Preview 2017: Alabama Crimson Tide
Previewing and looking ahead at the Alabama Crimson Tide season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The Alabama Offense
You think Nick Saban wants to keep the offensive drama to a bare minimum? There’s no Lane Kiffin around anymore, or Steve Sarkisian, so enter your new Alabama offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll.
Part of the New England Patriot staff for the last several years, Daboll goes from dealing with Gronk and the tight ends to taking on the most scrutinized assistant job in college football. He’s got OC experience at the next level with Kansas City, Miami and Cleveland, and now it’s his job to do even more with a relatively balanced attack that averaged 455 yards and 39 points per game.
Daboll knows how to get a ground game rolling, and he’s got an abundance of riches to work with. QB Jalen Hurts is a like another running back at times, but he’s improving enough as a passer to take more shot down the field. With Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris leading a special group of backs, keeping everyone fresh won’t be a problem.
The receiving corps has five-star talent all over the place to help out Calvin Ridley, but the holes to fill are huge. Hurts might have thrown better this offseason, but he still needs to the receiver help.
As always, there are big, talented bodies up front, but while the interior should be fine, right tackle is a wee bit of a question mark, and Jonah Williams has to prove he can shine in Cam Robinson’s spot at left tackle.
Biggest Key To The Alabama Offense
Hurts has to get off to a hot start. The last thing Alabama needs – even in an early win – is a quarterback controversy to disrupt The Process.
Hurts almost never had any problems running when he really, really had to in key moments, but his five worst games in terms of completion percentage came against USC, LSU, Florida, Washington and Clemson – the stud defenses. Those were the only five games he was under 60%.
The 7-of-14 for 57-yard day against Washington was alarming, but the 13-of-31 day in the national championship against Clemson has been one of the offseason’s key topics.
Considering Florida State might have the nation’s best secondary, a decent day by Hurts and a win in the opener will be fine no matter what. But if the names Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones are brought up for anything other than what they do in garbage time, there’s a problem.
What You Need To Know About The Alabama Defense
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is still with the program and not off as someone’s shiny new head coach. He’s back, along with six starters from the nation’s No. 2 defense and No. 1 against the run and scoring.
So Pruitt’s D had problems against Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson. The secondary that had so many problems with Ole Miss and Clemson gets back all the starters but Marlon Humphrey at one corner spot – it’ll be a killer again, especially at safety.
There might not be Jonathan Allen or Dalvin Tomlinson around at the ends in the 3-4, but Da’Ron Payne is a Coke machine of a nose tackle and Da’Shawn Hand is yet another Alabama NFL-caliber defensive lineman who’ll shine with a bigger role in the rotation.
Can the linebacking corps overcome the loss of Reuben Foster and Tim Williams? It’s a deep group with plenty of talent around Rashaan Evans – no matter where he plays. However, the outside linebackers – and the defense as a whole – needs to …
Biggest Key To The Alabama Defense
Replenish the pass rush. It’s Alabama, so there’s always pressure on the quarterback, right? Sort of, but the Crimson Tide came up with just 22 sacks in 2013, boosted the production a bit in 2014 with 31, and then rocked with 52 on the way to the national title. Almost all of the stars who got into the backfield returned last year.
Bama rolled up 54 sacks last season, but the top four pass rushers – and five of the top six – are off to the NFL. The hope is for Shaun Dion Hamilton to be 100% healthy at one linebacker spot, and Evans can get into the backfield from inside or out, but losing 38 of the sacks is a problem, even for the Crimson Tide D.
Alabama Will Be Far Better If …
Deshaun Watson and Chad Kelly stay in the NFL. Beyond that, the offense needs the receiving weapons to dominate early on.
The defense has bigger replacements to deal with on the front seven, but whatever – Alabama will finish among the top five Ds in college football no matter what. But losing leading yardage receiver ArDarius Stewart, thorn-in-Clemson-side tight end O.J. Howard, and even the little-used Gehrig Dieter takes away three of the team’s top four pass catchers.
