Bama's greatest strength will be its ability to get big plays from its running backs in nearly any situation on offense. Five backfield players return with significant playing experience (three tailbacks and two fullbacks), and redshirt freshman Roy Upchurch might upstage them all if his off-season work is any indication of the year for him.
Le'Ron McClain is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league, and has been a virtual co-starter alongside Tim Castille for the past three years. Castille can play fullback or tailback, and presents a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Jimmy Johns is a 6-4, 225 pound monster who no one wants to tackle in the open field. Glen Coffee is coming off an injury, but he was a back-up as a true freshman and can also catch out of the backfield.
Mike Shula said yesterday that Glen Coffee is nearly 100 per cent healthy, and his recent surgery won't hold him back from competing in the fall.
Bama's weakness will be seen in trying to replace Brodie Croyle and shore up what was inconsistent pass protection in 2005. John Parker Wilson has the makings of a top-level Southeastern Conference quarterback, but what he doesn't have is experience. He grayshirted in 2004 and played sparingly as a back-up last year, which makes his last competitive action at a significant point in a game three years ago as a high school senior. Wilson threw five touchdown passes in three spring scrimmages, but he also had five picks.
Surprises: Jamie Christensen will be a first-team All-SEC placekicker. Christensen had three game-winning kicks last year, but struggled with consistency on field goals. With the end-of-game kicks a year ago, he proved he can deal with the pressure, and in the spring he missed only one kick in all of the live drills throughout the month of practice. His miss was 48 yarder into the wind.
Andre Smith has a golden opportunity to start at left tackle as a true freshman. Tailback Roy Upchurch will burst onto the scene in his redshirt freshman year, and safety Jeffrey Dukes is probably the best player no one outside of Alabama has heard of. He's been behind Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah at safety the past two seasons, but he's good.
Predictions:I've always shied away from them. Alabama was 10-2 with a Cotton Bowl win last year, but reaching that milestone again in 2006 would be a harbinger of greatness for Mike Shula. I think somewhere in the 7-8 win range is more realistic.