The Alabama Crimson Tide is not immune to questions about the team, despite coming off of two consecutive BCS National Championships. Before any talk of “three-peats,” those questions must be addressed.
The upcoming Fall practices may answer certain questions about the kind of team the Tide will field in 2013, but many of them can’t be truly answered until the season is in full swing.
Can the offensive line gel together quickly?
Alabama must replace three All-Americans across the offensive line in Barrett Jones, DJ Fluker, and Chance Warmack. Well before Alabama lines up across from Virginia Tech on August 31, we will likely know who those players will be (and we have a good idea on four of the five positions already), but can those players gel together and form the chemistry needed before the first game? It usually takes a few games for a new O-Line to gel, but with Virginia Tech and Texas A&M as the first two games on the Tide’s schedule, it’s going to need to do so much more quickly.
Can AJ McCarron continue his record-setting pace?
No quarterback in the BCS era had won back-to-back championships until AJ McCarron last year, and no QB ever has won three straight. The pressure was big time last year coming off the 2011 BCS National Championship, and is indescribable as McCarron and Alabama go for three straight.
McCarron is coming off of one of the most efficient seasons any quarterback could hope to have (30 TDs, 3 INTs) and has become the unquestioned leader of the Crimson Tide. He is already considered a top Heisman Candidate heading into the year, and the early-season matchup is already being hyped as Manziel vs. McCarron. But McCarron shook off such hype when questioned by CBS’s Bruce Feldman recently:
“I just try to win. I don’t try to one-up anybody. I just want rings. That’s all I want.” So while the media asks who will get the early advantage on the Heisman race, McCarron will be trying to figure out how to get the win on the scoreboard.
Who can take over as the leader on defense?
Unquestioned leaders on the defense last year were Seniors Nico Johnson and Robert Lester. Johnson exerted his leadership last season, holding a players-only meeting before the BCS National Championship game after a few teammates decided to stay out too late during the week. The team decided – and head coach Nick Saban concurred – those players should be sent home, sending a message to all the young players that it was not time to party yet.
Now Johnson and Lester – who both started three years or more – are gone, and the question of who will lead this unit is a big one looming on Fall camp. CJ Mosley is more than likely going to be the man called upon to take that task, and he will need to do so along with another veteran the likes of Ed Stinson or Vinnie Sunseri.
What freshmen can step up?
Every year it seems that a couple of freshmen step up and become big time contributors, so the question is who will be those “Fabulous Freshmen” this year? Running back Derrick Henry and H-back/tight end OJ Howard are the two most likely to be those guys, but safety Jai Miller, with his maturity and size, could very well make a push to see playing time as the season progresses.
Can Alabama put the clamps down on “Johnny Football?”
Last year Texas A&M jumped on Alabama early 21-0 before the end of the first quarter, and though Alabama made a comeback that took the game down to the wire, it was the only loss of the year for the 2012 national champions.
I don’t think anyone questions that Nick Saban has had that game circled for quite some time, and revenge games have been a signature for Alabama in the Nick Saban era.
After falling to Florida in the SEC Championship in 2008, Alabama worked all year in 2009 to get back to Atlanta in a hope for revenge. That led to the beatdown on Florida in the SEC Championship.
In 2010 Alabama had a massive collapse in the second half of the Iron Bowl and proclaimed “Never Again,” and proceeded to absolutely trounce Auburn in 2011.
In 2011 Alabama fell to LSU in overtime in the regular season, but their chance at redemption came in the BCS National Championship game and the Tide responded with a 21-0 rout of the Tigers.
September 14th is going to be one of the most hyped games of the season, and beating Texas A&M starts with trying to keep 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel in check. The Tide defensive line has to keep him in the pocket by being disciplined and not rushing too far up the field. Someone will have to spy on him to be there waiting when he does decide to run, and that person will likely be senior All-American CJ Mosley.
The DBs also have to be disciplined and locked onto their man at all times, because if you get caught looking into the backfield to see if Manziel is running, he can burn you. In addition, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will likely try to confuse Manziel with new coverage disguises and blitzes, and it will be up to the players to pull these off in the end.