TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — College football is finally (almost) back with SEC Media Days kicking off in Hoover, Ala. It will be a star-studded event, filled with questions - some legitimate and some for entertainment.
What agenda will commissioner Mike Slive be pushing? What’s going on at Vanderbilt? Was Johnny Manziel really ill at the Manning Passing Academy? Should Jadeveon Clowney sit out the season?
And be prepared for a lot of these questions to be dodged with varying versions of how teams are only focused on football. For Alabama, here are some questions the Crimson Tide face heading into the 2013 season?
Will the pressure get to them?
It’s hard to think that a team as disciplined as the two-time defending national champions appear to be would let any outside noise distract them from their ultimate goal, but it has happened in sports. Repeating is one thing, but no team has won three straight national titles since Minnesota in 1936. And it’s human nature to get comfortable when things are going well.
But Saban will do his best to avoid complacency. He’ll use the media to push his message. He, and the players, will be sure to mention that this is a new team or this team isn’t defending anything. Saban planted a few seeds after the A-Day game saying “too many people (are) too comfortable with their position.” He’s become the master of sending a message through the media that is sure to get back to the players. Hopefully, for Alabama’s sake, it won’t fall on deaf ears.
How fast can the offensive line gel?
It’s the question on everyone’s mind. How will a team that lost three offensive lineman rebuild the unit? Two top-11 NFL draft picks - Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker - and a four-year starter in Barrett Jones are gone. There is no questioning the explosive offensive talent, but can the offensive line create holes for the running backs and give quarterback AJ McCarron time to find his receivers?
Last time Alabama had this many holes to fill on an offensive line was at the start of the 2009 season. But that retooled unit paved the way for Mark Ingram’s Heisman trophy winning year.
How will Alabama handle bye weeks before the two biggest games of the season?
The schedule makers cut the Tide a few breaks with this one. Not only does the team avoid Georgia, Florida and South Carolina for the second straight year, but Alabama also gets bye weeks before what appears to be the team’s two toughest games, at Texas A&M in week three and LSU in Bryant-Denny stadium in November. The Tide couldn’t ask for a better draw than that.
But having a bye week before a tough game can be a gift and a curse. On one hand, players get to rest and coaches have more time to implement their gameplans. On the flipside, teams can over prepare and get away from what works for them. Remember, in 2011, Alabama had an off week before facing LSU in Bryant-Denny, but lost 9-6 in the ‘Game of the Century.’
Will the Tide develop a consistent pass rush?
When a defense gets to the quarterback with four or less rushers, it takes a lot of pressure off its secondary. With some of the Tide’s secondary learning on the job, any extra help is beneficial. Saban talks a lot about affecting the passer by getting him off his spot and that will be paramount this season.
Who will step up at the cornerback position?
Alabama looks solid at safety with HaHa Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri and Nick Perry along with Landon Collins coming on strong. But cornerback could be an issue. Deion Belue will be the No. 1 guy, but it gets shaky after that. Good thing for Alabama is that the defensive backs will get a lot of different looks from talented receivers in practice to help them along.
What will the team do with all of its receivers?
This may be the deepest group of wide receivers in Alabama history. Amari Cooper projects to be the No. 1 guy after a monster freshman campaign. But after that, it’s up in the air. Kevin Norwood is reliable. Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White are both speedsters looking to find their spot coming off of injuries. Christion Jones is a versatile weapon. And there’s the slew of other talented receivers by way of the 2013 recruiting class. Don’t forget the tight ends. With all of the talent on the field, the Tide will have a tough time getting everyone touches with just one football.
Which player will emerge as the No. 2 running back?
In today’s game, teams have to use a two-back system to keep their running backs fresh and no team has done as well as Alabama in recent years. It’s almost like a passing of the torch. Glen Coffee passed it to Mark Ingram, who went on to win a Heisman. Ingram carried it for two seasons before handing it Trent Richardson, who bulldozed his way through defense en route to become a top NFL draft pick. Richardson then dumped it off to Lacy, who ran all over Notre Dame to lead Alabama to it’s third national championship in four years. Now, Lacy has given it to T.J. Yeldon. But who will be there to back up Yeldon? Kenyan Drake has experience. Derek Henry is a freak, and is coming off a leg injury that held him out of the A-Day. Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart are coming off injuries as well. The No. 2 running back spot is just as important as any other position, as it allows the Tide to wear down defenses in the fourth quarter.