Looking At Concerns About Alabama Offense

Looking at the Bama Board, I noticed a thread from TiderInVA: “Is there one position that makes you nervous?” I passed over it the first time, thinking it might be Masters & Johnson research, but then went back to the item. Imagine my surprise. It concerned Alabama football!

Reading through the thread, one could believe there’s not much to worry about regarding 2015 Alabama football. Or, one might become sick with concern.

One memory was triggered as there was discussion of how Bama could possibly cover up a defect. Many years ago at an Alabama clinic for (mainly) high school coaches, John McKay of USC was the guest speaker. Alabama Coach Paul Bryant frequently brought his friends in for the Alabama coaching clinic.

The clinic seemed a good time to sit and listen and maybe learn just a little bit more of the intracacies of the game.

In discussion of Southern Cal’s defense, which was a quick read and react attacking defense, McKay was asked if that didn’t leave his team vulnerable to a counter option. “Maybe for one play,” McKay said. “You can’t be very successful running a counter option every down.”

Good advice to those who want to analyze too much in overcoming a deficiency.

The thread on the Bama Board didn’t differentiate between offense and defense (or special teams), but here are some thoughts on the subject. Our first part will address concerns about the offense.

Where to begin? On offense, Alabama returns two starters and a couple of other guys who would have been considered first team by Coach Nick Saban and his staff.

Almost no one would consider the positions where starters return to be a concern. Cam Robinson at left tackle was a Freshman All-America last year and is considered one of the best in the nation at one of the most critical positions on the offensive line. If there is one offensive line spot equal in importance to left tackle, it is center, and Alabama returns senior and three-year starter Ryan Kelly.

But there are three more offensive line positions and the 2014 starters at those spots are all gone, so are the two guard positions or the right tackle spot the area of concern? There’s an adage that the only one who watches the offensive linemen during a game are his parents and his girl friend. I, however, know a guy who knows a guy who does watch offensive linemen, and I’m trusting his observation which is that this year’s Bama has swapped three departed teddy bear types for three very aggressive players. Those three would be Josh Casher at left guard, Ross Pierschbacher at right guard, and Dominick Jackson at right tackle.

For purposes of this discussion, we’re not concerned with losing a player to injury. After all, if Georgia lost Nick Chubb, that would seem from this vantage point to make Georgia’s running back situation an area of concern for the Bulldogs.

Still, it’s comforting to know that there is great confidence in the Alabama camp in other offensive linemen such as center J.C. Hassenauer, guard Alphonse Taylor, and tackle Bradley Bozeman, and that they think the move of Koren Kirven to the offensive line will be a positive.

Just like that, then, five of the 11 offensive positions are no longer a concern.

Anyone who says he isn’t concerned about quarterback isn’t concerned about the Crimson Tide.

For the second consecutive year, Alabama goes into the season without a solid number one at the most important position in football. Last year, almost everyone expected Jake Coker to have the job after he transferred to Bama from Florida State. Instead, little-used Blake Sims, a fifth-year senior, won the job and directed the Tide to the Southeastern Conference championship (where he was MVP) and into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Lane Kiffin begins his second year as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Alabama, and this year five candidates have all had work in the Kiffin system. Four of those five – senior Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, and redshirt freshman David Cornwell have had a full year under Kiffin, while true freshman Blake Barnett entered The University in January and went through spring practice.

The question for this discussion is not which of those men will be the quarterback, but whether it is reasonable to believe that Kiffin can’t develop one of them into that player. The Kiffin resume suggests he works wonders at his craft, with Sims setting Alabama records being the most recent example.

To a very great extent, that alleviates concern about the quarterback position.

Alabama has had a parade of running backs moving into the NFL, the most recent T.J. Yeldon departing Bama after last season. Last year Yeldon split time with Derrick Henry, who is expected to be the featured tailback in the Tide system. He was Alabama’s leading rusher last year, which makes it a position in which concern should be low. Additionally, Kenyan Drake, who was having a very fine year as both a runner and receiver before suffering a broken leg against Ole Miss, has made a complete recovery.

The only real concern at tailback is depth, primarily because Bo Scarbrough suffered a knee injury in spring practice. Along with that, the Tide lost Altee Tenpenny to transfer, Tyren Jones to suspension, and DeSherrius Flowers to an admissions problem. The good news is that Scarbrough is reported to be making good progress in his recovery and that Alabama will welcome one of the nation’s top running back prospects in Damien Harris. Additionally, an excellent all-around athlete, Ronnie  Clark, may be used at running back if he’s not on defense at safety or linebacker.

Bama’s history under Saban and Assistant Coach Burton Burns means not much sleep is being lost over the tailback position.

Graduation and the NFL draft hit the Crimson Tide hard at wide receiver, most notably in the loss of All-America and Alabama and SEC record-setting split end Amari Cooper. The Tide also lost flanker DeAndrew White and slot receiver Christion Jones.

Add to the depletion, at least temporarily, sophomore Cameron Sims, who suffered a spring injury.

It would be a shock if anyone equals the production of Cooper, but several returning receivers are promising candidates. Robert Foster and Ardarius Stewart were outstanding in the A-Day Game. Chris Black has completely recovered from the injury that delayed his participation earlier in his career. Former walk-on Parker Barrineau has been a dependable receiver. Derrick Kief at 6-5 and Raheem Falkins at 6-4 provide mismatch opportunities.

Perhaps no position in college football has first year players have more success than at wide receiver. Alabama has two of the nation’s best prospects from last year entering The University this summer to complete at wide receiver. They are Calvin Ridley and Daylon Charlot.

Additionally, this summer Bama picked up a graduate transfer wide receiver. Richard Mullaney, 6-3, 208, caught 83 passes for 1,160 yards and five touchdowns in his 28-game, three-year career at Oregon State.

For the past two years, O.J. Howard has been something of a situation tight end. Brian Vogler was considered the better blocker and was most often the starter. With Vogler’s graduation, expect Howard – about 25 pounds lighter than Vogler at 6-6, 242 – to be the regular. Howard, a good hands man, is a tough match for defenses with his wide receiver speed too much for linebackers and his size a problem for defensive backs. And when Alabama needs more beef at the position in short yardage situations, former defensive lineman Dakota Ball fills the bill. A little bonus as that Ball showed in the A-Day Game he is a capable pass-catcher.

Perhaps the last Alabama offensive position one thinks of is fullback, or, more accurately, H-back, a hybrid fullback-tight end. For the past couple of years, %%MATCH_46%% handled the role well. The position involves blocking, occasional running, and being a receiver. Michael Nysewander paid his dues as a walk-on before earning a scholarship and finishing the spring as the No. 1 man at the position. Also in the running is a former tight end, %%MATCH_45%%.

Generally speaking, there are some questions of depth or lack of experience at most Alabama offensive positions, but the bottom line is that it can come together for a very productive unit.


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