Alabama analysis: Key players for 2013 season

Anniston StarJune 27, 2013 

ANNISTON, Ala. -- With talent and championship experience returning, there is no reason to think two-time defending national champion Alabama won't be back in the title hunt in 2013. The Crimson Tide's schedule sets up for a favorable run and a return trip to Atlanta.

But the Tide will need a little luck, along with no major injuries, if coach Nick Saban and Co. hope to pull off the improbable three-peat.

Here is a look at some players who'll have a large impact on the Tide's success this season.

AJ McCarron: Outside of Saban, the back-to-back BCS national championship winning quarterback is the most important piece to Alabama's current dynasty. The team will go as far as he takes them, and as long as McCarron is healthy, it's hard to envision the Tide having an unsuccessful season.

That said, the 2013 season will be his toughest challenge to date.

Yes, he was one of the leader of last year's team, but he will have to be a more vocal field general in 2013 with all of the young pieces around him.

It's one thing to lead when you have Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack backing you up, but being "the guy" when everyone is relying solely on your experience is a different monster.

Everything rests on McCarron's shoulders: bringing along the offensive line, helping the young wide receivers and running backs develop and ultimately grooming his replacement. What McCarron does off the field will be just as important as what he does on it because everyone will be following his lead.

He's adding some bulk in the offseason, which should help him avoid some of the little injuries he battled during the 2012 run.

McCarron may never put up the flashy numbers, but he is arguably the most valuable player in college football.

He'll have another talented stable of weapons, and if McCarron is able to lead this group to the promise land, it will be his greatest accomplishment yet.

Deion Belue: Whether it was Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas in 2009, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie in 2011, or Dee Milliner last season, the Tide has had at least one premier corner they could often put on an island and count on to stop or contain the other team's best receiving threat. Every defensive back gets beat at some point, and Belue had his fair share of struggles in 2012. But his development in 2013 is key.

If Belue improves and becomes a 'shutdown' corner, the Tide will have more flexibility on defense to send exotic blitzes at opposing offenses or to give help on other parts of the field.

Anthony Steen/Cyrus Kouandjio: A two for one. This is more about the offensive line as a whole, with Steen and Kouandjio being the only two players left from arguably the best line in the country last season. Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were drafted early in the first round and Barrett Jones' versatility and impact on the program are irreplaceable.

Now, it is on Steen and Kouandjio to lead a crop of talented, but inexperienced lineman to protect McCarron and create holes for the stable of running backs.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley: Mosley made an instant impact when he stepped on campus in 2010, but he didn't have to lead as guys like Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Nico Johnson took on that role. Now, Mosley is a senior and the most important player on the defensive side of the ball.

To show just how important Mosley is, he was named Most Valuable Player at the team's awards banquet last season as a junior over guys like Barrett Jones, McCarron and Eddie Lacy to name a few.

Mosley led the team with 107 tackles, nearly 50 more than the next Tide player (Trey Depriest, 59). But this season he'll need to be more vocal, a fact he acknowledged during spring workouts.

Mosley will more than likely be asked to make the defensive calls and audibles during games, as he is the team's most experienced defender.

An edge pass rusher: Adrian Hubbard? Jeoffrey Pagan? Xzavier Dickson? Ed Stinson? An unknown?

Having a player with the ability to consistently pressure the quarterback will give the Tide tons of options to attack opposing offenses and will take pressure off the entire defense, in particular the secondary. So if one or two defenders become dominant edge rushers for the Tide, opposing offensive coordinators won't sleep all season.

Honorable mentions: Running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, wide receiver Amari Cooper, defensive back Haha Clinton-Dix, defensive lineman Brandon Ivory, etc. This list could go on forever.

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