When you think Alabama 2011, you think defense. ‘Bama had one of the most dominant units in college football history. But offensively the Tide proved to be pretty potent as well. The only games where scoring was a challenge were both LSU match-ups, where Alabama managed a total of 7 field goals and 1 touchdown throughout both games.
As has been the case the last several seasons, that game should again be the defining point for this team in 2012. But when you look a little closer at the numbers, Bama moved the ball consistently against LSU, and a high percentage of that unit will travel to Baton Rouge to face them again. The Tide managed 295 yards in the first meeting, a game played extremely close the vest. But then broke them in half in the BCS National Championship Game with 384 yards, including 234 through the air. LSU only managed to cross the fifty yard line but once.
Alabama had a good degree of offensive success in 2011, and the good news for Tide fans is the core of that offense will be back on the field this season.
As we did with the defense, let’s take a look at the returning “starters”.
AJ McCarron (10) was an elite eleven quarterback coming out of high school, and at times in 2011 showed why. Typically a quarterback in Nick Saban’s offensive plan doesn’t have to win games; he just has to manage them. But McCarron’s performance in the BCS National Championship Game was the difference, as it was clear the game plan rested squarely on his shoulders. With LSU expecting a Trent Richardson party, McCarron took to the air early and often, showing poise and showcasing his accuracy in the biggest game of his life.
McCarron won the starting job last season over then teammate Phillip Sims, who transferred following spring drills to the University of Virginia. Saban has expressed confidence in the young man since he was a true freshman; in 2009, though Star Jackson was the official back-up heading into the 2009 BCS National Championship game against Texas, Coach Saban indicated that it would have been the then redshirted McCarron that would have come on in relief had Greg McElroy become injured.
With a squadron of young but extremely talented receivers, Bama’s passing game may be the surprise of the year. While Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson and Georgia’s Aaron Murray receive preseason spotlights, and deservedly so, don’t be surprised to see the upcoming junior quarterback who exposed the Honey Badger and the LSU defense making waves this season, leading his team closer to another title.
Last year’s Outland Trophy Winner, awarded to the nation’s best lineman, Barrett Jones’ (75) resume’ speaks for itself. The 6’5″, 302lb constant of last year’s offensive line, Jones was chosen as a unanimous 1st team All-American by every major media outlet, as well as a semi-finalist for the Lombardi Award. Though the humble young man who spends much of his time doing missions doesn’t normally boast, he could also brag about clearing the way for Alabama’s first Heisman and Doak Walker Award winners.
Jones chose to pass on the NFL draft, though he has already earned his degree and will be doing graduate work. He’ll be playing center this season, meaning the senior from Germantown, TN has now played every position on the offensive line during his Alabama football career. The anchor for Alabama’s offensive line, thought to be one of the strongest in the country, if Alabama moves the football this season it will credited at least in part to Barrett Jones and his leadership in the trenches.
Chance Warmack (65) is another senior who has quietly taken up residence on Bama’s offensive line. The 6’3″, 320lb senior from Atlanta started every game in 2010 and 2011 for the Tide at left guard. Warmack was named an honorable mention All-American by Pro Football Weekly, and was voted to the 2nd team All-SEC team by the league coaches. Warmack’s highlights also include clearing the way for Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and company the last two years, and also saw action in five games as a true freshman in 2009. His three pancake blocks in Bama’s route of Auburn was another memory most Tide fans enjoy.
DJ Fluker (76) is one of two tackles on the Tide’s offensive line rated as the No. 1 tackle prospect coming out of high school, and the No. 3 overall prospect by Rivals. At 6’6″, 335lbs, the junior from Foley is a beast, starting every game last season at right tackle while earning nine starts in his redshirt freshman year as well. He was voted to the freshman ALL-SEC team for his performance in 2010, and sure to receive attention from voters and the NFL after 2012.
Cyrus Kouandjio (71) played in eight games as a true freshman last season before sustaining a season ending knee injury in the second half of the Tennessee game. At 6’6″, 311lbs, Kouandjio possesses the prototypical tackle build, with the build and natural ability for pass protection and run blocking. The sophomore from Maryland looks to secure Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s blindside at left tackle. Bama fans remember Cyrus K as the center of one of Auburn’s many “questionable” recruiting attempts, when the longtime Bama commit announced he would sign with Auburn on signing day following a recruiting visit to the Plains the weekend before. He later never signed the letter of intent, electing to follow his original intentions. We’re glad he did, as he will be one of the reasons Bama should move the football with efficiency this season.
It’s rare that a team has back-to-back performers at the running back position like Alabama did in Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Both NFL 1st rounders, and both highly decorated (Heisman and Doak Walker Awards) college running backs, the eternal question remains: Does a player make a system, or does a system make a player? We’ll find out in 2012 as Eddie Lacy (42) prepares to step into the vacated shoes of these two elite running backs.
While opposing fans pray for a drop off, their prayers may not be answered. At 6’0″, 220lb., Lacy is a big, physical back in the Nick Saban school of running backs. But he also has great agility and break away speed, already amassing several highlights in his young career as a reserve. Nicknamed “B Button” for his signature spin move, and running behind a veteran, highly touted offensive line, the junior has the tools and personnel to keep the train going in the Tide’s backfield.
Michael Williams (89) enters his senior season as a two year starter at tight end. The 6’6″, 269lb blocker from nearby Reform, AL also has great hands, catching 16 passes for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. He also caught the 2-point conversion in the Iron Bowl that made Frank Chiznik’s Auburn defense look completely stupid. Bama’s offense under Coach Saban has utilized the tight end extremely well, and Michael Williams looks to continue that trend in 2012.
