Expectations are higher than ever
Saban, who left the Miami Dolphins to take over at Alabama in January, replaces Mike Shula as the head of the Tide after Shula was relieved of duty following his team's 6-7 performance in 2006, capped by a 2-6 record in the Southeastern Conference.
Last year's Bama squad finished the year tied for ninth in the SEC, and is riding the conference's longest losing streak at four straight games.
Despite the struggles from last year, the Bama faithful are anxious to start anew under Saban and, with the help of nine returning offensive starters, hope to fight their way back into the championship spotlight.
Leading the Crimson Tide
offensively in 2007 will once again be J.P. Wilson at quarterback.
Sophomore Jimmy Barnes is the
likely backup to
In the backfield, junior Jimmy Johns looks to be the heir apparent for the running back job Kenneth Darby filled in 2006. As a sophomore, Johns rushed 66 times for 293 yards and one touchdown in 12 appearances.
On the receiving side of the passing game, Alabama returns both starting wide outs in seniors DJ Hall and Keith Brown, the team's top two receivers in 2006. Hall finished the year among the SEC's bests with 62 catches for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns, while Brown hauled in 44 receptions for 590 yards and three scores.
Junior Travis McCall returns to the receiving corps at tight end, though his role over the past two seasons has primarily been as a blocker.
Junior center Antoine Caldwell, sophomore right guard B.J. Stabler and sophomore left tackle Andre Smith also return to their starting roles this season. As a unit, the Tide's big offensive line averages out at 6-4 ½, 314 lbs.
On the opposite side of the ball,
Sophomore middle linebacker Prince Hall looks to be the cornerstone of the defense as the teams leading returning tackler. He finished last year with 77 tackles, the third highest on the team, and tallied a team-best 10.5 tackles for a loss to compliment his two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
One of the two corner back
positions will also be up for grabs in 2007, with senior Eric Gray to top
contender for the job after compiling 17 tackles and two pass deflections as a
backup last year.
Senior Simeon Castille returns as
the starter at the opposite corner, and will be a key returnee in the
Also returning at DB is senior strong safety Marcus Carter, a regular from 2006. The free safety spot remains open, but could go to either Marquis Johnson or Lionel Mitchell, both of whom earned letters last season.
On the defensive line, Alabama will bring back starters at both of the end positions, with Keith Saunders and Wallace Gilberry both returning to action after an '06 season where they combined for 69 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Gilberry was also the team leader in quarterback hurries with 10.
The two tackle positions will be filled by new starters in 2007, with sophomore Brandon Deaderick likely to fill the left side while the other spot has yet to be determined.
Senior place kicker Jamie Christensen returns to the special teams for the Tide this season after 13 of 17 field goals and 17 of 18 extra point tries as a junior.
Sophomore Leigh Tiffin, who filled
in when Christensen sat out with an injury last year, also returns this season.
Also making a return appearance on special teams is punter P.J. Fitzgerald. In the '06 season, Fitzgerald punted 57 times with an average of 38.2 yards per kick.
Javier Arenas will once again be
- Matt Dearman
All-Time Series vs. LSU: 22-43-5
1895, LSU 12,
2006, LSU 28,
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny (92,138)
Head Coach: Nick Saban, First Year; 91-42-1 overall, 11 years
2006 IN REVIEW
2006 Record: 6-7, 2-6 SEC (4th West)
Final '05 Ranking: n/a
Returning Starters: 16; 9 offense, 5 defense, punter, kicker
Last Conference Championship: 1999
2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)
Total Offense: 335.9 ypg (8/60)
Rushing Offense: 231.1 ypg (9/75)
Passing Offense: 212.8 ypg (6/45)
Scoring Offense: 22.9 ppg (9/73)
Total Defense: 297.7 ypg (5/18)
Rushing Defense: 124.6 ypg (7/37)
Pass Defense: 173.1 (4/16)
Scoring Defense: 19.2 (7/29)
Rushing: Jimmy Johns – 66-293, 1 TD, 4.0 ypc, 24.4 ypg
Passing: J.P. Wilson – 379-216, 2707, 17 TD, 10 Int., 208.2 ypg
Receiving: D.J. Hall – 62-1056, 5 TD, 88 ypg
Tackles: Prince Hall – 77
Interceptions: Simeon Castille – 6
Sacks: Lionel Mitchell – 4
Tackles for loss: Prince Hall – 10.5
Date Opponent '06 Result
S-8 at Vanderbilt W, 13-10
O-13 at Ole Miss W, 26-23 (ot)
N-3 LSU L, 14-28
N-17 LOUISIANA-MONROE W, 41-7
The Alabama Perspective
The Alabama Perspective
Offense at a glance:
John Parker Wilson set
single-season school passing records in his first year as a starter, combining
with senior-to-be DJ Hall, who broke several
Hall is complemented by senior deep threat receiver Keith Brown and experienced role players like senior Matt Caddell, juniors Nikita Stover and Will Oakley, and promising young talent Mike McCoy and Earl Alexander. Tyrone Prothro will miss a second season due to injury.
In true sophomore Andre Smith, the Crimson Tide has its best left tackle since Chris Samuels led the squad to an SEC title in 1999, and in Antoine Caldwell its best center since Dwight Stephenson was an all-American. Both guard spots return the starter from a year ago, and the right tackle position has been shored up by the emergence of sophomore Mike Johnson, who moved over from guard when returning starter Chris Capps missed the spring with a shoulder injury.
Junior Travis McCall is among the best blocking tight ends in the league, and has developed better receiving skills. He was a co-starter with junior Nick Walker, the better receiver, last season. Freshman Preston Dial also came on in the spring.
No fullbacks figure to be one of the Tide's best 11 on offense, so look for Alabama to alternate between spreading the field with receivers and using multiple tight ends, with a fair amount of one-back formations under young offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.
Defense at a glance:
The first 11 are mostly average, and depth is especially poor in the front seven.
New starters must be found at
defensive tackle, two linebacker spots, corner and safety. And those departures
are what was left over from
Redshirt freshman Bryan Motley was Bama's best defensive tackle in the spring, and senior end Wallace Gilberry, junior end Bobby Greenwood, and sophomore linebacker Prince Hall are the only three experienced players at their positions. Simeon Castille is by far the Tide's best defensive player, and a proven playmaker in the defensive backfield. He will have to take some gambles that pay off for the Tide to hold opponents out of the end zone. New starters have to be found.
- Mitch Dobbs, BamaMag