What Tide Players Might Surprise
It's a new season, Alabama opening 2009 in the premier game of the weekend. The Crimson Tide meets the Virginia Tech Hokies at 8 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. central time) in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday. ABC will televise the game.
Bama Coach Nick Saban is not likely to be surprised by anything. He knows what to expect from his team and from the opponent. Plus, when you've been on the sidelines as long as he has, you've pretty much seen it all.
For the rest of us, there are good surprises and bad surprises in a football season. A first game offers greater chances of those surprises because each team is different. It's thinking back a long time, but hard to forget the Alabama team that had given up 37 points in the entire 1966 season opening up the 1967 season and surrendering 37 points (in a 37-37 tie with Florida State).
Even Coach Paul Bryant was surprised. Who can forget his memorable speaking part in a television documentary that was being filmed at that game. "What the hell is going on out there?" the legendary Tide coach roared.
There are surprises I want to see and some I fear.
Potential bad news first:
I can't help but worry about the punting team. I have seen Coach Frank Beamer's team in action, and the Hokies can block punts. The goat is usually the punter, whether it's his fault or not. I hope that we don't get the awful surprise of a blocked punt or other error in the kicking game.
Alabama has a new left tackle. Everyone who has had a chance to judge junior college transfer James Carpenter has been impressed, but no offensive lineman is as vulnerable as a left tackle. Carpenter will have a tough job every week protecting the quarterback's blindside against the opponent's best pass rusher. This week that rusher is a very fine one, Jason Worilds. If Worilds has a great game, that's a bad surprise.
The suspicion here is that Alabama is going to have more good surprises than bad.
So much positive news has come out of Alabama's camp about new starting quarterback Greg McElroy that it will hardly be a surprise if he is not solid, perhaps exceptional. Still, it is a big stage for a first start, and we'll consider it a pleasant surprise if McElroy has a positive performance.
Julio Jones looking like an All-America won't be a surprise, but some other wide receiver has to make an impact. The easy guess is Marquis Maze, the speedy sophomore last noticed hauling in McElroy's long pass for a final touchdown in the 36-0 romp over Auburn last year.
It was a surprise when Saban issued the official depth chart Monday and true freshman Kevin Norwood's name wasn't on it. Saban said that just because someone wasn't listed didn't mean he wouldn't have a role to play, and we're guessing the surprise receiver is Norwood, who was mentioned frequently by Saban through fall camp.
Every pre-game story mentions Rolando McClain as the man to watch on Alabama's defense. McClain ranks among the very best in Bama football history after only two seasons, so him having a spectacular game will not be a surprise. It may come as a surprise to Virginia Tech that McClain's inside running mate, Dont'a Hightower, is considered by Alabama offensive players to be just as dangerous as McClain, and even better as a blitz man.
For some reason, there have been those questioning Javier Arenas as a cornerback, the supposition being that he gets extra credit because he is an outstanding kick return man. If Virginia Tech thinks Arenas can be exploited, they may be surprised to see him taking one back for six.
Some minor "surprises" will be Leigh Tiffin kicking off into the end zone, William Vlachos having an excellent game at center, Terrence Cody being left in on a third down play and delivering a sack, and soph safety Mark Barron having the first caused fumble of the year.
Finally, I'll be surprised if Alabama's first offensive play isn't a pass to tight end Colin Peek.
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