Tyler Watts will complete a career that has been a bit of a disappointment to many. Watts was regarded as one of the top QBs in the nation out of high school. He has yet to deliver on the promise that so many saw in him. Watts has had some injuries and has had to look over his shoulder his entire collegiate career. This year will be no different. Brodie Croyle was also the nation's top prep QB and he won't be content to sit the bench for long. Watts has the experience and the maturity to lead the Tide in what should be a nice season, but if the season takes a downturn, Croyle will take the helm.
Whomever plays QB will have the luxury of handing the pigskin off to one of a flock of great RBs. Ahmaad Galloway leads the charge and may be the best back in the conference. He has the senior leadership and has seen the best and worst of times at Alabama. Look for Galloway to have a monster year. Santonio Beard will also split time at tailback. He has tremendous speed and breaks tackles with the best of them. Donnie Lowe will be the fullback and may get to tote the rock every once in a while to keep defenses honest.
The Tide may have too much depth at tailback. It's a great problem to have. The Tide added some wrinkles in the offense to maximize their talent. Dre Fulgham will play the H-back and Ray Hudson will line up in the newly created "A" back position. Hudson will split his playing time with talented Shaud Williams. The A-back is a running back, but is basically a rover on offense. It is a hybrid position that allows more speed on the field at one time.
The one glaring weakness on the team is WR. Sam Collins has proven to be a steady producer, but is the only returning playmaker. Triandos Luke will line up at split end, but lacks experience. Lance Taylor should be the third guy and don't be surprised when the A-backs line up in the slot. The Tide coaches have some work to do here and there are no easy answers. Expect a corps by committee until someone steps forward.
The O-line returns all five starters and has most of the quality backups back including Dante Ellington who has started in spot duty. Marico Portis anchors the line from his guard spot and should be a great one. He is one of two seniors along the front wall. The rest of the squad is made up of underclassman and part-time players. The two-deep has some talent, but needs to develop some chemistry if the Tide are to fulfill expectations.
The Tide defense should be tops in the conference. Eight starters return to a defense that had some room to spare a few. The defensive line should be the toughest in the conference. Jarret Johnson, Kenny King, and Kindal Moorhead could all attain post-season accolades. King needs a strong season and should get ample support. There is experienced depth, especially at the DT position.
The linebacking crew lost Saleem Rasheed to the NFL, but RS freshman Freddie Roach is ready to step in. Marvin Brown is a quality reserve and can get in the fray when needed. Cornelius Wortham should be a marquee type player before season's end. This group needs to be steady, but their play will be made easier with the strength of the DL.
The secondary is strong. Gerald Dixon and Hirchel Bolden lead the group at corner. Both are being pushed hard by underclassmen. Charlie Paprah has silly speed and Anthony Madison is a heavy hitter for a DB. Charles Jones will be the starter at free safety and must shore up containment as the CBs can be in one on one coverage quite often. Waine Bacon should provide a strong work ethic as well as veteran leadership at strong safety. This group isn't as strong as the DL, but they provide a great complement.
The Tide should be good enough to go 3-1 in non-conference with the one loss going to Oklahoma, but who knows. OU is a bit overrated and have lost some key regulars. The Tide may keep it close, but OU has the horses and the experience in big non-conference games. The Tide will butter their bread on the road in conference. They should take 3 of 4 on the road with the one being to UT. Bama has only lost once in 24 years at Baton Rouge. Vandy always plays Bama tough, but that's usually in the 1st conference game. Vandy loses the rust factor by playing game number 9. Arkansas should be a decent game, but Bama has the better strength and conditioning program and that should be the difference. The Hogs may be playing for Houston Nutt's contract extension, so he'll have them ready. Georgia could prove to be more than the Tide want. UGA has a two-dimensional offense and they will force the Bama secondary to make plays. The play action will be a huge factor in this one.
The Tide, with a little luck, should win the West. There will always be a tie or someone a game back, but the Tide usually perform well against SEC West opponents. The Tide need a solid year from Watts. If he stays within himself and doesn't try to do too much they'll be just fine. The Dawgs have to visit for the 2nd straight year and should have won last year. The game will be crucial for both teams. Bama must have a win to win the West. I still think the Tide could have done better than Franchione, but he'll endear himself to Tide fans everywhere by winning 8 or 9 this year. The probation will catch up with the Tide, but Coach Fran will have longed since signed a contract extension by then.
Until next time,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.