Tide turns ... to offense?

Two conclusions are inescapable as you look back on Alabama's 2005 football season and look ahead to 2006. The defense can't get much better; the offense can't get much worse. If you throw out a 35-3 Homecoming blowout of Utah State, the '05 Crimson Tide scored a mere 80 points in its final six games, an average of just 13.3 per outing.

Despite the paltry production, Bama won four of those last six games. Why? Because its defense was virtually impregnable. The Tide ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (10.7 points per game), No. 5 in pass defense (160.8 yards per game), No. 9 in run defense (94.3) and No. 2 in total defense (255.1).

That stingy stop unit allowed Bama to win one game 6-3 (vs. Tennessee) and to win two games 13-10 (at Ole Miss and vs. Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl). Seven of 11 defensive starters from 2005 are gone, however, including two star linebackers (DeMeco Ryans, Freddie Roach) and two standout safeties (Roman Harper, Charlie Peprah). Even so, head coach Mike Shula says Bama will have a veteran defense in 2006.

"We still have more seniors playing on defense than we do on offense," he noted during SEC Media Days in Birmingham, "even though they haven't started."

That may be but the Tide can't expect to duplicate last year's defensive brilliance with seven new faces in the starting lineup. That means the offense must step it up a notch – maybe two notches – in 2006.

"Do we need to do a better job this year offensively? Yeah, for sure," Shula said. "Do we need to take pressure off, not make our defense hold the opponent to three points to win football games? Yes, we need to do that."

The key to Alabama's 2006 defense may be senior cornerback Ramzee Robinson. He must cover quality SEC receivers such as Sidney Rice (South Carolina), Earl Bennett (Vanderbilt) and Dallas Baker (Florida) without having Harper and Peprah around to cover his back this fall.

"It's all on my shoulders," he said. "I have high expectations and I know they (teammates) are capable. We haven't gotten the credit we deserve, so I took it on myself to push the team."

Unless the offense is significantly more productive than it was in 2005, pushing the team may not be enough. He may have to carry it.


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