Shane Sez: 2008 Alabama Outlook

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It is that time of year again. This column will take a look at this year’s version of the Alabama football team, and give those who are interested a little insight about what they can expect to see when the Crimson Tide takes the field.

The first position I’ll cover is perhaps the most important position on an SEC football team. Yes, you guessed right; It’s the quarterback. John Parker Wilson begins his final season as the starter. After spending two seasons facing the toughest defenses in America and getting new guidance from a competent instructor, John Parker is primed to lead the Crimson Tide to a stellar season. In my opinion, quarterback play makes or breaks a football team in the SEC. If you look back on last year’s record, John Parker’s errors crippled his team’s chances when crunch time hit. I believe this year Wilson will make big plays instead of mistakes.

Next, since I feel that they are second in importance only to the quarterback, I’ll focus on the offensive line. Is there any better than Andre Smith? Maybe Antoine Caldwell! With these future first round picks leading the way, Bama’s front wall will be formidable. With Mike Johnson and Marlon Davis entering their third year, along with quality depth (8-10 good total linemen) and experience at all positions, the offensive line can carry this team. I am convinced they can handle any defense SEC defensive coordinators can throw at them. Alabama has the best front five on offense in the nation – hands down.

The wide receiver corps is loaded, and – with the influx of outstanding talent that will arrive in August – stands to be as good as any group of wideouts in the SEC. Mike McCoy and Earl Alexander will provide size, while Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze will display precision and speed. All four have great hands. Brandon Gipson and Chris Jackson might push for playing time, but there are a couple of true freshmen, who I referred to above, that could possibly play early and often – Julio Jones and B.J. Scott. Jones has the bigger reputation, but Scott may be the best pure athlete in the nation. This is a dangerous pair. Oh, don’t forget the wild card, Nikita Stover. He is the Tide’s deep threat.

Under offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, John Parker Wilson will have one other weapon in his arsenal. The tight ends, especially future all-SEC player Nick Walker, are going to be featured more often in McElwain’s scheme. Georgia Tech transfer Colin Peek is going to surprise SEC defenders with his size and speed, and if Bama needs to stack the line to run, Travis McCall can block as well as any tight end in the conference.

Speaking of the running game, Alabama hasn’t had an All-American since Shaun Alexander. A healthy Terry Grant is the next in line with a chance to reach that elite status. His sports hernia halted a 1,500-yard season last year. Grant is as fast as I’ve seen in a Tide uniform. Standing right beside him is Glen Coffee; a solid back in every phase of the game, especially pass blocking. Roy Upchurch offers solid back up to Grant and Coffee. The anticipated arrival of incoming freshman, Mark Ingram, may provide the Tide with a game breaking running back. Another big back that can help the short yardage game is Jeramie Griffin.

On the defensive side of the ball, Alabama will be much better than the first year, simply because they will have had sufficient time to learn Saban’s complex defense. Quality depth at key positions will allow several very good players to excel due to rotation.

Kareem Jackson and Rolando McClain are shining examples of what a Nick Saban defensive player looks like – both were freshmen All-SEC and will probably be All-Americans. There are several others who appear to meet those high standards; Javier Arenas, Rashad Johnson, Cory Reamer, Brandon Deaderick, Bobby Greenwood and Jimmy Johns all have potential to be outstanding players.

I will not be mentioning very many other names in my discussion on the defensive side of the ball because they have yet to produce anything that resembles a traditional Crimson Tide defense. However, I am relieved that Saban has the ability to return Alabama to the point where they have a dominant defense.

Along those lines, if Saban, Kevin Steele and Kirby Smart, can get the defense to play more consistent Alabama could be a very good football team.

The kicking game leaves much to be desired. Leigh Tiffin is a good place kicker and will be an asset to the team. However, he will have some competition for the job from Corey Smith, a scholarship player from Bunker Hill, West Virginia. P. J. Fitzgerald seems to be a decent punter, but like Tiffin, has yet to show that he can be one of the best.

Saban’s second season (The Process-Part II) will be much different than his first, which is always a transition year. I see this Alabama team as having a championship-caliber offense, with a defense that is constantly improving as Saban upgrades the personnel and the players adapt to his system. A tenacious, relentless personality will begin to develop, perhaps surfacing as early as the Clemson game.

How far will they go this year? I say at least nine wins. I also know that “injury luck” is such a major controlling factor in determining the success or failure of a season. I also have a gut feeling John Parker Wilson is going to have a great season.

Could the Crimson Tide win the SEC West this year? Neither Auburn nor LSU have a quarterback who has survived a season in the toughest conference in the land. We all know what happens to rookie signal callers in the SEC. I can’t say whether Bama will win the West and make an appearance in Atlanta, but I will say quarterback play will determine which team gets there. As a result, Alabama may have the advantage over their main western rivals from that standpoint. This going to be an interesting season.