A new reality faces Alabama after what happened in January. Its decade-long stranglehold on college football has loosened, with Clemson now staking claim to the unofficial title as the best program in the nation. That 44–16 national title dethroning led to changes in the Alabama football complex, with seven new coaches stepping into roles for 2019. It also changed the mindset of everyone who returned, since no Nick Saban-coached Alabama team had lost a game by more than 14 points during his time in Tuscaloosa. Regaining the "Alabama Factor" has been a talking point of Saban’s during the offseason.
Previewing Alabama's Offense for 2019
A good chunk of the offensive production that made last year's team so electrifying is back. It starts with Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback and extends to what could be the nation’s top collection of wide receivers. The questions will be in the running game and up front, but a stockpile of five-star recruits should be able to fill the gaps.
All eyes will be on Tagovailoa to see how he’ll follow a dream season that ended on a down note. He rewrote Alabama's passing record book with 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns, playing an exciting brand of offense not previously seen in Tuscaloosa. His instincts and ability to thread a pass through traffic should again put him in the conversation for the nation's top player. Having so many receivers back will also help. Jerry Jeudy took the step toward Julio Jones/Amari Cooper/Calvin Ridley territory after averaging 19.3 yards per catch and scoring 14 touchdowns. His ability to stretch a defense will make him one of the top receivers nationally again in 2019. The speed of Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle also creates matchup problem, and DeVonta Smith is one of the team’s most consistent players.
This might sound familiar: Alabama lost some key weapons at running back but will still boast one of the top backfields in the nation. With Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs gone to the NFL, it's time for Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. to take over. Harris was the third option off the bench last year and showed the speed and power that made him one of the nation's top prospects two years ago. He led the team with 6.7 yards per rushing attempt (despite not having a run longer than 32 yards) and is poised for a big junior season. Robinson saw time late in blowout wins and was part of the kickoff return tandem with Jacobs. True freshman Trey Sanders, a five-star recruit, will be hard to keep off the field.
Up front, Alex Leatherwood is moving back to his natural position at left tackle while battles continue for both guard positions and center.
Previewing Alabama's Defense for 2019
There will be some considerable holes to fill with key pieces like Quinnen Williams, Mack Wilson and Deionte Thompson opting for the NFL over another season at Alabama. The draft has raided the Tide defense the last few years, and there are actual depth concerns starting to appear.
This would appear to be a big year for Raekwon Davis, who lost fellow starters Williams and Isaiah Buggs on the defensive line. The 6-foot-7 end has the strength and athleticism to take the next step this fall. It could also be an opportunity for players such as LaBryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis along with true freshmen DJ Dale and Antonio Alfano. Depth was a concern in the spring.
Similar concerns exist at middle linebacker. Dylan Moses is the only returnee with meaningful college experience at the position, with reserves like Ale Kaho, Joshua McMillon and Markail Benton competing for time at a position that’s become a calling card for Alabama defenses in the Saban era. On the outside, the status of Terrell Lewis is a big question. A tall, athletic pass rusher, Lewis tore his ACL in the summer of 2018 and had a setback in the spring. Anfernee Jennings will be back for his senior season as a consistent player with considerable experience.
There's some continuity in the secondary, with Patrick Surtain II and Trevon Diggs back at cornerback and Xavier McKinney stepping into the quarterback role at safety. Shyheim Carter also appears to be in line for a job at safety while remaining an option at the Star position as the fifth defensive back in nickel and dime situations.
Previewing Alabama's Specialists for 2019
Last season provided perhaps the best example of what’s been a continuing struggle — Tide placekickers missed a staggering nine extra points. Joseph Bulovas, who missed six of those PATs but hit a respectable 14-of-18 on field goals, is back but will be challenged by incoming freshman Will Reichard, one of the nation’s top prep kickers. Reichard is also an option to punt and will battle Mike Bernier and Skyler DeLong for that position. Waddle is a major weapon on punt returns.
Despite being humbled in the national title game last season, Alabama is still an elite program that expects to reach the College Football Playoff on an annual basis.
This team does have a few question marks — the offensive line, depth across the board on defense — but Alabama will once again begin the season with a No. 1 national ranking and will have its sights set on winning the sixth national title of the Saban era.