Murphy's Prediction

I've approached this with an open mind, studied the permutations and the possibilities, and I've come to this conclusion: This Alabama football team will win seven or eight games before the bowl season.

They're too strong, too confident, organized and talented to fall back to .500. They don't appear to have the firepower to charge back into the double-figure wins territory.

It would take a calamity or an unbelievable string of good fortune to finish outside these tight parameters.

The Crimson Tide has undoubtedly showed marked improvement through this camp. Some of the legitimate concerns surrounding this club have been alleviated to a large degree.

The offensive line, despite a series of minor injuries, has given indications it could be a tremendous asset and deeper than expected. Several days worth of the "experiment" of playing Andre Smith at left tackle and Chris Capps at right tackle with the first offense has started to wear out the trial basis designation and ease toward permanence.

This has gone beyond a wake-up call to senior Kyle Tatum. You don't rep something over and over again if it's only to take a peek at the combination. Tatum, a two-year starter who missed Thursday afternoon's practice with a shoulder injury, must understand he's being pushed like never before. His response should be that he plays his best football ever at Alabama in an attempt to hold his job.

The competition is furious in the defensive backfield, where Chris Ball has legions of talented players to observe. If you try to create scenarios where Jeffrey Dukes and another safety starter -- be it Marcus Carter or Rashad Johnson or Cory Reamer -- combine as tightly and effectively as Harper and Peprah from last year, it's hard to picture.

And yet Ball appears truly heartened by what he's seeing at the safety spots. Throw Bryan Kilpatrick and true freshman Justin Woodall into the equation, and it looks as though there will be decent depth at this position. Their physical play is evident, their pass coverage skills decent, but getting better.

Depth at cornerback should not be a problem for years to come. Behind projected starters Ramzee Robinson and Simeon Castille reside sophomore Lionel Mitchell, junior Eric Gray, and a motherlode of freshmen with the talent to start one day, like Chris Rogers, Marquis Johnson, Tremayne Coger and Javier Arenas.

There are still issues in the linebacking corps outside of seniors Juwan Simpson and Terrence Jones, so it's unrealistic to believe the play here will match the fantastic production from the last couple of seasons. However, there is reason for Joe Kines to hope.

Matt Collins should be a piledriver between the tackles on running downs, and fellow middle linebacker Prince Hall has the aptitude for delivering one or two headknocking blows per game. Hall also has more speed and athleticism to track to the flanks.

Redshirt freshman Zach Schreiber has really shown up in pass coverage on the practice fields, so don't be surprised if he draws some assignments in the flats and underneath routes in the opener against Hawaii. Marcel Stamps is also drawing praise from Kines, so maybe this is the year he begins to show up in something other than special teams.

Keep your eye on Keith Saunders this year. He has reshaped his body from the gangly tight end-playing kid who showed up here from Hargrave in 2003. Saunders had a tremendous spring and is following that up with a bang-up camp. I expect no dropoff here from Mark Anderson's play of last season.

The receiving corps was seen as an acute problem in the weeks leading up to camp, but there have been indicators this corps could be a plus position. True, DJ Hall seems a little more subdued than normal, but his talent is evident, and he has an unmistakable bond with John Parker Wilson.

Keith Brown appears ready to provide more reliability than in the two previous years, and Nikita Stover and Will Oakley have so far cast off their injury problems from the spring and have looked sharp and fast. Matt Caddell simply is in the best shape of his career and looks poised to have the breakout season fans have been waiting for. Earl Alexander and Mike McCoy might be pressed into duty a smidge before they're fully ready, but at 6-4 and 6-2 they should provide a dimension in height and reach Bama has seldom seen at that position.

Of course, Wilson's play at quarterback will go a long way in determining the course of Alabama's season. Fortunately for the Tide, the strength of the running game should make it so Wilson isn't counted on to win games with his arm. He has a strong delivery and is relatively accurate, but you can already see Wilson is going to throw some interceptions, some via snap judgments and others from trying to squeeze spirals through tight quarters

. Wilson's feet will be a great asset, and he seems extremely comfortable reading and launching on the run. Dump passes to backs on broken plays might not look pretty, but they could yield significant yardage this season.

As productive and positive as Alabama's camp has been, the Crimson Tide will still face deeper, more experienced teams this season in at least three games, and possibly four. Most of them are on the road. And unless something truly spectacular happens that jettisons this team beyond its limitations, it is destined to wind up with seven or eight wins on its ledger.

Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com.


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