Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Alabama Preview


Alabama enters the 2009 season with huge expectations from a fan base who is starving for a championship of some kind. The Crimson Tide unexpectedly went undefeated in in 2008, before losing twice to end the season. It left a bitter taste in the mouth of Tide followers, who are now expecting double digit wins and championships on a regular basis. Even though the 2009 Tide has some big holes to fill, they have the talent and the schedule to do just that...win championships. A season opener against Virginia Tech could set the tone for the season. Bama's favorable schedule makes them the favorite in my eyes to win the SEC West.


The biggest question mark surrounding this year's team is whether new quarterback Greg McElroy will be able to handle a starting job in the SEC. Three year starter John Parker Wilson is gone and despite being Alabama's all-time leading passer, Wilson was never considered anything but an average quarterback. Last season, Wilson completed 58% of his passes for 2273 yards with ten touchdowns and eight interceptions. Not the numbers you'd expect from a team that ran through the SEC undefeated. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain did a great job of simplifying things for Wilson and maximizing Bama's chances for success. Having a great running game and defense made that task easier, but Wilson fulfilled his end of the bargain. Will Greg McElroy be able to do the same? McElroy is actually pretty similar to Wilson in size and skill set, and he's looked awfully good in limited playing time last year and in Bama's spring game. It sure seems that McElroy will be able to duplicate what Wilson did by managing games and making good decisions, but until we see him in serious game action, he'll continue to be a question mark. Depth is an issue as well. McElroy's backups are redshirt freshman Star Jackson and true freshman AJ McCarron. Jackson has by all accounts looked poor in practice.

Helping ease the burden on McElroy will once again be Bama's running backs. Gone from last year is star Glen Coffee who racked up 1,383 yards and ten touchdowns last year. Coffee split time with Mark Ingram, who will be counted on more in his sophomore season. Ingram ran for 728 yards and 12 touchdowns of his own in 2008. Ingram was the big back who was counted on to get the tough yards while Coffee was the home run threat, ripping off several very long runs. Will they be able to replace Coffee's big play ability? The Tide should have very good depth. True freshman Trent Richardson was, in my opinion, the best high school running back in the nation last year, and he'll be counted on. He's Bama's best bet to take one the distance. Bama also has Roy Upchurch who ran for 350 yards last year. Another true freshman, Dutchtown's Eddie Lacy, could make some noise too. The running backs should certainly be considered a strength on this team.

Alabama may look to utilize the wide receivers a bit more in 2009. A season ago, the offense relied heavily on the running game, and they also threw to their tight-end a lot. That tight-end is gone, and the Tide's wide receivers should be more productive. Julio Jones returns as one of the top stars in the SEC, and huge things are expected from him. Last year, Jones caught 58 balls for 924 yards and four touchdowns. Aside from Jones, Bama has some other good options. Senior Mike McCoy caught 16 passes last year and is a solid threat. Sophomore Marquis Maze, who caught 11 passes in 2008, presents a very good deep threat. Several freshmen have a chance to contribute as well.

Bama's offensive line made everything click for them on offense last year. Their success in the running game simplified things for the quarterback. They'll have the same plan again this year, but will the line be as good? Gone from last year's line are a pair of First Team All-Americans in left tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell. Needless to say, Alabama won't fill those spots with First Team All-Americans. James Carpenter will be Smith's replacement at left tackle while William Vlachos will play center. Redshirt freshman Tyler Love will likely play right tackle while massive true freshman DJ Fulker will compete at both tackle positions. Senior Mike Johnson, Bama's best offensive lineman, returns at left guard. All in all, Bama has concerns along the line due to some new faces. They'll likely see improvement as the season progresses.


The strength of Alabama's team will once again be the defense. In 2008, Alabama finished third in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring defense. With eight starters returning, the expectations are quite high.

Up front, things again start with gigantic nose tackle Terrance Cody. Cody is a space eater and he brings value to the defense by occupying blockers and freeing up his teammates to make plays. Brandon Deadrick, a starter a year ago, and senior Lorenzo Washington should be the defensive ends.

Junior Rolando McClain (pictured)returns as the leader of the defense and as a pre-season All-SEC pick at middle linebacker. He'll once again be a stud. Bama's "Jack" linebacker, essentially a rush defensive end, was filled in 2008 by Brandon Fanney but he has been dismissed from the team. It's unclear what Bama will do to fill the void. Returning weakside linebacker Dont'A Hightower may move down to play "Jack", and we may see sophomore Jerrell Harris, freshman Nico Johnson, or freshman Tana Patrick take over at the weakside position. Senior Cory Reamer will likely play the strongside position. Bama's linebackers are extremely good.

The Tide returns three starters in the secondary, including both cornerbacks. Kareem Jackson is very solid while Javier Arenas is more susceptible to the big play, but he's also more likely to make a big play of his own. Arenas is also one of the most dangerous return men in the nation. Senior Justin Woodall, one of the league's top safeties, returns to start at strong safety. Bama has good competition for the free safety position. Redshirt freshman and former John Curtis standout Robby Green is the front runner for the position though he's receiving a push from sophomore Mark Barron, who is more physically talented.

All SEC Candidates:
RB Mark Ingram
OL Mike Johnson
WR Julio Jones
DT Terrance Cody
LB Rolando McClain
LB Dont'A Hightower
S Justin Woodall
RET Javier Arenas

vs. Virginia Tech (Atlanta) (L)
vs. Florida International (W)
vs. North Texas (W)
vs. Arkansas (W)
@ Kentucky (W)
@ Ole Miss (L)
vs. South Carolina (W)
vs. Tennessee (W)
vs. LSU (W)
@ Mississippi State (W)
vs. Chattanooga (W)
@ Auburn (W)


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