field, where A.J. McCarron is back for his third year as a starter.
We know the receivers – Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood, et al. We know that Anthony Steen will be at right guard and Cyrus Kouandjio will be at left tackle.
Even with the brief suspension of middle linebacker Trey DePreist, almost everyone expects him to win his way back to his job and join the likes of weakside linebacker C.J. Mosley at weakside linebacker and HaHa Clinton-Dix at safety. (If DePriest is held out of the starting lineup, we'd expect to see soph Reggie Ragland or senior Tana Patrick.)
Ed Stinson is the lone returning starter on the three-man defensive line and Adrian Hubbard is back at strongside linebacker.
We even know the kickers, Cade Foster seemingly poised to take over all place-kicking chores after being the kickoff man and long field goal kicker the past two years, and Cody Mandell back to punt.
But today's scrimmage and work after that will be important as Coach Nick Saban and his staff firm up the starting lineup and depth chart for the 2013 season.
What are the big questions?
To begin with, there has never been an Alabama football team that didn't have fans wondering, "Who is the back-up quarterback?" That doesn't seem to be critical, and it also may not have a simple answer.
Our thought has been that if the need for a back-up is short term, mop-up duty or McCarron just needing a short break, it will be Blake Sims, a junior who has been in the fray over the past couple of seasons. He's a different type quarterback, one as likely to make plays with his feet as with his arm, but he's probably underrated as a passer.
If the need is long-term – McCarron out for a game or more – the gut-feeling is that a more pro-style quarterback fits the Bama mold. And just on the experience factor of having been in the system longer, our expectation is that it would be redshirt freshman Alec Morris.
There was a bit of a shake-up in the offensive line this week. Ryan Kelly is set at center, but Saban moved Arie Kouandjio – who came to Bama as a tackle – to right tackle from left guard, and shifted Austin Shepherd – who had been at right tackle through last spring and most of fall camp – to left guard. Kellen Williams is also thought to be in the mix at left guard. And it's hard for us to forget big and powerful Alphonse Taylor at left guard.
Tight end and H-back both use tight end types and there has been so much activity at tight end that it remains much a mystery. Saban has been complimentary of Brian Vogler at tight end, but has also mentioned O.J. Howard and he has also experimented with defensive end LaMichael Fanning (now back on defense) and offensive lineman Brandon Greene at tight end.
When Alabama opens against Virginia Tech on Aug. 31 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, the feeling is that Vogler will be at tight end and Jalston Fowler, coming back from his 2012 knee injury, will be at H-back.
One of the most difficult positions to put in order is tailback. We'll go with Kenyan Drake behind Yeldon, and then behind that it's really tough to figure. Dee Hart seems to be getting a lot of work in the limited practice time reporters get to view. Derrick Henry drew rave reviews for his spring work before being injured (and he's reported to be 100 per cent recovered from that broken leg). The true freshman getting top billing has been Altee Tenpenny.
On the defensive line, Brandon Ivory has been the first man mentioned by Bama players in discussing the nose tackle position, but Saban has also discussed Darren Lake. That sounds like the likely one-two, but true freshman A'Shawn Robinson has also been in the conversation.
Stinson has been very, very good against the run, and he would seem to be one defensive end starter. Since last spring, Jeoffrey Pagan has been the other number one end. Xzavier Dickson, the starting jack linebacker last year, has worked at end, and there also are high expectations for Dalvin Tomlinson as Bama hopes to get a bigger pass rush from its front.
If Dickson is going to be an end, a spot is opened up in the linebacker corps. Soph Denzel Devall is the rumored replacement.
Although cornerback Deion Belue has been out of practice with a hamstring issue, Saban has indicated he'll be back in his starting position. Two weeks ago we would have predicted Geno Smith – who played very well at nickel towards the end of last season – would take over the spot vacated by Dee Milliner. Over the past several practices, though, we hear a lot about the improvement of Bradley Sylve, the successful transition of Cyrus Jones from wide receiver, and, particularly, the performance of John Fulton. Saban seems partial to Fulton, a senior, and we're looking for him to start with Geno Smith the nickel.
There are all sorts of reasons to expect Clinton-Dix's running mate at safety to be the much-improved senior Nick Perry or the highly-regarded sophomore Landon Collins, but hard-working Vinnie Sunseri gets our nod.
There's no reason to expect Alabama's kick return corps to change much. Last year Dee Hart, Christion Jones, and Cyrus Jones were the main men. And Cole Mazza is the only deep snapper in fall camp, which would suggest the job is his.
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