Here again is where it gets tricky. Being a starter at Alabama under Nick Saban is largely situational, which is why the man hates the word. Here are some faces that have started and/or seen extensive experience last season that return in 2012:
Kenny Bell (7) saw his role on the Tide’s offense expand last season, catching 16 passes for 229 yards and a couple of touchdowns…including an electrifying 41-yard flea flicker against Auburn. At 6’1″, 180lbs, and hailing from Rayville, LA, Bell is extremely fast. The rising junior played in 10 games as a freshman and saw action in every game last season, including four starts.
Kevin Norwood (83) used the Honey Badger like a roll of toilet paper in the Superdome. Going in he had caught 7 passes for 112 yards, but on that night he schooled the LSU secondary for 78 yards on 4 catches, including dazzling, acrobatic receptions over the famed Honey Badger that moved the chains and left Tide fans ecstatic. The 6’2, 195lb junior from D’Iberville, MS looks to lead a young but talented receiving corp at the Capstone this season.
Another one of my personal favorites is sophomore receiver Christion Jones (22). From Adamsville’s Minor High School, Jones was rated a four-star defensive back as a prep. But it was his receiving ability that has earned him a spot on the offensive side of the ball. A gifted athlete, and last year’s back-up punt returner, Jones has nerves of steele and hands of anything but. This is a player that will be well-known before 2012 is over.
DeAndrew White (2) is another receiver that saw extensive playing time last season (in 11 games), with 14 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns. The 6’0″, 185lb sophomore from Houston, TX gives the Crimson Tide offensive explosive speed downfield, making the vertical passing game always a threat when he’s on the field. White also saw time on special teams as well.
Running back Jalston Fowler (45) is a bruiser. One of the constants in Nick Saban’s Alabama teams has been having that third back with fresh legs available at the end of the game to come in and wear the defense down. That was the role Fowler (6’1″, 242lbs) filled last season, with 385 yards coming on 56 carries and four touchdowns…including a 15 yard touchdown on his only carry against Auburn (of course, who didn’t score against them?). A junior from Mobile’s Vigor High, Fowler will see definite time in the Bama backfield this season, getting his turn running the rock.
So who else can we expect to see in 2012?
One of the questions to be answered this season is who will be the other tight end in the mix. There’s always two with Saban, used in a variety of situations. Sophomore Harrison Jones (82), (6’4″, 244) Barrett’s younger brother, and Columbus, GA’s Brian Vogler (84) (6’7″, 258) saw action in several games last season, and both had good springs. Both were highly rated tight ends as preps, and possess the prototypical builds you look for in the position.
Other questions, what role will Dee Hart (1) play on this Tide team? The highly touted running back from Orlando sustained a knee injury prior to the 2011 campaign. The 5’9″, 190lb runner looks like a “mini-Trent” to me, both in his physique and running style. Hart will enter the 2012 season as a redshirt freshman.
Staying on the topic of running backs, it’s hard to imagine TJ Yeldon (4) not playing some role in the Tide’s offense. Yeldon may be the best running back the state has produced in the past few years, standing 6’2″ and 216lbs. Most think the runner will blow up to the 225-230 range before his career is over, adding his lore to names of past great backs like Alexander, Ingram and Richardson. Time will tell, but everyone is excited Yeldon came to his senses and decided to run in Tuscaloosa instead of a cow pasture. TJ enrolled early to be with the team this spring, earning MVP honors from the spring A-Day game.
So who else might we see?
Blake Sims (6) has been a mystery since coming to the Capstone. If ‘Bama had its own Area 51, Sims would be in it. He has spent time at quarterback, with a respectable showing in the 2011 A-Day game, and has also spent a little time on the defensive side of the ball. Currently he’s listed at running back, where he ran the ball 22 times last season for 107 yards. Might we see him in a wildcat type package as a legitimate threat to throw? Might be. But the sophomore is such an explosive athlete, one has to think it’s only a matter of time before this mystery makes his appearance in grand fashion.
So what happens if something happens to AJ McCarron? With former back-up Phillip Sims now in his home state of Virginia, back-up quarterback becomes an interesting conversation. Phillip Ely (12) of Tampa, FL was Bama’s lone quarterback commitment of the 2011 class. The 6’1″, 198lb redshirt freshman chose Bama over LSU and a host of others, and looked good in the spring. But he’s green. But not as green as the other option, true freshman Alec Morris of Allen, TX. Morris is 6’3″, 235…big to say the least…and both were recruited because of their skillsets within the system that Saban and his staff designs for quarterbacks. Bama has two commitments from top QB’s for the next class that should balance out the quarterback position, but 2012 will be a balancing act until a back-up is named, honed and ready.
Other possible newcomers include true freshmen from this year’s class. We’ll cover these more in-depth in a later feature, but if you’ve seen incoming receivers Amari Cooper, Chris Black and Eddie Williams run, you have reason for excitement. Any of those players could end up on the field this year. I also failed to mention redshirt freshmen Danny Woodson, Jr. (81) and Bradley Sylve (16) either of which could break into the line up. Sylve has worked at DB, but is considered an athlete that could move to the offensive side of the ball. Also, in regard to the lone vacancy on the offensive line, juniors Anthony Steen (61) or Kellen Williams (63) appear to be the leading candidates to fill that role.
Alabama’s 2012 campaign won’t ask a lot of the offense until late October/Early November, with trips to Tennessee and LSU on the schedule. The Vols will be improved this year, and last year’s LSU defense is salivating for another shot at the Tide. Early tests against Michigan and Arkansas are also a concern, but there’s no reason to believe that this offense, led by the core of last year’s unit, won’t be just as effective in 2012.