Alabama football: Five key questions about Crimson Tide as Bama starts preseason practice today

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerAugust 5, 2011 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Enough waiting. It’s time for football practice in Tuscaloosa.

Amid high expectations, positional battles and following a tragic spring, the grind returns this morning for the Alabama football team.

A 10:30 a.m. EDT practice for the veterans gets things started, followed by an 8:30 p.m. EDT workout for the newcomers.

It will be the first official gathering of the Crimson Tide on a practice field since the deadly tornadoes of April 27 and the unexpected death of offensive lineman Aaron Douglas on May 12.

Through it all, Alabama likely will be among the top two or three teams when the preseason polls form a consensus. The USA Today coaches poll, which was released Thursday, has the Crimson Tide at No. 2, behind Oklahoma.

Though the most pressing question surrounding the team involves the quarterback competition between AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims, other issues remain. Here are five ones:

1. Forget the quarterback, what about the other offensive skill positions?

Or, in other words, to whom will McCarron, Sims or both throw and hand off this fall?

Well, Trent Richardson is the obvious answer for the latter, but the backups keep coming up thinner. The offseason transfers of Demetrius Goode, Corey Grant (of Opelika to Auburn), followed by the knee injury to Dee Hart limits the options. Then comes news of a weight-lifting injury suffered by second-string back Eddie Lacy, and Richardson suddenly looks lonely.

Jack of all trades Blake Sims could provide depth, along with incoming freshman Brent Calloway, but experience is obviously an issue.

The receivers are without Julio Jones, and the questions about replacements never lacked this summer. No. 3 receiver Darius Hanks will miss the first two games of the season, so it appears Brandon Gibson will get his chance, along with Marquis Maze and transfer Duron Carter.

2. What about the tight ends?

The tight ends didn’t figure into the passing game last season as much as they did the previous two seasons.

Brookstone product Brian Vogler used his redshirt watching from the sidelines and could figure into the offense this fall.

Vogler certainly provides an ample target for whoever is throwing the ball. At 6-foot-7, 252-pound Vogler is hard to miss.

He caught two passes for 21 yards in April’s A-Day Game, but he committed a Nick Saban cardinal sin after the first reception. A fumble became a turnover after a 9-yard gain. Vogler regrouped to catch a 12-yard Sims pass on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter.

3. Where does DeQuan Menzie stand?

Speaking of locals in Tuscaloosa, DeQuan Menzie appears primed for a huge season.

The Carver alumnus dealt with the effects of a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered the previous spring, and it slowed the cornerback at times in 2010. The trickle-down impacted his conditioning because he missed much of the summer training with rehab.

No such problem this year.

Menzie will be a senior with a year of the complicated Alabama defense in the experience bank. Playing with a more experienced secondary should help his development.

4. How much help with the secondary get from the defensive line?

It was no secret that star power would be lacking, but the loss of depth on the defensive line is another issue. Backups Darrington Sentimore and Brandon Moore transferred since spring practice, and the health of part-time starter Kerry Murphy remains a question.

So where does that leave the defense?

Try finding a new identity, first. The bruising big-bodies set the tone for the defense when it had the most success recently.

Terrence Cody and Marcell Dareus affected the game without always piling up tackles. Eating up blockers meant more freedom for linebackers and defensive backs to roam the offensive backfield.

Without a big-name player up front, it likely will be more of a speed-based defense aiming to win with athleticism instead of brute strength.

5. How will the Tide handle the spotlight?

Things obviously didn’t go so well carrying a No. 1 preseason ranking into last season -- well, relatively speaking.

Saban said the attention and accolades crept into the psyche of a young team ill-prepared to succeed in the pressure cooker. Three losses later, lessons were taught. But were they learned?

The burden returns again but for different reasons.

The deep linebackers and secondary are the backbone of this Tide defense that suffered major breakdowns in key moments of the three 2010 losses.

Maturity certainly will be the buzzword again this season. This time, the Tide figures to have a little more than a year ago.

How much more? Check back Sept. 3, when the season opens against Kent State in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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