Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry (27) breaks loose from Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Quentin Hayes (10) for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Oklahoma defeated Alabama 45-31. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Ahead to The 2014 Alabama Crimson Tide Roster

Alabama’s 2013 season was a wild one for the boys in crimson, starting out as the reigning BCS National Champions, and on the cusp of history. As the only team in the BCS era to win back to back championships, Alabama came into 2013 with the chance to become the first team in the poll era to three-peat.

Alabama started the season with inconsistent wins over Virginia Tech and Colorado State, but also won an exciting shootout with Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

The light bulb seemed to turn on for the Tide as the season progressed, and it dominated despite injuries and suspensions. Alabama destroyed LSU in the second half of their annual showdown, and it seemed like the Tide was poised for an easy run to the SEC Championship.

That all changed with Auburn’s nearly unstoppable running game and a fluke missed field goal that was returned for 100-yard touchdown with no time remaining. That loss not only ended Alabama’s streak of being No. 1 and their undefeated season, but it snatched a chance at history from Nick Saban’s grasp.

Outcoached and outplayed, the Tide limped into the Sugar Bowl where they once again had a disappointing performance, with uncharacteristic penalties and turnovers. Alabama was shredded through the air by Oklahoma’s usually pedestrian passing game.

Despite all of that, Alabama still comes into 2014 with its head man in charge. Texas was unable to poach the four-time national champion coach, and he has a roster filled with some of the most talented players in the country.

Alabama will be forced to replace a slew of players, however, and the most important player to replace will be three-year starter AJ McCarron at quarterback. It has also already been an off-season of turnover in 2014, with Saban being forced to replace two assistant coaches and five underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft early.

Let’s take a look at what Alabama is looking at for the 2014 season:

Offense

Key Departures: AJ McCarron (QB), Cyrus Kouandjio (OT), Anthony Steen (OG), Kenny Bell (WR), Kevin Norwood (WR)

Players to Watch: Derrick Henry (RB), Blake Sims (QB), OJ Howard (TE), Chris Black (WR)

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was the first to jump ship, leaving Alabama to take over the same position at Michigan. Saban quickly replaced him with former USC Trojans offensive coordinator and head coach Lane Kiffin, who was in Tuscaloosa late in 2013 to help evaluate the Tide offense.

Defensive line coach Chris Rumph then left Alabama to take over the same position at Texas and was quickly replaced by former Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis.

Juniors HaHa Clinton-Dix, Jeoffrey Pagan, Adrian Hubbard, Cyrus Kouandjio and Vinnie Sunseri have all decided to declare for the NFL Draft. Dix, Pagan, Hubbard and Kouandjio were expected, but Sunseri was an unpleasant surprise. Losing both Dix and Sunseri will be a massive blow to an already inexperienced defensive backfield.

The quarterback competition will be the top story for the Tide in 2014. AJ McCarron will most certainly be the most difficult piece of the Alabama offense to replace, but the most underrated piece may be wide receiver Kevin Norwood. In his time at Alabama it seemed that whenever a big play was needed in the passing game, it was No. 83 that came through in the clutch.

Alabama will also be forced to replace All-American guard Anthony Steen and Kouandjio on the offensive line, along with Norwood and fellow receiver Kenny Bell.

What the Tide doesn’t lack in is talent at the skill positions. T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake were a dynamic duo in the backfield in 2013, and Derrick Henry exploded on the scene in the Sugar Bowl, making for a three-headed monster at running back that no defense wants any part of.

That’s not even counting other young backs like Altee Tenpenny, Alvin Kamara and Tyren Jones, and veterans like Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler. Fowler will be an interesting player to watch in 2014. Kiffin loves to use versatile players in different spots to take advantage of mismatches. Fowler can play multiple positions and his great hands could make for some interesting looks in 2014.

Despite the loss of Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood on the outside, Alabama still boasts an extremely deep group of receivers and tight ends. Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones, O.J. Howard and Brian Vogler are all back for 2014. Young receivers like Raheem Falkins, Chris Black and Robert Foster will look to add to rotation as well.

Howard is a dynamic player at tight end/h-back and like Fowler will likely get to see more looks in Kiffin’s offense as he finds different ways to get the huge defensive mismatch the ball. Cooper had a down year with fewer catches, yards and scores, and fought injuries all season long. But he came on late in the year as he healed up. Former All-American Julio Jones had a similar sophomore slump in 2009 as he battled injuries but bounced back to have a record breaking year the next season.

On the offensive line, Alabama must find a way to replace two big cogs in left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen, both All-Americans. The offensive line in 2013 was inconsistent, and trying to replace two big time players again on the line will make things even more difficult as the group tries to find consistency and gel together in 2014. Senior Leon Brown could remain at guard where he played in the Sugar Bowl, or move over to Kouandjio’s spot at left tackle unless incoming freshman Cam Robinson is able to grab the position.