Calvin Ridley is the sure-thing No. 1, but there isn’t another Howard at TE, and Robert Foster and receivers Cam Sims have to start playing up to their enormous prep hype. They need to be fantastic for …
Best Alabama Offensive Player
QB Jalen Hurts, Soph. – Really? You want star recruit Tua Tagovailoa to get an honest shot at the starting job? You’re actually going to hand over a team good enough to win the national title to a freshman quarterba … oh yeah. Hurts wasn’t all that bad inn his first year.
How good was he? Former top prospects Blake Barnett (Arizona State), David Cornwell (Nevada) and Cooper Bateman (a Utah receiver now) all moved on to starting roles elsewhere. Yeah, Hurts struggled in the playoff games – right up until he almost won the national title on his brilliant late touchdown run.
Bo Scarbrough might be a Heisman-caliber back when healthy again, and Calvin Ridley is a terrific all-around playmaking receiver, but Hurts is the catalyst. He was sharper throwing the ball this spring, but he wasn’t all that bad before, completing 63% of his throws for 2,780 yards and 23 scores with just nine picks, while running for 954 yards and 13 scores.
2. RB Bo Scarbrough, Jr.
3. WR Calvin Ridley, Jr.
4. OG Ross Pierschbacher, Jr.
5. RB Damien Harris, Sr.
Best Alabama Defensive Player
S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jr. – If he’s not the top defensive back pro prospect in next year’s NFL Draft – assuming he comes out – he’s going to be close to it.
The 6-1, 201-pounder was a superstar corner prospect who was great right out of the gate, making 45 tackles with two picks and 11 broken up passes as a freshman, and followed it up with 66 tackles with six interceptions and seven broken up passes last year. While he was steady all season long, he turned into even more of a playmaker after moving to safety – highlighted by a pick six against Florida in the SEC Championship. A great hitter with speed, he’s got all the tools for the secondary, and he can rush the passer, too.
2. DE Da’Shawn Hand, Sr.
3. S Ronnie Harrison, Jr.
4. LB Rashaan Evans, Sr.
5. NT Da’Ron Payne, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
OT Matt Womack, Soph. – The Alabama offensive line is always going to be very, very good, but this one needs a wee bit of work. There isn’t the sure-thing superstar tackle to work the offense around, but Jonah Williams if very, very good. He’ll likely move from the right side into Cam Robinson’s spot on the left, and that leaves the right tackle gig open.
The 6-7, 326-pound Womack will get a shot after spending time as the backup on the left side, but if Lester Cotton isn’t right at guard, he could kick outside after playing behind Williams. Got all that? Basically, the right tackle job needs to be great.
The Alabama Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the national title. How did it feel getting to the College Football Playoff at the end of the 2014 and 2016 seasons without coming away with the national championship trophy?
To be fair, winning yet another SEC Championship and making it 4-for-4 in CFP appearances would be fantastic no matter what. But, of course, Alabama is at a whole other level of college football expectations right now – with only Ohio State hanging around the top floor. Win it all, Alabama, or it’s a failed opportunity.
Key Game To The Alabama Season
Sept. 2 vs. Florida State (in Atlanta) – If this isn’t No. 1 vs. No. 2 to start the season, it’ll be a showdown of top five teams to be the first really, really big college football game in Atlanta’s amazing new stadium. Win, and even if there’s a loss along the way, 2017 Alabama should be able to pull a 2016 Ohio State and get into the CFP no matter what.
Alabama makes a habit out of destroying great teams in the season-opener. No one’s come closer than ten points of the Crimson Tide since the 25-17 win over Hawaii in 2006, and the last loss to open things up was in 2001 to UCLA. Beat the loaded Seminoles, and it should be smooth sailing up until the regular season-ending showdown at Auburn.
2016 Alabama Fun Stats
– Penalties: Alabama 86 for 660 yards – Opponents 58 for 471 yards
– Rushing TDs: Alabama 33 – Opponents 5
– Onside Kicks: Opponents 2-of-3 – Alabama 0-of-0