Alabama Crimson Tide
2006 Record: (6-7, 2-6)
Coach: Nick Saban (1st year at Alabama, 91-42-1 overall)
Starters Returning: 16 (9 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists)
Offensive Starters Lost: RB Kenneth Darby, FB Le'Ron McClain
Offensive Starters Returning: QB John Parker Wilson, WR DJ Hall, WR
Keith Brown, TE Travis McCall, OL Justin Britt, OL Antoine Caldwell, OL AndrewSmith, OL B.J. Stabler (G to T switch), OL Marlon Davis
Defensive Starters Lost: DT Jeremy Clark, DT Dominic Lee, LB Terrence Jones, LB Juwan Simpson, CB Ramzee Robinson, S Jeffrey Dukes
Defensive Starters Returning: DE Bobby Greenwood, DE Wallace Gilberry, LB Prince Hall, CB Simeon Castille, S Marcus Carter
Starting Specialists Lost: none
Starting Specialists Returning: K Jamie Christensen, P P.J. Fitzgerald
Often forgotten amongst the firing of Mike Shula and the hoopla that is Coach Nick Saban is the fact that Alabama was seriously rebuilding in 2006. The proverbial cupboard is nowhere near bare. The offense returns nine starters and the defense, despite the loss of six starters, should be more effective this year, with or without Coach Saban. Yet, the new coach will make it even better.
After throwing for 2,707 yards last season, quarterback John Parker Wilson is expected to emerge as an even better passer as a junior. And all the tools are in place for that to become a reality. Not only does his entire starting offensive line return, but the entire line only lost one scholarship player. And the news keeps getting better for Wilson. Every significant receiver returns, including a trio of tight ends. DJ Hall is the main downfield threat, but Keith Brown and the young Will Oakley can be major threats if the opposition keys in on Hall.
The running game was a major problem last year and the loss of Kenneth Darby will not help. Future gourmet sandwich spokesman Jimmy Johns will get the bulk of the carries after spending the last two years spelling Darby. Ali Sharief and sophomore Roy Upchurch will be counted on as change of pace backs, or more if Johns cannot handle the bulk of the carries. Fullbacks Le'Ron McClain, who caught three touchdown passes and Tim Castille, who rushed for six, will also need to be replaced.
The Tide totaled an abysmal 13 sacks last season. Eight of those were by returning defensive ends Wallace Gilberry, Bobby Greenwood and Keith Saunders, but they will still have to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. Defensive tackles Jeremy Clark and Dominic Lee are gone and Lorenzo Washington, Brandon Fanney, Byron Walton and former center Brian Motley will have to fill the gap. Freshmen Josh Chapman and Luther Davis will battle for some snaps on the line as well.
The defensive backs have some new faces to work around. Big play cornerback Simeon Castille and strong safety Marcus Carter are returning to their starting positions, but the Tide need to fill the other gaps. At the other corner spot, Eric Gray and Lionel Mitchell are expected to compete for the starting gig. Middle linebacker Prince Hall is a good guy to build around, but the experience is limited on the sides.
The Bottom Line:
The defense has enough talent to keep things from getting out of control. However, more important than the personnel is the new schemes Coach Saban and his staff will bring to Alabama. With just a little more pressure on the quarterback by the front four, the entire defense will be much more effective and confident.