Defense

Key Departures: Ed Stinson (DE), Jeoffrey Pagan (DE), CJ Mosley (LB), Adrian Hubbard (LB), Deion Belue (CB), Vinnie Sunseri (SS), HaHa Clinton-Dix (FS)

Players to Watch: A’Shawn Robinson (DE), Jonathan Allen (DE), Reuben Foster (LB), Eddie Jackson (CB), Jai Miller (FS)

Both Jeoffrey Pagan and Ed Stinson are gone from Alabama’s starting defensive line, but nose tackle Brandon Ivory returns. Stinson is one of the most durable Tide players from the past few years, never missing a start or a practice his entire Alabama career. The great run-stuffing end was one of the more underrated players on Alabama’s defense as well.

More than likely A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, who both got plenty of playing time in 2013, will replace Pagan and Stinson on the outside. Robinson looks to be a versatile and dominant player much in the same vein as Marcell Dareus. Ivory struggled with leverage and getting pushed back in 2013 and will likely be forced to rotate with incoming JUCO transfer Jarran Reed and potentially even an incoming freshman like Josh Frazier.

Other than AJ McCarron, the biggest loss for Alabama will be team captain C.J. Mosley, who leaves a glaring hole in the middle of the Alabama defense. Filling that hole will be Trey DePriest, who returns for his senior season much in the same way that Mosley did.

DePriest has had to share his role at inside linebacker over the last three years, but will be looked upon to become the leader of the defense. Mosley has stated on numerous occasions that DePriest knows the defense as well as he does, which will go a long way in deciding just how good Alabama’s defense can be in 2014.

Likely sliding in at the Will linebacker spot, as DePriest moves over to Mike, will be either sophomore Reuben Foster or junior Reggie Ragland. Ragland has been described by Saban as a “real thumper,” meaning he is a big-time hitter, while Foster is a big, instinctive player that is just waiting to breakout.

Replacing Adrian Hubbard at Sam will more than likely be Dillon Lee or possibly an incoming freshman. Ragland may even move out there as well. Denzel Devall returns to man his spot at Jack.

Gone from the Alabama secondary is All-American HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri at safety, as well as cornerback Deion Belue and John Fulton.

Despite fighting injuries all of 2013 Belue was by far Alabama’s most consistent cornerback, which will likely scare most Tide fans. But believe it or not, the Alabama corners could be much improved in 2014.

Young players like Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Maurice Smith, and Eddie Jackson all received starts in 2013. Freshman Tony Brown will also get a jump start on learning the Alabama defense as he has already enrolled at Alabama. Nick Saban is also heavily recruiting Marlon Humphrey, who would make for a dynamic freshman tandem with Brown. The corners at Alabama are very young but also very talented, and many got much needed experience this past year. Sylve and Jackson are the most consistent of the bunch and if they can stay healthy may end up being the top two of the bunch.

Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri would almost be impossible to replace in any secondary, but thankfully Landon Collins, who will certainly be considered one of the top safeties in the country in 2014, is back, as is Jarrick Williams. Williams started nine games in 2013 at the Star (nickel) and will probably have the inside track on taking over for Dix at free safety. Both Jai Miller and Geno Smith will also look to battle for playing time at free safety and Star.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Key Departures: Cade Foster (K), Cody Mandell (P)

Players to Watch: Adam Griffith (K)

Special teams was an enigma for Alabama much of 2013, starting out as one of the best units in the country but ending at a sputter with pour kickoff coverage and horrific field goal kicking.

Cody Mandell was one of the most consistent and talented punters in the country, and Christion Jones was a dynamic kick returner. Mandell and kicker Cade Foster are gone, but Jones will return as Alabama’s primary return man. Replacing Mandell will likely be incoming freshman J.K. Scott, while Adam Griffith will be the one to replace inconsistent Foster.

At many of the positions that Alabama must fill, there is plenty of depth at talent but it’s the experience that will have to come as Nick Saban and the process starts over in 2014.

Returning Leaders

PASSING
Blake Sims: 18-29, 167 yards, 2 TD

RUSHING
T.J. Yeldon: 207 carries, 1,235 yards, 14 TD
Kenyan Drake: 92 carries, 694 yards, 8 TD
Derrick Henry: 35 carries, 382 yards, 3 TD
Jalston Fowler: 20 carries, 93 yards
Blake Sims: 15 carries, 64 yards

RECEIVING
Amari Cooper: 45 catches, 736 yards, 4 TD
Christion Jones: 36 catches, 349 yards, 2 TD
DeAndrew White: 32 catches, 534 yards, 4 TD
T.J. Yeldon: 20 catches, 183 yards
O.J. Howard: 14 catches, 269 yards, 2 TD

DEFENSE
Landon Collins: 70 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 2 INT, 89 yards, 1 TD, 6 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles
Trey DePriest: 65 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 pass breakup, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries
Jarrick Williams: 40 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 2 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry
A’Shawn Robinson: 38 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked field goal
Denzel Devall: 30 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 3 quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles
Cyrus Jones: 25 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 2 INT, 5 pass breakups

SPECIAL TEAMS
Christion Jones: 23 punt returns, 321 yards, 2 TD; 22 kickoff returns, 631 yards, 1 TD
Adam Griffith: 1-3 FGs

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