Spring Practice Wrap-up: Alabama Crimson Tide
GatorTailgating.com's Ben Petitto will be doing a series covering each SEC Team's Spring practice. This is the first installment of the series on the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Coming off Alabama’s best season in recent memory (despite the shellacking by a disciplined Utah team), Nick Saban will look to continue winning big games in the SEC after going 8-1 in the conference last year. Don’t forget last year Alabama was beating Florida for three quarters before Tim Tebow and the Percy Harvin-less Gator rushing game took over to come back and secure a 31-20 victory. Saban lost a number of big-time players from his Western Division championship team, but a lot of playmakers are back; especially on defense. Saban’s recruiting domination of the state of Alabama is beginning to pay dividends and it looks like Alabama will be around the top of the SEC West for a long time.
On Offense: The big story here is the emergence of Greg McElroy (QB). At the beginning of the spring things were looking pretty dicey at QB but now with McElroy having a solid spring, the Alabama staff has to feel a little better about a depleted offense. Luckily, the Tide have a guy named Julio Jones split out at Wide Receiver. Jones had a good spring and will look to build on an impressive freshman year which saw him catch 58 passes for 924 yards and 4 TD’s. The coaching staff wanted to find a guy to compliment him and both Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have emerged this spring as possible contributors. The line will also be undergoing some changes after losing key guys. Look for the offense to struggle a little bit with serious losses on the line and no proven running back or quarterback on the roster, unless highly touted recruit running back Trent Richardson can come in and contribute immediately.
On Defense: This unit may be one of the only ones that can challenge the Gators claim to the best defense in the SEC and the nation. The only big time player they lost was Rashad Johnson (FS) and Sophmore Robby Green has stepped in and impressed over the spring. With Terrance Cody, arguably the best defensive tackle in the nation, and playmakers such as Dont’a Hightower (LB) and Javier Arenas (CB) back look for Bama’s D to be stout. Hightower has especially impressed the coaching staff with his toughness and leadership ability. This unit only had one hole to fill and it looks like they have done so, so watch for them to be pretty nasty this season.
Spring Surprise: Marquis Maze (WR). Didn’t do too much in his redshirt freshman year but this spring he has been lighting it up. He had a couple of highlight reel plays in the spring game and could emerge this year. With a new QB look for them to get the speedy Maze the ball on screens and shovel passes to take pressure off of McElroy. If Maze keeps it up he and Julio Jones could form a serious 1-2 punch.
Lingering question: Who is going to replace Andre Smith (OT) and Antoine Caldwell (C)?
-No one, the All-American duo was vital in the success of Bama’s offense last year. These guys aren’t exactly easy to come by and finding a dominant left tackle and reliable center doesn’t look possible for this year. Juco Transfer James Carpenter looks to be the early favorite at left tackle, but don’t expect another Andre Smith.
What to expect in the Fall: The 2009 Bama team will be all about defense. Greg McElroy will be in charge of not turning the ball over and getting the ball to Julio Jones as much as possible. Without Smith, Caldwell, John Parker Wilson, and Glen Coffee this offense could be very mediocre. But if Maze continues his emergence and Trent Richardson can come in and contribute off the bat it might be decent. Look for the D to keep Bama in every game, but the offense to lose one or two close ones.
Predictions: Luckily for the Tide, they don’t play Florida. They will drop one on the road at Ole Miss and at home to the Old Ball Coach’s Gamecocks in a homecoming trap game. 10-2 (6-2)
Quotable: “We don’t have a depth chart for anybody yet. I think he knows that somebody has to beat him out. I think you know that, and I think that I know that, so I don’t know why you need to keep asking that.”- Nick Saban on Greg McElroy and the QB situation.
Ben Petitto is a columnist for GatorTailgating.com.