What we know about this team

Thirteen days away now from the start of the 2010 Alabama football campaign, with two scrimmages now in the bag, there are still some unknowns about this team.

But there are more knowns.

Here’s what we know:

The offense will carry the Tide early. Greg McElroy is one of if not the most cerebral quarterback in the country, and operates our big boy football offense like Drs. James Andrews or Larry Lemak uses a scalpel.  In the month of September, we’ll post big numbers on San Jose St. (yawn), Joe Pa’s Nittany Lions, Duke and Arkansas.  We will not face a defense able to stop Ingram, Richardson, Jones, Maize, Hanks, Lacy, Dial, Williams, Gibson… You get the point.

The defense isn’t that far behind. Don’t be fooled by pressers and columnists, 2010’s brand of defense isn’t as far behind as advertised.  Saban used the first scrimmage to exploit his young secondary, throwing everything including the kitchen sink at them to send them a message.  He abused them the way Bobby Petrino or Urban Meyer would have if given the chance.  Yesterday’s  scrimmage was a different tale, and with every passing week, this defense…which is as deep as the Challenger Deep in the Marina Trench…will get better and better.

Eddie Lacy is a stud. Sure you know about our Heisman trophy winning running back, Mark Ingram.  You know about phenom freak Trent Richardson.  But playing the role of the third team, come-in-the-game-with-fresh-legs-late-and-demoralize-your-fanbase running back this season will be Lacy. He got the most carries in yesterday’s scrimmage and the most yards, which tells you what the staff has in mind for him.  I’ve been waiting two years to see #42 trot out there.  The next three years will be a treat watching him.

AJ McCarron is the future. Or is it Phillip Sims?  Sims will likely redshirt this season, so we won’t see him.  But hope for games well in-hand so #10 will get some action.  By October of last season, Star Jackson was the 2nd team QB on paper, but if McElroy had gone down in a game still in question, as a true freshman, McCarron would have been in the game.  He is everything you’ve heard or read about.  Think Brodie Croyle arm with deadly mobility.

DJ Fluker has arrived. Gone are the days, thankfully, when a freshman offensive lineman steps on campus and is immediately called upon to contribute.  When James Carpenter secured the left tackle spot last season, everyone wondered what was wrong with the freshman blue-chipper DJ Fluker.  But given a year to develop, the redshirt freshman of enormous size will be fun to watch for the next three seasons.

B.J. Scott (we’ve got a lot of “insert letter” J’s on this team), Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron make up the core of a defensive backfield any SEC team would love to have, with the final safety spot to be decided by the time the team reports back on Tuesday.  By November, teams we face will be looking for ways to run the ball.

We may not need a secondary. I loved hearing all the rage about Jevan Snead and Ryan Mallatt last season.  The funny thing is, a quarterback can’t throw if he’s on his back.  Both touted QB’s had little if any impact on their games with Bama last season because they were running for their life.  Much of the cast that made that happen is gone, but the staff that orchestrated those plans is well-paid, and well-intact.   What’s more, the army of newcomers are bigger, stronger and faster than their predecessors.   You compare pictures of Eric Anders and Cory Reamer…both of whom I loved as players, by the way…to Tana Patrick and Nico Johnson and tell me if the top five recruiting classes we’re bringing in every season aren’t just stupid good.

I get the reason for “Bama fatigue” in the media.  Heck, we haven’t lost a regular season game since 2007, and we need to prop up other programs because they have fans who buy newspapers, click their mouse or tune in too.  But this team could play in the NFC east.

Marcel Dareus, who will play by the way, is unblockable.  Dont’a Hightower is a genetic clone of Rolondo McClain.  Josh Chapman can bench press an apartment building.  Damion Square, if not injured early last season, would likely have been featured in Daniel A. Moore’s national championship painting.  Courtney Upshaw is bigger and punishing.  Nico Johnson is a genetic clone of Dont’a Hightower.  Darrington Sentimore is dominate…and that’s just the names you’ve heard of.  Like a swarm of locusts, they just keep coming and coming and coming.  The most welcome site of any quarterback we face this year will be this:  00:00

Kicking will be key. Cade Foster is the favorite to handle field goal duties, with a 52 yarder in yesterday’s scrimmage.  But Jeremy Shelley has been consistent and accurate.  Jay Williams is finally booming NFL-style punts in live action the way he has in drills.   Still, whoever lines up to kick or punt against San Jose State will be doing so for the first time in their lives at the college level, and a shaky kicking game can break a season.  Expect this to be a watch point for the Tide this season; all we need is consistency, not dominance, and another championship is well in reach.

Another breakout play maker will emerge at receiver. Will it be DeAndrew White?  Or Kenny Bell?  Or Kevin Norwood?  Or Brandon Gibson?  Someone will emerge as the heir apparent to join Marquise Maze and Darius Hanks for championship contention in 2011.

The presence of Blake Sims and Corey Grant will be felt. They may get to redshirt this season, but people, these are players.  Don’t be surprised to see either deep on special teams this season.  Grant has burst.  Sims has everything.

Finally, the schedule is brutal. Not the competition, per se, but the arrangement.  Six SEC teams with off weeks don the Alabama schedule, which by the way all twelve SEC AD’s agreed was unfair and wrong.  Still, that’s what the Tide faces this season.  As abarn proved in 2009, even a lesser opponent can use the time to heal and make the most of their bag of smoke and mirrors to come up with something for their biggest game of the year.

With a staff as good as ours, that advantage can last about as long as a quarter.

Alabama will play 12 biggest games of the year, and if they can emerge at the end of the line in any resemblance to the past two seasons, the next expansion you’ll be hearing about is the renovation and expansion of the Bryant Museum.  Because folks, with the staff and talent we have in place and on the way, believe me, we’ll need the room.