It's been a decade since Alabama won back-to-back national championships. A great deal of the success of those 2011-12 teams could be attributed to continuity. If the Crimson Tide are to repeat their feat in 2021, they will not have that luxury. Alabama has new assistant coaches and new starters aplenty entering its 2021 season as Nick Saban searches for his seventh national championship in Tuscaloosa and eighth of his career.
Previewing Alabama's Offense for 2021
The Crimson Tide lost their quarterback, workhorse running back, top two wide receivers, starting tight end, three starting offensive linemen and four offensive assistant coaches, plus a handful of analysts. Alabama is no stranger to heavy offseason turnover, but it has never experienced anything quite like this in the Saban era. Of course, it also has the talent to overcome the losses.
No one in Tuscaloosa will garner more preseason attention than Bryce Young, the five-star quarterback expected to take the offensive reins as a sophomore. He has some returning producers to rely on, specifically John Metchie III, who fell just shy of 1,000 receiving yards despite DeVonta Smith's heavy workload on the way to the Heisman Trophy.
What the running back group lacks in experience — Brian Robinson Jr. is responsible for 274 of the position group's 385 career carries coming into this season — it makes up for in potential. Alabama has the No. 1 running back from the 2019 class (Trey Sanders), two top-10 backs from the 2020 class (Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams), and the No. 2 back in the 2021 class (Camar Wheaton) on its roster.
At other positions, UA is unlikely to embark on a full youth movement but may see some freshmen on the field frequently. Of the six Alabama receivers with at least 20 receptions last season, Metchie and Slade Bolden are the only two returning; the opportunity is there for the taking for UA's star-studded recruiting class, which included four of the top 11 receivers in this recruiting cycle, or for Javon Baker, who was Bama's fifth receiver as a freshman last season. Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams was added to the roster after spring practice and should push for a starting job.
On the offensive line, Alabama signed the top two tackles, the top center and the No. 2 guard in the 2021 class. Sixth-year senior Chris Owens is all but guaranteed one of the three starting spots that are up for grabs, but a freshman could plausibly beat out current backups for one of the last two starting positions. The positional flexibility that Owens boasts gives UA a greater chance to find its best five offensive linemen, which include returning tackle Evan Neal and guard Emil Ekiyor Jr.
Previewing Alabama's Defense for 2021
Pete Golding's first two seasons as defensive coordinator did not live up to the standard set during the Saban era, but it was more than good enough to support last year's historic offense. This year's unit has everything it needs to be even better.
It should thrive against the pass, both rushing passers and defending pass-catchers. Christopher Allen and Will Anderson Jr. return after finishing first and third, respectively, in the SEC in tackles for a loss, the latter doing so as a true freshman. Malachi Moore was a Freshman All-American, and Jordan Battle was an underrated deep safety in a secondary that lost only one starter, albeit a big one: cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Alabama has not had a dominant defensive lineman emerge since Quinnen Williams in 2018; the closest it has seen, Christian Barmore in the final games of 2020, used that finish to launch his NFL career. The Tide have plenty of breakout candidates, as five upperclassmen return after holding prominent roles, but a lack of production in front of an inside linebacker group that is replacing a starter could lead to issues against the run. Alabama hasn't finished in the top 10 nationally in yards per carry allowed since 2017.
Alabama's undefeated national champions of 2020 got there despite allowing 410 or more total yards four times; a repeat performance might not yield an undefeated season.
Previewing Alabama's Specialists for 2021
Placekicking may have cost Alabama a national championship or two during this current dynasty, but that problem has been emphatically solved with Will Reichard, who did not miss any of his 84 extra points or 14 field-goal attempts last year. Bama is searching for punt and kick returners, as well as for a new punter, a position where UA has struggled mightily since JK Scott's exit after the 2017 season. Troy transfer Jack Martin - a first-team All-Sun Belt selection in '20 - is expected to join in time for the '21 season.
D'Eriq King and Miami may not be the perfect season-opening matchup for a team looking to find itself offensively, but Alabama can reasonably project to be good enough defensively to handle that and most of the other tests on its 2021 schedule. If playmakers emerge up front, the defense could go from good to great.
Offensively, the 2020 unit was performing at a national championship level from the second it started its season. New offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's ability to get Bama there by the end of the 2021 season will likely determine the Crimson Tide's viability as a contender this time around.
National Ranking: 1
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