SEC Preview: Alabama

After a protracted and highly-publicized coaching search to replace Mike Shula, Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore finally got his man. After turning LSU into a perennial title contender and departing for the Miami Dolphins, Nick Saban returns to the SEC as the highest paid college coach in the country.

The hiring has the Tide faithful in a frenzy, showing up an absurd 92,000-strong to the spring game. Most will tolerate some struggles during the transition, but make no mistake about it – the expectations are high. Even if the win-loss record doesn't immediately reflect it, the team's performance, particularly the offense, must improve. The schedule is challenging but playing LSU, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee at home should help. The regular season finale at Auburn looms large, having lost five straight to the rival Tigers. A trip to Jacksonville to play Florida State should be one of the more intriguing non-conference matchups of the season.

Head Coach:
Nick Saban, first season (48-16 in 5 years at LSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Major Applewhite
Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Steele

Projected Depth Chart (returning starters in bold):

QB John Parker Wilson Jr.
Greg McElroy Fr.

RB Jimmy Johns Jr.
Glen Coffee So.

FB Baron Huber So.
Patrick Hanrahan Fr.

WR D.J. Hall Sr.
Will Oakley Jr.

WR Keith Brown Sr.
Nikita Stover Jr.

TE Travis McCall Jr.
Nick Walker Jr.

RT Chris Capps Sr.
B.J. Stabler Jr.

RG Marlon Davis Jr.
Mike Johnson So.

C Antoine Caldwell Jr.
Evan Cardwell So.

LG Justin Britt Sr.
David Ross Fr.

LT Andre Smith So.
Cody Davis Jr.

DE Wallace Gilberry Sr.
Brandon Deadrick So.

NG Lorenzo Washington So.
Brian Motley Fr.

DE Bobby Greenwood Jr.
Milton Talbert Fr.

SLB Ezekial Knight Sr.
Zach Schreiber So.

ILB Prince Hall So.
Demarcus Waldrop Sr.

ILB Darren Mustin Sr.
Marcel Stamps Sr.

WLB Keith Saunders Sr.
Brandon Fanney So.

SS Marcus Carter Sr.
Justin Woodall So.

FS Rashad Johnson Jr.
Chris Rogers So.

LCB Simeon Castille Sr.
Marquis Johnson So.

RCB Eric Gray Sr.
Lionel Mitchell Jr.

Special Teams
K Jamie Christensen Sr.

P P.J. Fitzgerald So.

KR Javier Arenas So.

PR Javier Arenas So.

Offensive Breakdown:
Key Returners: WR D.J. Hall, LT Andre Smith

Key Losses: RB Kenneth Darby, FB Le'Ron McClain

Key Newcomers: 4* FB Jeramie Griffin, 4* WR Brandon Gibson

Despite Saban's reputation for stout defenses, the offense will be relied on heavily, especially early on. John Parker Wilson returns for his second season as the Tide's starting quarterback and it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. He displayed a lot of ability but was plagued by the crucial mistakes that often comes with being a first year starter in the SEC. The departure of Kenneth Darby means that someone will have to take over as the team's workhorse. Jimmy Johns, Glen Coffee, Terry Grant and Roy Upchurch all have talent. But none have displayed the game-breaking ability that has been so desperately lacking in the Tide's offense.

The Tide also returns one of the more experienced and talented receiving duos in the conference in seniors D.J. Hall and Keith Brown. Both have been reliable targets for Wilson but Tyrone Prothro's big play threat has been sorely missed since his injury nearly two years ago.

Once the Tide's biggest weakness, the offensive line has become a strong point. Prodigious sophomore left tackle Andre Smith is already an All-SEC candidate along with junior center Antoine Caldwell. Oft-injured guard B.J. Stabler was moved to tackle where he'll backup returning starter Chris Capps. His vacancy will be filled by junior Marlon Davis, who impressed during spring practice.

Defensive Breakdown:
Key Returners:
DE Wallace Gilberry, LCB Simeon Castille

Key Losses: WLB Juwan Simpson, RCB Ramzee Robinson

Key Newcomers: 4* DE Luther Davis, 4* SLB Rolando McClain

The defense is where Saban's influence will be most dramatically apparent. Concern over a lack of depth at defensive tackle has changed the system to a new 3-4 scheme, which Saban has some familiarity with from his days with the Dolphins. Ends Wallace Gilberry and Bobby Greenwood return and should help with the transition. Filling the nose guard position has been difficult but Saban feels that Lorenzo Washington and converted-center Brian Motley should suffice. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who was renowned for his linebacker coaching at Florida State, will try to whip his new group into shape. Despite having three new starters, they're a veteran group led by promising sophomore Prince Hall on the inside.
In the secondary, Simeon Castille returns as an All-SEC talent at corner as he tries to surpass his father, Jeremiah, for the school's career interception leader. Marcus Carter returns at strong safety, while Eric Gray and Rashad Johnson take over at the other positions. Saban uses the nickel formation frequently and defensive backs are heavily involved in blitzing schemes so this group will need to adapt quickly.

Special Teams Breakdown:
The Tide returns both starting kicker and punter as well as return specialist Javier Arenas. The hope is that this season the team won't have to be as dependent on kicker Jamie "Money" Christensen's leg for game-winning field goals.

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