Alabama is loaded for another run at college football’s national championship. Sure, the Crimson Tide has a few holes to address on both sides of the ball, but coach Nick Saban’s roster is loaded with talent, and the defense should be among the best in the nation if the secondary is solidified. Finding a replacement for receiver Amari Cooper and a new starting quarterback are the top priorities for Saban this offseason.
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Previewing Alabama’s Offense for 2015
It’s been a long time since Alabama’s been forced to replace so much of its offense. The single-season passing record holder (Blake Sims), the top three receivers (Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones) and the school’s No. 4 all-time leading rusher (T.J. Yeldon) are gone. Oh, and three of the five starting linemen depart as well. So Lane Kiffin has a steep challenge in his second season as the Tide’s offensive coordinator.
The good news for Alabama? Its been stockpiling No. 1 recruiting classes, so there are plenty of talented players ready to take on leading roles. The biggest question, however, remains with the most important position: Who will be the starting quarterback? Continuity was lacking in spring as five scholarship QBs competed without a sure No. 1 emerging. Jake Coker will head into fall camp the leading candidate, but redshirt freshman David Cornwell emerged late in the spring as a viable option.
Former high school All-Americans Chris Black and Robert Foster appear primed to emerge as the top options in the passing game, and incoming freshman Calvin Ridley has a chance to be the next great playmaker at receiver.
The biggest threat, again, resides in the backfield. Derrick Henry, at 6’3”, 242 pounds, will be the feature back after two seasons sharing the role. The long-strider has an almost surprising second gear considering his size. Kenyan Drake returns from his horrifying broken leg suffered Oct. 4 at Ole Miss. The burst was back in the spring for the fastest member of Alabama’s backfield whose versatility will be utilized in the passing game again this fall.
Previewing Alabama’s Defense for 2015
With inexperience on offense, the burden will be on Kirby Smart’s defense. The strength will be the front seven. Alabama’s line is as deep and as talented as it’s been in years with starters A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen back. They’re big but mobile enough to face the fast-paced, spread offenses that have become common in the SEC.
Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland turned down the NFL to play his final season in Tuscaloosa. His 95 tackles were second behind only Landon Collins last year. Former top recruit Reuben Foster is a big hitter and could join him in the middle of the defense this fall after proving his value on special teams.
The secondary was an issue late last season and will be without Collins and Nick Perry, the starting safeties. Competition at the position will continue through August with Geno Smith, Hootie Jones, Ronnie Harrison and Maurice Smith in the hunt. There’s experience at corner. Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve and Tony Brown each have starting experience, but this group needs to play better in 2014.
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Previewing Alabama’s Specialists for 2015
Punter JK Scott broke out as one of the nation’s elite as a true freshman. His 48.0-yard average included 23 of 55 tries traveling more than 50 yards. His ability to impact field position could be crucial with an inexperienced offense. Kicker Adam Griffith’s consistency suffered when back problems surfaced in October. After making his first seven kicks last fall, Griffith made just 5-of-12 to close the season.
Alabama hasn’t lost a season-opener since 2001, but a date with Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, will be a stout test with an uncertain offense. Establishing a No. 1 quarterback early in August will be crucial for developing chemistry with inexperienced receivers. On defense, the front seven should help Alabama retain its reputation among the nation’s most imposing units. But it’ll have to plug the leaks in the secondary that created major issues against Auburn and in the Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State.