Every team loses some players each season to graduation or the NFL. But what will Nick Saban and the Alabama football team do with the huge amount of losses “up the middle” this season?
Some coaches rebuild. Some reload. Nick Saban doesn’t have to do either one. He’s got an endless supply of bullets in his magazine, each one just as lethal as the last. When one leaves the hallowed chamber that is Bryant-Denny Stadium, another one automatically takes its place.
Or so it seems.
Replacing your quarterback? No problem. Saban is 52-4 in his last four seasons with a first-year starter under center. In those four seasons, Alabama football has logged three SEC titles, three national titles, and a national semi-final appearance,
Lose nine defensive starters? No biggie. The 2010 Alabama defense, with only two returning starters, finished fifth nationally in total defense and points allowed.
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Say goodbye to four first round NFL draft picks, as Alabama football did after the 2011 season? Nothing to it. All Alabama did in 2012 was go 13-1 and win Saban’s third national title in a four-year span. In the Massacre In Miami, the Tide did so many bad things to Notre Dame that the Bama players needed a confessional. And the Fighting Irish needed last rites.
Notre Dame, indeed. More like Neutered Dame.
But this year is a bit different from years past for Alabama football. The Crimson Tide is used to losing great players to the NFL, but never before has it lost this particular grouping of players.
Major League Baseball managers say it all the time. “You need to be strong up the middle” — pitcher, catcher, shortstop, centerfield. Those are crucial positions on any roster, in large part because those are the players who are typically in charge of on-field communication.
Football works the same way. Which makes the 2016 version of Machine Gun Saban a unique problem for the Alabama football coaching staff to tackle.
Bama enters the season having lost its quarterback, its top two running backs, its center, two of its best defensive tackles, its middle linebacker and its strong safety.
That’s every single player “up the middle” — most of them drafted, but all of them gone.
It’s not just about the lost talent. There’s plenty of that in Tuscaloosa. It’s more about having at least three players — the quarterback, the center and the middle linebacker — being new at calling plays, calling audibles and making adjustments. And new at being the leaders on their respective side of the ball.
If Bama repeats this year, it will be Saban’s best coaching job to date. No one is questioning this team’s potential. Not fans, not media members and not opposing coaches. But you can’t blame someone for wondering if the Tide can pull it off.
Just don’t wonder about it out loud. Cause if Alabama football players hear you, they just might need a confessional when they get done with you.