SEC Preview: Tide Aiming For Improvement

Editor's Note: The third in a series of previews on SEC football teams features Alabama.

It is no secret that Alabama football has been in a funk for the past dozen or so years, only an occasional decent season, big wins rare, since the national championship season of 1992. That doesn't mean Crimson Tide football doesn't garner attention. Nick Saban does, and so does having the nation's top recruiting class, as Bama did in February.

That recruiting class may play a part in Alabama having an improved football team in Saban's second year. A much tougher schedule, however, may mean that improvement is not reflected in the record.

Alabama personnel losses from 2007 seem somewhat insignificant since no Tide players were selected in the NFL draft. Nevertheless, Bama must replace three wide receivers, a three-year starting offensive lineman, its best pass rusher, at least two linebackers, and an All-SEC cornerback. The schedule is not favorable with defending national champion LSU, pre-season favorite Georgia, ACC powerhouse Clemson plus Tennessee and Arkansas as road games.

Alabama's John Parker Wilson is one of only a few experienced quarterbacks in the SEC.

The Tide will have its third offensive coordinator in as many years with Jim McElwain coming in from Fresno State. He is working with John Parker Wilson at quarterback. Wilson, a three-year starter, has broken most Bama passing records and will have them all with a decent senior season. Bama is expected to be sans fullback in 2008, opting for either an extra wide receiver or tight end.

The offense should benefit from an excellent offensive line, headed by junior Andre Smith, winner of the Jacobs Award as the SEC's best blocker in his sophomore season. Center Antoine Caldwell is an all-star candidate.

Bama has skill and depth at tight end, headed by Travis McCall and Nick Walker, and a receiving corps led by Nikita Stover seems to lack only experience. Redshirt freshman Darius Hanks has superstar ability. Julio Jones, the nation's top prep receiver last year, could make an impact.

Running back was beset by injury last year, but five tailbacks, including Terry Grant and Glen Coffee, return.

Alabama expects to have a strong defensive line with the likes of Brandon Deaderick, Bobby Greenwood, Alfred McCullough and Luther Davis at end and Lorenzo Washington and Josh Chapman at nose tackle in the Tide's 3-4 defense. The jack linebacker, almost a defensive lineman, is expected to be former end Brandon Fanney.

Rolando McClain, a freshman All-America last year, returns at middle linebacker. The other inside spot will go either to Prince Hall, a two-year starter who was suspended in the spring, or a newcomer.

Rashad Johnson is an outstanding safety and Kareem Jackson had an excellent freshman year at cornerback. A big surprise of the spring was the play of Javier Arenas, the outstanding kick return specialist, at cornerback. The secondary is considered a big question mark.

With Arenas returning kicks and Leigh Tiffin as the placekicker, Alabama has strength in special teams. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald, however, has been inconsistent.

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