Alabama is the team to beat in the SEC. If you want to win the SEC then you will have to beat Bama. Over the years Bama has always had the big rivalry with in-state Auburn and with Tennessee (Third Saturday in October Rivalry as it was called). However, now it seems that LSU and Arkansas are starting to get Alabama’s attention.
At one point last year in November, LSU was ranked first and Alabama was second and Arkansas was ranked third. That had only happened one time earlier in the same conference back in 1971 when Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado did it. The funny thing is that Tennessee had to face LSU, Alabama and Arkansas from the Western division last year and Johnny Majors was quoted in the Knoxville paper saying he knew how tough it was to play #1, 2, 3 in the same year because his Iowa St team had to do it in 1971!!!! Johnny got his first head coaching job at Iowa St after being hired off the Arkansas football staff and he took Jackie Sherrill and Jimmy Johnson and Larry Lacewell with him to Iowa St.
In the years since Nick Saban has taken over at Alabama, he has consistently recruited the top high school athletes in the country, and talent is stock-piled at every position on the field.
The position where this is most evident in 2012 is the wide-receivers and tight ends. With all the talk of the Tide’s stable of running-backs, a proven quarterback, and a defense that simply reloads, the receivers may be Alabama’s best-kept secret.
Alabama loses an electrifying receiver with the departure of Marquis Maze, who led the team with 56 receptions for 627 yards in 2011. Maze was the go-to guy who had the ability to shift the momentum of a game and shut down opposing defensive backs. Alabama also loses veteran Darius Hanks, a tough over the middle receiver that was never afraid of the big hit. Hanks averaged over twelve yards per catch for the Tide.
While Alabama loses two smart and speedy receivers in Maze and Hanks, who were always able to pick up a first down, they combined for only two touchdowns all season. In terms of touchdown production, the Tide doesn’t lose much at all, which is cause for optimism.
Alabama’s receiving touchdown leaders during 2011’s BCS title run were Brad Smelley with four and Trent Richardson with three. AJ McCarron has hinted that the Crimson Tide will show more of a down field passing attack this year, but expect Alabama to have continued success throwing the flat route passes and screens to guys like Eddie Lacy, Michael Williams, and maybe even Dee Hart or T.J. Yeldon.
As far as downfield passing goes, Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White look to be McCarron’s deep threats. Each caught two touchdown passes last year and proved that they could be playmakers down the stretch. These guys are going to be important come November 3rd if LSU’s defensive backs live up to all the hype they are getting right now.
Two receivers that emerged toward the end of last year and look to contribute significantly to the offense are Christion Jones and Kevin Norwood. Jones will likely be returning kicks and punts, however he could be a Maze-style replacement on offense. He showed flashes of greatness last year averaging an impressive 16.3 yards per catch, yet only reeled in three receptions. Norwood led all receivers in the BCS championship game. What is more impressive, however, is the way he shut down Tyrann Mathieu play after play, and finally gave the Honey Badger something to be afraid of.
Alabama loses Brad Smelley but returns physical tight end Michael Williams. Williams was a big contributor in the 2011 campaign with two touchdowns, and with his size and speed he will continue to be an integral part of an offense that utilizes tight ends effectively.
Other tight ends to look for this season are Barrett Jones’ brother Harrison Jones, who gained game experience last year, Brian Vogler who at 6’7 is the tallest man on the roster, and Malcolm Facaine.
Expect Alabama to continue its run-first offensive philosophy that few SEC teams have been able to slow down or stop the last few years, but don’t be surprised when McCarron starts airing it out downfield. It’s likely this group of receivers won’t stay the Crimson Tide’s best kept secret for too long.
We continue Alabama’s preseason position breakdowns this week with an offensive line that some are already calling “the best offensive line in Alabama’s history.”
That seems fitting. The Tide returns four starters on an offensive line that led Alabama to a national championship and blocked for the Doak Walker Award winner, Trent Richardson.
Phil Steel has already projected three linemen to be first team All-Americans in his annual preseason magazine. He includes Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker, and Chance Warmack.
Anchoring the line this year at center looks to be returning senior Barrett Jones. This 6’5 monster is returning to Alabama after earning unanimous All-American honors, the Outland Trophy, the Wuerffel Trophy, and two BCS titles. He was without a doubt the leader on the offensive line in 2011 and a huge part of the Tide’s two recent championships.
Jones already has in-game experience at center, which eases the pain of losing departing center William Vlachos, who had started 40 consecutive games for the Tide.
Flanking Jones at the guard positions will be Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen, both of whom were starters in the 2011 season.
D.J. Fluker adds even more experience to the line, and NFL scouts are predicting him to be one of the first linemen taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. He has developed nicely into a premier tackle at Alabama, and at 6’6 335 lbs., he is the biggest player on a line that when combined weighs in at around 1600 pounds.
The only previous non-starter that looks to start this season is the highly touted Cyrus Kouandjio. This Cameroon-born big-man was ranked as the number one offensive linemen on all the major recruiting websites and caused a stir when he initially committed to Auburn on National Signing Day, only to flip the script and sign with Alabama a few days later.
Kouandjio played in eight games until a knee injury against Tennessee sidelined him for the rest of the season. He looks to be ready to go come September 1st and could make all the difference between the Tide having a great offensive line and the greatest offensive line in Alabama’s storied history.
With a stable of capable running-backs and a proven quarterback behind them, this offensive line has a chance to lead the Crimson Tide to yet another BCS title as they push around defenders and win the battle of the trenches week in and week out. And don’t be surprised at the end of the year if more than a couple of them earn All-SEC and All-American honors.