Alabama Football: Tide will test the ‘reload’ premise in 2018

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 25: Da'Ron Payne
AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 25: Da'Ron Payne /

Alabama football will be young in 2018 as it was last season. Even tougher is the challenge of returning only two full-time starters on defense.

Alabama football is said to only need a ‘reload’ of its roster each season. In 2018, on the defensive side of the ball, ‘rebuild’ is more accurate.  Measuring full-time starters as players who started at least half of the Tide’s 14 games in 2017, the defense returns two starters: Isaiah Buggs and Anfernee Jennings. Even adding Raekwon Davis (started six games) to the group, the Tide must replace eight full-time starters.

The 2018 reload burden is reduced by returning players with game experience. Mack Wilson and Quinnen Williams played key roles in 12 or more games. Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis were key players when healthy. Dylan Moses and Deionte Thompson got two starts each filling in for injured players.

How inexperienced was the Tide last season? When the season began, Phil Steele’s ranking of all 129 teams by starter experience ranked the Tide No. 103. With a total of 11 returning starters, the 2017 Tide was in the bottom third of teams in starter experience. It got worst when Shaun Dion Hamilton was lost for the season after nine games. Hootie Jones was also lost after 10 games.

Another season when defensive depth is an issue?

The 2017 Tide survived inexperience and numerous injuries and fielded a mostly healthy and talented roster in the Playoff. The Tide’s depth was the salvation in 2017. In 2018, depth may become an issue throughout the Tide defense. Other than outside linebacker, the 2018 roster has fewer experienced backups. Depth can be a problem at defensive line, inside linebacker and in the secondary.

Mike Huguenin of Gridiron Now estimates the Crimson Tide will have the smallest number of returning starters in the SEC at nine. Among Tide 2018 opponents, LSU is next at 10, followed by Tennessee with 11, Auburn with 12, Ole Miss with 12, Arkansas with13, Texas A&M with 14, Missouri 16 and Mississippi State 17.

Can talent compensate for lack of experience?

Looking at attrition based on talent rather than experience, projects the SEC teams hit hardest are Alabama football, LSU and Auburn. The Bengal Tigers have to not only replace running back Derrius Guice and linebacker Arden Key but their top two cornerbacks and three of five offensive line starters.

Auburn must replace LB , Jeff Holland and CB, Carleton Davis and two more DB’s, RB’s Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway, plus O-Line leaders Braden Smith and Austin Golson. Giving the returning numbers for Mississippi State and the player losses for LSU, Auburn and the Tide, some experts believe the Bulldogs could win the SEC West.

While the Tide may be rebuilding on defense, the offense should be explosive in 2018. Also, the Tide’s rebuild will be filled with former 4-Star and 5-Star recruits. Before Alabama football has a stern test in 2018, new starters will have gained the needed experience to excel.

Next: 30 Great Tide Players who were 3-Star Recruits

While the 2018 defensive roster will be filled with new starters, two slots are key. How well new Tide starters fill the shoes of Da’Ron Payne and Minkah Fitzpatrick is vital to Alabama football success.