Some Not-So-Bold 2010 Predictions

It's that time of year when those who cover college football teams fill some of the dead time that precedes the excitement of the start of practice in a few weeks. One way to do that is speculate on what players will be in competition for starting jobs.

Over the next few days we'll take a look at some of the positions where Alabama can expect good competition for the starting position. But first, let's get out of the way some positions where there is little or no mystery about the man who will be first team when the Crimson Tide begins workouts.

Yes, we know. Alabama doesn't have a depth chart, at least not until the week of the first game, which is September 4 when the Crimson Tide hosts San Jose State. But just as a mental exercise, we'll pretend Coach Nick Saban's Bama team does begin fall practice with an inkling of which of the 105 players are first team, which are second team, etc. And that doesn't mean the guys behind No.1 aren't good.

The offense is set pretty well with returning starters. It is not to say that a returning starter is automatically going to be the starter again, but most of those who started for the national championship team in 2009 would be expected to be good enough to start in 2010 with another year of experience and practice and weight room work, etc. That would be particularly true for, say, a Heisman Trophy winner.

Se we begin this little exercise by boldly predicting that junior Mark Ingram will be number one at tailback when Alabama begins fall camp in early August. That's not to say that he won't be pushed. Trent Richardson would be the starter on a lot of teams. The upcoming sophomore was selected along with Ingram as the pre-season All-Southeastern Conference running backs in a poll of SEC media relations directors.

For our next prediction, we'll take Greg McElroy at quarterback. A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims have obviously impressed Bama coaches, but it's our prediction that McElroy will have the job at least until he loses a game...which he never has.

Three starters, all all-star candidates, return in the offensive line. Look for James Carpenter to be at left tackle, William Vlachos at center, and Barrett Jones at right guard. And if Jones is not at right guard, he'll be somewhere else in the starting lineup.

Looking at two wide receivers (there could be more starting), we'll take Julio Jones and Marquis Maze. While a lot of Alabama fans think Jones had something of a sophomore slump, Bama coaches don't agree with that assessment. In any event, he earned his scholarship on the final drive at Auburn.

There are other positions on offense where the starter did not return, and we'll look at those in upcoming days. And it depends on how many positions are considered. Alabama has more than just five offensive linemen, a quarterback, tailback, tight end, split end and flanker. The 11th player can be a slotback, a fullback, a wildcat (probably Ingram), another tight end, or another wide receiver.

On defense, there are two starters back, but there are two other positions where there is no doubt about the number one man going to fall camp.

Mark Barron is an All-Southeastern Conference safety, the leading interception man in the SEC last year as a sophomore. He's the only starter in the secondary back from last season and he'll solid at safety.

Nico Johnson moved into a starting role after a bit of juggling by the defensive staff following the season-ending knee injury to Dont'a Hightower in the fourth game of 2009. Johnson started the final eight games of the season at weakside linebacker.

There's no reason to conceal the identities of two other defensive sure thing first-teamers to start 2010. Hightower is back, completely rehabilitated, and will move into Rolando McClain's spot as middle linebacker and quarterback of the defense. Marcell Dareus started the first four games of 2009 while Brandon Deaderick was recovering from a gunshot wound. Although Dareus didn't start in the BCS National Championship Game against Texas, he was the Defensive Most Valuable Player in that game and he can safely be penciled in at number one on the depth chart at defensive end.

In upcoming days we'll take a look at positions where the number one guy on the depth chart the first day of fall camp is not so obvious.

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