2016 Alabama Preview (by W.C.G.)

So the bad news is, Alabama lost its Heisman Trophy running back, its senior quarterback, its most freakishly athletic defensive lineman, its Rimington Trophy center, its Butkus Award-finalist defensive captain, and its defensive coordinator from the 2015 national championship team.

The good news is, the Crimson Tide have clear successors who shouldn’t miss a beat at each of those positions (ok, except maybe one really important one, we’ll get to that shortly) and are favored to once again win the conference and represent the SEC in the playoff.

And the other good news is, Alabama was the 2015 national champion. It had been far too long, y’all. Last fall, there were two-year-olds in Tuscaloosa who had never known a world in which Alabama was national champion. I’m happy to say we’ve remedied that situation.

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AJ McCarron graduated after the 2013 season, and for the third straight season the Tide go into fall camp with no clear favorite to start at quarterback. In 2014, Blake Sims beat Jake Coker out late in camp and never gave the job up; in 2015, Coker battled Cooper Bateman for snaps until he won the team over with a near-comeback against Ole Miss in the season’s third game. Nick Saban has a history of always playing his most veteran quarterback, and Bateman enters the season in that role. Blake Barnett, a five-star recruit in his second year in the program, and Jalen Hurts, who has impressed the most people in scrimmages but was in high school at this time last year, are his competition.

Based on Saban’s comments over the summer, odds are Bateman starts against Southern Cal on Labor Day weekend. But bring on whoever, honestly. The continuity in the post-McCarron world for Alabama’s offense has been Lane Kiffin, who is just the best at adapting an offense to the personnel given to him and not adhering to dogma. Sims’ offense was quick reads and package plays for a converted RB at quarterback, focusing on getting Amari Cooper in space; Coker’s was a power running game that set up play-action deep balls.

Kiffin won’t lack for toys to play with this year. The receiver group, led by Calvin Ridley, gets back the guy Ridley Wally Pipp’d last year (Robert Foster), along with pretty much everyone else. Henry’s replacement, Bo Scarbrough, looks like he might be able to squat Henry squatting 500 pounds. Cam Robinson had a near-miss with the law in the offseason and returns to anchor a line that replaces three starters but appears mostly settled at this point. O.J. Howard busted out for a million yards in the national title game and returns for his senior season. Whichever quarterback runs this offense is going to feel like he just got a summer internship at Stark Industries.

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Kirby Smart’s gone home, but Saban essentially traded him to Georgia for another old disciple in Jeremy Pruitt, and continues the evolution of a counter-spread defense very different from the days of Terrence Cody acting as an aircraft carrier in the middle of a football field. Where Saban and Smart used to focus on size and containment on the defensive line, modern Alabama defense is based on more laterally quick linemen and a kamikaze rush from the edge lineman/linebacker hybrids.

Tim Williams, who some say is still sacking Connor Cook to this day, is the face of this evolution. Jonathan Allen would have been a first round pick last year but for health issues and returned to rebuild his draft stock. Da’Shawn Hand was the top defensive line recruit in the country two years ago and he finally got all the way up the depth chart into a starting job. Reuben Foster also came back to try to work his way into the first round, and he’ll assume the defensive signal-caller duties from the middle linebacker position.

The evolution in the defensive backfield has been away from the big-hitter safeties like Landon Collins and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, and toward backfields of five or six cornerback types. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey lock down the outer edges, while converted corner Eddie Jackson leads the new generation of smaller Alabama safeties.

Alabama football, even as tactically updated for the go-go-go-go-go age, is still about ball control and field position. It’s an underrated advantage, then, to have a genius punter in JK Scott. His 2015 was a beat off his transcendent 2014, but 85% of 2014 JK Scott is still a better punter than exists almost anywhere.

***

The ball is oblong and bounces funny, and the margin for error in the SEC is always razor-thin, but 2016 Alabama goes into the season with every advantage in talent and coaching. There are some trap-ish road games in the middle of the schedule (@Ole Miss, @Arkansas, @Tennessee), but ultimately Alabama should find itself in a familiar position in three months: in a prime-time showdown with LSU to determine the fate of the SEC West, and thus the conference. Mac, if you’re out there and watching, don’t worry about this absurd baseball team – we get Nick Saban back in our lives in three weeks.

19 thoughts on “2016 Alabama Preview (by W.C.G.)”

  1. C’mon, Folty, enough with the slop sliders.

    There must not be much foul ground in D.C.

    Apolitically speaking, of course.

    That’s more like it, Folty.

  2. Well, Michael Mader, the pitcher we acquired for chevenka was pretty lights out: 6 ip, 0 R, 1 bb, 7 K for Mississippi

  3. Travis Demeritte has hit two homers tonight.
    Austin Riley has hit two homers tonight.
    Maybe Freddie Freeman will hit two homers tonight?

  4. To crush your enemy, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

  5. Was at the game so couldn’t tell….did Strasburg buzz Recker on purpose?

    Also, there seemed to be some staredown going on between innings? Again, couldn’t tell from mezzanine. What happened?

  6. Bledsoe, you scholar you.

    I don’t think he did it on purpose, but I understand Anthony’s reaction. It was close.

  7. Peterson had just homered, but nothing on Jace’s part was it of line.

    26-24 in our last 50.

  8. @16, I think it’s pretty clear to all that AJP is cashed out. Recker’s been batting lights out…can’t speak to his defense, since I haven’t yet seen a game with him.

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