For instance, almost everyone expects the Alabama running game to be in good shape even in a rebuilding year in 2015. Derrick Henry is a proven commodity. Kenyan Drake will return in the fall, though will likely be limited in the spring.
The Crimson Tide passing game has to be considered an area of concern. It helps that Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin returns. In fact, all coaches on the offensive side are back.
That brings to mind one of Paul Bryant’s dictum that “Given the choice of good players or good coaches, I’ll take good players.”
No one is saying Alabama doesn’t have good players. Bama has recruited well and stockpiled a lot of good men. What is missing is experience at some key offensive positions.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that in order for the passing game to work that everyone has to do his job. The offensive linemen must block; the running backs are blockers or carry out fakes or become receivers; tight ends block and run routes; the quarterback must handle the ball, read the defense, make decisions, and throw accurate passes; and the receivers must run routes and make receptions.
Certainly, it is a disadvantage that quarterback Blake Sims has finished his Crimson Tide career. Sims, who was something of a surprise last season, completed 252 of 391 passes for a Bama record 3,487 yards and 28 touchdowns. He accounted for 89.6 per cent of Alabama passing yards, 252 of the 290 completions, and 28 of the 32 touchdowns.
Passes go to all eligible men – wide receivers, tight ends, running backs. Primarily, though, the passing game is most effective when going to those receiving specialists, the wide receivers. The good news is that Bama lost only three wide receivers from last year’s 12-2 Southeastern Conference championship geam. The bad news is that those three were the top three receivers for the Tide, accounting for 183 catches, 2,495 yards, and 21 touchdowns. By percentage, that’s 63.1 per cent of the receptions, 64.1 per cent of the passing yardage, and 81.3 per cent of the passing touchdowns.
To make it even more specific, the losses include all-time receiving leader Amari Cooper, who had 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns. Also having finished their careers are DeAndrew White, who had 40 catches for 504 yards and four TDs, and Christion Jones, 19 receptions for 264 yards and a touchdown.
In the spring, though, an emphasis will be the start of the search for replacements at the three wide receiver spots frequently used by the Alabama offense – split end (X), flanker (Z), and slotback (H).
The obvious start is with the most experienced. Chris Black, a 5-11, 182-pound upcoming junior, had 15 receptions for 188 yards last year. Ardarius Stewart, a 6-0, 190-pound sophomore, had 12 catches for 149 yards. Cam Sims, a 6-4, 209-pound sophomore, had 7 receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown. Robert Foster, 6-3, 187, sophomore, had 6-44.
Incidentally, those four had a combined 40 receptions for 443 yards and one touchdown – compared to Bama’s No. 2 receiver last year, DeAndrew White with 40-504-4.
Also with experience is junior Raheem Falkins (6-4, 203 junior). A redshirt freshman last season is Derrick Kief (6-5, 195).
Four of those six are 6-3 or better.
Ordinarily, Bama’s wide receivers learn to play all three positions.
(This is one in a series looking at Alabama football positions with the approach of spring practice, which is to begin March 13 and end with the A-Day Game April 18.)