A New Voice

Greetings and Christmas cheer, sports fans. As a new voice at BamaMag.com, I wanted to introduce myself and also thank Kirk McNair, Mitch Dobbs and the folks at 'BAMA Magazine for inviting me to participate as a contributor.

My goal is to dish out what small nuggets of insight I might be able to offer into University of Alabama athletics. I aim to keep a proper perspective in my opinion and not be a cheerleader. Thus, a Tim Tebow nod to Alabama next week would not be greeted by dramatic literary exultations in this space, and by the same token a Tebow or Andre Smith rejection of the Tide will not be followed by panic and gloom here.

I'd like to be pithy, to the slender extent God blessed me in the department of wit, when the occasion warrants, and serious as well.

What I never intend to do is ridicule or demean players, coaches or programs–not even Tennessee's. There's enough of that on talk radio and in forums.

However, I do plan to add criticism. I want to inject thoughtful, and I hope, thought-provoking, analysis in my writing.

I've been on this Alabama beat for eight seasons now, so the lay of the land around Bryant Drive is not unfamiliar territory.

One last thought: you can't replace the production of a Greg Wallace, you can only hope to stay in the game. This is going to have to be a team effort.

Item: Can a man, say Joe Kines, get stupid overnight?

Response: The answer is no, people. Kines' schemes have produced back-to-back number two rankings in total defense nationally.

The system works. It works exceptionally well when the linebacker slots are filled by DeMeco Ryans and Freddie Roach and Juwan Simpson. It looks pretty fruitful when Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah are heading up the secondary.

Texas Tech is going to complete some passes -- a lot of passes -- in the Cotton Bowl. The key is wrapping up at contact and getting those receivers on the ground. The Tide will also have to toughen up in its own end, like it did most of the season prior to the third quarter against LSU and the first quarter at Auburn.

Bend but don't break can be frustrating for a fan, but it requires near-flawless execution to defeat, and it's counting on the offense to make some errors.

When Ryans, Harper, Mark Anderson and Co. are gone next year the defensive numbers simply cannot be as stout, so some patience will be required with much new personnel.

Item: How will the Crimson Tide finish up in recruiting?

Response: No one knows. Alabama must hope it doesn't come in second on the majority of its top targets. The most deflating thing that that could happen in what has been a stunning rejuvenation for Mike Shula and his staff would be runner-up finishes for Tebow, Smith, Jermarcus Ricks, Tim Hawthorne, A.J. Jones, DeAndre McDaniel, Michael Goggans, Earl Alexander, Justin Woodall and on and on as it did on Toryan Smith.

The Shula regime took a few years to get fully cranked up on the field, but one somewhat unanticipated coup in the Shula hiring has been a recruiting revival. Bottom line, this staff can woo.

And remember some of the hardest knocks on Shula vs. Sylvester Croom was that Shula had no recruiting experience?

Item: Who said Dennis Franchione was a useless recruiter?

Response: Fran did leave the offensive line in shambles -- as in a complete zero in the current true senior class -- but you have to remember the severe sanctions his staff was working under.

The first class he brought on campus, today's fifth-year seniors, was dotted with talent that helped make this season golden.

True, Brodie Croyle was a slam dunk for the Crimson Tide and Fran nearly goofed that up, and some prospects would have come to Alabama regardless. But it's hard to argue against landing stars like Harper, Anderson, Peprah and Roach (and Ryans, Ken Darby, Ramzee Robinson, LeRon McClain, Kyle Tatum and Terrence Jones the following year) coming out of classes that could ill afford mis-steps.

Franchione's departure was truly amateur hour, but he did not leave a bare cupboard.

Item: Can Alabama hoops make the NCAA field?

Reponse: Yes, but there are several conditions. Most importantly, Ron Steele's back must respond to therapy soon. If he continues to run around stove up, or has to be sidelined for any length of time, the Tide's chances go down the tubes.

The Crimson Tide's other ball-handlers must get better, plus Mark Gottfried has to begin showing more confidence in them. His rope seems awfully short with the frustrating Jean Felix, but Felix's rickety ankle and a regrowth of his confidence are huge keys for this team.

The light at the end of the tunnel seems to be the level of play in the SEC, where Alabama should be able to hold its own, and maybe even excel. Performances by West Division foes Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and other league teams like Georgia and others have been underwhelming to this point.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Murphy is an award-winning writer for the Mobile Register. He covers Alabama for the Register and will contribute columns for BamaMag.com and stories for 'BAMA Magazine.

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