After dominating the opposition through the first 14 games, Alabama came up short late against Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game. That Crimson Tide team also lost 10 players to the NFL, but don’t shed any tears for Nick Saban just yet. Everyone knows Alabama doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. Jalen Hurts gives Saban something he hasn’t had in some time – an experienced quarterback back to lead the offense – and even though the defense returns just six starters, there are plenty of guys who have been waiting for their chance. Once again, the path to the SEC Championship Game will go through Tuscaloosa and no one would be surprised to see the Crimson Tide return to Atlanta a month later to take care of some unfinished business.
Previewing Alabama Football’s Offense for 2017
New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will have one advantage Lane Kiffin never had at Alabama: Jalen Hurts becomes the first starting Crimson Tide quarterback to return since AJ McCarron did so in 2013. It comes with a catch — all three of last year’s scholarship backups transferred. True freshmen Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones enrolled in time for spring practice, but they’re the only other quarterbacks outside of walk-on Montana Murphy. That makes Hurts’ durability all the more crucial in his second season.
Year 2 with Hurts needs to show more production from the passing game even after losing three of the top receivers from last season. That puts much of the burden on junior Calvin Ridley. He’s been a deep-ball threat in his first two seasons but could add the intermediate routes across to the middle to his game. That role fell to ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard in the past, but both are in the NFL. This creates an opportunity for veterans Cam Sims and Robert Foster — talented players who haven’t been able to crack the rotation with big names topping the depth chart. True freshman Jerry Jeudy is a five-star recruit to watch.
The running game, again, appears to be the offensive route to success. Hurts proved himself last fall as the second-leading rusher (954 yards) who added a challenging dimension for opposing defenses. Bo Scarbrough showed his enormous potential in the SEC Championship Game and Peach Bowl before going down with another injury in the national title game. Oh, and Damien Harris is back after rushing for over 1,000 yards on a 7.1-yard average.
Previewing Alabama Football’s Defense for 2017
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There’s a lot to replace in the front seven with five 2016 starters now in the NFL. Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand will be critical pieces on a defensive line that’ll be without National Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Allen for the first time in four years. Junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs will help along with young talents such as Raekwon Davis, Quinnen Williams and Joshua Frazier.
Shaun Dion Hamilton’s recovery from a December ACL tear will be crucial at middle linebacker. Rashaan Evans’ presence will help in the middle, with youngsters Terrell Hall, Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller competing for time on the outside where Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams dominated previously. The departed players set a high bar for their replacements with their ability to impact opposing passers. Alabama led the nation with 54.0 sacks last season.
Key starters return in the secondary with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison and Anthony Averett protecting the back end. The secondary should remain a strength of the defense.
Previewing Alabama Football’s Specialists for 2017
The punting situation is covered with JK Scott back for his fourth year of service for the Tide. The 6'6" Colorado native has been a key asset in the field position battles during close games. Placekicking figures to come down to a competition between Andy Pappanastos, a transfer from Ole Miss, and true freshman Joseph Bulovas. Consistency has been fleeting here for years, so there’s a lot to prove for whoever comes next.
This figures to be a classic Nick Saban team. The offense will be rooted in its ability to run the ball with a deep group of backs and a dangerous quarterback in Hurts. How Alabama rebuilds the front seven will say a lot about the effectiveness of a defense hit especially hard by graduation.
The opening weekend should be tremendous — a matchup with Florida State in Atlanta’s new dome. The result won’t knock the loser from playoff talk, but it’ll add a degree of difficulty before conference play even starts.
NATIONAL RANKING: 1
SEC WEST PREDICTION: 1
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