TIGER RAG PREVIEW: Alabama Crimson Tide

Today is the first installment of a 15-part series in which Tiger Rag previews LSU's opponents and other members of the SEC. Today, we spotlight Alabama. Tomorrow, we focus on Arkansas.

Expectations are higher than ever in Tuscaloosa this year as fans look to first year head coach Nick Saban to restore the Crimson Tide to the level of the country's elite.


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. Wilson, a 6-2, 209 lb. junior, played in all 13 games last season and threw for 2,707 yards and 17 touchdowns; completing 216 of 379 passes. He was intercepted 10 times.


Sophomore Jimmy Barnes is the likely backup to Wilson after throwing just 11 passes, completing six in that role a year ago.


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.


Sophomore Baron Huber could get the nod at the Tide's starting fullback in '07, but could have competition in senior William Denniston and red shirt freshman Patrick Hanrahan.


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.


Alabama's offensive line, which paved the way for 1,600 yards of rushing but allowed 28 sacks last season, will return all five starters to the trenches in 2007, led by senior left guard Justin Britt and senior right tackle Chris Capps.


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, Alabama returns just five starters to a defense that allowed 297.7 yards per game in 2006.


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.


Senior Demarcus Waldrop and sophomore Zach Schreiber are the leading candidates to fill in at the outside linebacker spots, both of whom saw action in all 13 games and combined for 27 tackles.


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 Alabama defensive backfield after leading the team with six interceptions and totally 71 tackles a year ago.


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. Tiffin is 8-13 on field goals for his career.


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 Alabama's go to man on kick and punt returns. Last year, Arenas returned 31 punts, running two of them back for touchdowns, and averaged 19.1 yards per kick off return.


- Matt Dearman







All-Time Series vs. LSU: 22-43-5

First Meeting: 1895, LSU 12, Alabama 6

Last Meeting: 2006, LSU 28, Alabama 14


Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Stadium: Bryant-Denny (92,138)

Head Coach: Nick Saban, First Year; 91-42-1 overall, 11 years





2006 Record: 6-7, 2-6 SEC (4th West)

Final '05 Ranking: n/a

Returning Starters: 16; 9 offense, 5 defense, punter, kicker

Last Bowl Appearance: 2006 Independence Bowl – Oklahoma State 34, Alabama 31

Last Conference Championship: 1999





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-1                  WESTERN CAROLINA                    ---

S-8                  at Vanderbilt                              W, 13-10

S-15                ARKANSAS                                  L, 23-24 (ot)

S-22                GEORGIA                                     ---

S-29                vs. Florida State (Jax)                   ---

O-6                  HOUSTON                                   ---

O-13                at Ole Miss                                 W, 26-23 (ot)

O-20                TENNESSEE                                L, 13-16

N-3                  LSU                                          L, 14-28

N-10                at Mississippi State                      L, 14-26

N-17                LOUISIANA-MONROE                    W, 41-7

N-24                at Auburn                                  L, 15-22                     



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 Alabama receiving records. 


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.


Alabama also has plenty of talented, if unproven, running backs. Freshman Terry Grant is a speedster Saban sees in the mold of former LSU running back Domanick Davis, and he's looking for either sophomores Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch, junior Jimmy Johns or freshman Jamar Taylor to complement Grant's speed and elusiveness with a powerful, straight-ahead back.


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 Alabama's talent-loaded 2005 squad, which produced three NFL Rookie-of-the-Year candidates.


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

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