Taking Stock Of Alabama

The post-game story of Alabama 53, North Texas 7 seemed to turn on how the Mean Green wasn't so mean. Alabama Coach Nick Saban didn't miss the point. He saw an Alabama team that showed improvement.

Alabama is a quarter of the way through its regular season, though it seems to just have begun. The Crimson Tide is 3-0 and ranked third in the nation. Bama's one marquee victory came in the first game of the season, a win over Virginia Tech that was easier than expected and not near as close as the final score of 34-24 would have won believe. The Tide more or less sleep-walked to a win over Florida International, a game in which there was enough that went wrong to give Tide Coach Nick Saban plenty to grouse about.

Saturday wasn't perfect. And, no, North Texas is not Texas. But Saban said, "The goal of the last game was to start fast and finish strong. I think the coaching staff and players responded extremely well to that. I think sometimes attitude, chemistry, identity and personality take a little time to develop, and after three games, I think that our aspirations, our expectations, are gauging our performance a little bit more, rather than something externally to inspire us. High standards come from passion within, and we saw that in the last game, and hopefully, with the SEC coming up this week, we'll continue to build on that."

Alabama does begin Southeastern Conference play this week. The Crimson Tide will host Arkansas at 2:30 p.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium. CBS will televise the game.

Since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, the Crimson Tide has generally done well if Bama could beat the Razorbacks and generally done poorly when losing this early season contest. Arkansas is 1-1, an easy win over Missouri State and last Saturday's emotional 52-41 loss to Georgia.

One of the staples of many newspapers each week is comparing teams by offense, defense, special teams, or even offensive line vs. defensive line, etc.

Just as Saban isn't interested in external factors, just to look at 2009 Alabama football:

The questions coming in were many on offense, not so many on defense. Most have been answered in the affirmative.

Three new starters in the offensive line have fit in well. A number of players have commented on how the line is slightly smaller than last year (about 12 pounds per man across the front five), but the additions of Barrett Jones at right guard, William Vlachos at center, and James Carpenter at left tackle make it a much more athletic front.

No one was ever worried about Colin Peek being able to fill the opening at tight end. He is looking like an all-star.

There was a nervous confidence about tailback after losing workhorse Glen Coffee to the NFL a year early. No one is nervous now. Mark Ingram and true freshman Trent Richardson have former starters Roy Upchurch and Terry Grant battling for third team.

Who would have guessed Julio Jones missing the better part of the first three games with injury would be a good thing. While Jones has been recuperating, a dozen other men have caught passes. It will be good to have Jones back, but now there are others with experience and confidence.

The big news on offense is at quarterback.

Prior to the start of the season we remembered back to pre-season 1966. Paul Bryant was as good at poor-mouthing as he was at coaching, which is to say he had no peers. Alabama was coming off back-to-back national championship seasons, but Bryant was complaining that he had no quarterback "unless you count Stabler." Kenny Stabler led Alabama to an 11-0 record in 1966.

Saban never indicated he was concerned about quarterback going into this season, and it appears that Bama has a jewel. In a league of very fine quarterbacks, Greg McElroy is among the very best at what he does. Quarterback is a strength for Alabama.

There weren't near as many questions on defense. Nine starters from last year had been expected to return. When Brandon Fanney was booted from the squad this summer, it meant another starter had to be found.

Eryk Anders took the opportunity to earn the starting position at jack linebacker. It may not be solely because of his quickness and strength, but Anders has been able to affect opposing quarterbacks with his rush.

Alabama also had to replace its best pass rusher from last season, Bobby Greenwood at end, and it was a surprise to no one that Lorenzo Washington was able to get the job done.

An unexpected development the week of the opening game was end Brandon Deaderick suffering a gunshot wound from a would-be robber. In his absence, Marcell Dareus has developed into the kind of defensive end everyone expected him to be, which is to say outstanding.

The only question mark in the secondary was a big one. Could anyone take place of All-America Rashad Johnson? Well, of course not. No one was likely to step in and play at the level Johnson did. Less likely was to have a newcomer demonstrate the leadership of Johnson. That's not to say that Mark Barron has been a disappointment. He is a hard-playing, physical football player and in no way represents a weakness.

Alabama has been poor on kickoff coverage and Leigh Tiffin, the pre-season All-SEC placekicker has been inconsistent, but otherwise Alabama special teams have been very good. With Arkansas coming up, Tiffin might have nightmares of his freshman year when he missed some critical kicks on an overtime loss to the Razorbacks. On the whole, though, there is nothing in Tiffin's background to suggest anything but that he'll be solid.

All-in-all, this appears to be a team that could rank with Alabama's best.

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