Questions, Answers About Bama Football

Reporters who cover Alabama football last met with Coach Nick Saban on Saturday following the scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium. We got a total of eight minutes from the coach, who had responsibilities to visit with Red Elephant Club members and former Alabama football players following his media briefing.

Reporters who cover Alabama football will probably get a lot more than eight minutes when next we meet with Coach Saban, but that isn't until Tuesday evening. That makes for a long time without good information, a long time to be able to think about things we feel a need to know.

It's almost impossible to know, or even make an educated guess, at some of the most important questions regarding Alabama football with less than two weeks until the opening game. Alabama, ranked fifth in the nation, will play Virginia Tech, ranked seventh, in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on Saturday, September 5. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. central) with national television coverage by ABC.

The burning question of the day is whether Julio Jones and/or Mark Ingram will be playing in that opening game. There's not a lot of information available, but the rumor of the summer definitely had some truth in it as The University has been investigating a fishing trip made by Jones and Ingram. No one would want to make a living speculating what the NCAA might do. A more difficult task would be guessing when the NCAA might do whatever it is going to do. For some reason, many expect the disposition to come either Wednesday or Thursday this week. Optimists expect no penalty, pessimists either a one- or two-game suspension for the players. There are also guesses of things worse and things in between (i.e., Julio is okay by virtue of a prior relationship, but Ingram isn't).

Coaches say they are only concerned with things they can control. The time for control of the Jones-Ingram affair is past. So moving on to some other questions to be answered at some point:

Who will be the back-up quarterback?

There was early speculation it would be true freshman A.J. McCarron. That has never seemed very likely simply because true freshmen have a tough time playing at quarterback. McCarron was probably the pick because Alabama fans had seen the other candidates, Star Jackson and walk-on Thomas Darrah, in the A-Day Game. We'll go with Star.

The next question is "Why don't we play (fill in the blank) at quarterback?"

That will come the first time Greg McElroy has a bad series.

Can Terrence Cody be a third down player?

He can be, but that doesn't mean he will be. Cody said earlier this month that his goal was to be at 345 pounds. He probably didn't pull that number out of a hat. If he's not at a prescribed weight (meaning prescribed by Saban), you can bet he'll be trotting to the sidelines on passing downs. And even if he is, Saban's defense has a lot of combinations that call for various personnel groupings, and Cody may not be included.

Which freshmen will play?

The easy selection is tailback Trent Richardson, who was also the easy pick in June. Richardson becomes even more important if Ingram has to miss the game and/or if Roy Upchurch doesn't get over his latest ailment in time to get in game shape.

Is that it?

Wide receiver Kevin Norwood has gotten a lot of mention by Saban and by Tide players. Outside linebacker Ed Stinson had been mentioned as a possible jack linebacker, and he may have moved ahead of Courtney Upshaw after Upshaw's meltdown with his (ex?) girlfriend. Players are impressed with offensive lineman Anthony Steen.

What about Dre Kirkpatrick and D.J. Fluker?

Kirkpatrick has it all but practice time. He's missed some work for "personal reasons" and some recently with a pull, but it's obvious Saban is high on him. Fluker has great potential, but it's not good for him when Saban uses the words "Fluker" and "conditioning" in the same sentence.

And while we're at it, defensive lineman Kerry Murphy was certainly handicapped by the tragedy of his brother being murdered; tailback Eddie Lacy and defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore didn't get to Tuscaloosa until just before the start of fall practice; and Kenny Bell was out for about a week with shin splints.

Coach Saban has mentioned linebackers Tana Patrick and Nico Johnson as having a chance to play, particularly on special teams.

Generally speaking, as Saban adds to the talent pool, it will be more and more difficult for freshmen to crack the For Administrative Purposes Only Depth Chart.

Is Alabama going to be able to replace Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell on the offensive line?

Alabama will have a left tackle (James Carpenter) and a center (William Vlachos). Will they be as good as Smith and Caldwell? Maybe not. But that doesn't mean they won't be good enough. Alabama will also replace right guard Marlon Davis, probably with Barrett Jones.

Who are the wide receivers?

Part of this goes back to question 1. Hopefully, Julio Jones is one of them. Alabama needs at least a half dozen, probably, with four really needing to be first team quality. Jones is above that. Best bets (in order) for the others in the rotation are Mike McCoy, Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Earl Alexander, Brandon Gibson, and Kevin Norwood.

Is Alabama going to be better on special teams?

Considering the experience at the kicking, snapping, holding and return spots and the overall speed and athleticism, one would think the kicking game would be very, very good. We'll know for sure after an opening game against Coach Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech squad. The Hokies have a deserved reputation for excellence in the kicking game.

What about safety?

Going into spring practice, we thought Ali Sharrief would join Justin Woodall in the safety positions. At the end of spring practice, we thought it would be Woodall and Robby Green. Now we think it's a neck-and-neck race between Green and Mark Barron to join Woodall.

Is that your final answer?

No. We reserve the right to change our answers at any time because we don't get to watch practice.

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