McNair: Blake Sims came to Alabama as an “athlete,” and was originally used as a running back in the wildcat formation. He would not have been confused as competition for the other Bama tailbacks of the time – Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, or Eddie Lacy. Thus, he became the backup to quarterback A.J. McCarron the past two years, used only in mop-up work. It was a surprise to most that Sims won the job this year, and he was generally regarded as a running quarterback. He has, however, been very effective as a passer and runs only occasionally, mostly scrambles. He has run a few zone read plays, including touchdown runs of 43 yards against Texas A&M and 28 yards against Tennessee in the Tide’s previous two outings.
2. The high-ankle sprain to freshman left tackle Cam Robinson has been a big topic of late. What's the latest on Robinson's status and in the event Robinson can't play, what's the likely back-up plan?
McNair: It was Rumor Central for Alabama sports reporters after Robinson went down with a high-ankle sprain against Tennessee. At the time it was suggested he would be out “a couple of weeks,” and with Bama having an open date that put it right on the verge of Robinson playing against LSU. As is the wont of most coaches, this likely will be “a game time decision.” Alabama has several options including the one used when Robinson was injured, which was moving right guard Leon Brown (a former left tackle) to Robinson’s spot and inserting redshirt freshman Bradley Bozeman (who has two starts at center) at right guard. Another possibility is moving two-year starting right tackle Austin Shepherd to the left side with Grant Hill taking over at right tackle.
3. Reggie Ragland and Xzavier Dickson have combined for 15.5 TFL and eight sacks. How exactly does Alabama use these two versatile linebackers?
McNair: Although Alabama is listed as a 3-4 defense – three defensive linemen and four linebackers – this is an alignment that Bama almost never plays from. More often, Alabama is in a nickel formation with the strongside linebacker out of the scheme. That puts weakside linebacker Reggie Ragland (6-2, 254) on one edge and jack linebacker Xavier Dickson (6-3, 268) on the other. They depend on the Tide’s defensive front to occupy enough blockers to allow a pass rush from one or the other outside linebackers … and sometimes both.
4. Given the fact that LSU leans so heavily on the run, which Tide defensive backs are most likely to come down into the box to assist when the Tigers go with heavy offensive sets?
McNair: As noted, Alabama’s normal defensive set includes a nickel back (called “star” in the Tide system), which means three safeties are in the lineup. The true safeties are Landon Collins (6-0, 222) and Nick Perry (6-1, 211) and the star is Jarrick Williams (6-1, 215). Collins has been most prominent in run defense, ranking second only to linebacker Reggie Ragland in tackles, but Perry is fourth in tackles for Bama.
5. Special teams have often times played a big role in these recent LSU-Alabama games. How has the Tide performed in the field position battle this season and what's the trust level (in general and in terms of distance) with field goal kicker Adam Griffith?
McNair: Freshman punter J.K. Scott has been a good addition to the Alabama attack, even though Bama has had to punt only 27 times this year. He leads the SEC with a 46.6 yards per kick average and has had 11 of his punts (41 percent) go over 50 yards. He has had 16 inside the 20 with only three touchbacks. He leads the SEC in net punting at 43.6 yards per kick as his punts have been returned for a total of only 22 yards, less than a yard per punt. Placekicker Adam Griffith made his first seven field goals of the year, and since then has made only 2-of-6. His long is 47. Three of his four misses have been between 45 and 51 yards. Saban said last week that Griffith has been hampered by an undisclosed medical issue.
---------------------------Here's some of TSD's additional LSU-Alabama coverage, including detailed looks at the football and basketball recruiting prospects set to converge on Baton Rouge this weekend.