MURPHY: Offense Could Be Great If...

Before you cast Alabama into the third or fourth slot in the SEC West this season -- as many will do when the mass media meets in Hoover later this month -- consider one thing about this team.

Its offense could be one of the best in school history.

Quarterback John Parker Wilson smacked around some passing records as a sophomore in an offensive system that never really gained traction as an explosive unit or a big scoring outfit. So his numbers could go up this season, despite his having to learn a new offense.

Senior wideouts DJ Hall and Keith Brown are talented, fast and experienced and should comprise one of the best tandems in America this year.

The running back crew could be one of the deepest around the Deep South. And they should all be hungry for one reason or another, not the least of which is the fact that playing time is sitting up on a tee for anybody who's ready to take it. The starter could be Terry Grant or Glen Coffee or Roy Upchurch or Jimmy Johns, if he doesn't wind up on the other side of the ball. They all have star potential.

The offensive line? Most have now played together for the last two seasons, and the one who hasn't -- sophomore left tackle Andre Smith -- is the franchise rising star. It is time for this unit to be something special after wallowing around in mediocrity for a couple of seasons.

On to the tight ends. Maybe they'll catch some passes this season. The trio of Travis McCall, Nick Walker and Charles Hoke is now a veteran one, and they'll be supplemented by redshirt freshman Preston Dial. Again, they should be one of the better sets of tight ends around the south.

Are you getting the picture?

Major Applewhite and Joe Pendry and the rest of the offensive braintrust have a huge crop of talent to work with and most of them have been at this for a couple of years or more. We can assume that this group might equal the sum of its parts more effectively than it did the last two years.

We can also assume that whatever package the coaches turn to inside the 10-yard line it will be more successful than that dreadful jumbo package the Shula regime was so enamored with despite all those stymied dive plays and leads.

I write all this and then I ask you to consider one more thing. Picture this offense without Wilson at the controls.

Behind him right now is a redshirt freshman in Greg McElroy and a true freshman in Nick Fanuzzi. Those two guys might be really good some day, but will they be SEC ready in two months?

If things get downright desperate, there's the modified package that could be put into place for Johns (if the coaches are so inclined), and of course receiver Earl Alexander played the position in high school and could surely operate a sawed-off version of an offense.

Wilson was Mr. Dependable last season, not missing a start. He suffered a twisted ankle against Florida International, but came back a little gimpy in the second half with the Tide for some reason in a tight game against a completely outmanned opponent. Wilson answered the bell the next week against Mississippi State as well, though the same could not be said for the team as a whole.

His protection should be even better this season, so there's reason to believe Wilson could complete a second consecutive year in decent shape. It's basically imperative for Wilson to be there every game if this Alabama team is to do better than third in the division.

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