2010. A subject that has been discussed, analyzed and dissected since the last piece of confetti hit the Superdome floor last January.
How does Alabama avoid the same letdown in 2012 that it experienced in 2010? The comparisons to the 2010 squad and this team are intriguing.
2010′s team returned a good core of the ’09 offense but had gaps on the defensive side of the ball. 2012′s team returns a soid foundation of the ’11 offense and only four returning starters on defense.
So how does the Tide avoid letdown in 2012?
First of all, it’s a testimony to the Crimson Tide program that a 10-3 year is considered a letdown. There are programs in this state and conference that would never regard a 10-win season and top ten finish as such.
But look closer and you’ll see the differences between the 2010 season and what could come of 2012.
Early in 2010 there were issues with replacing Javier Arenas, Kareem Jackson and Marquis Johnson, not to mention Terrence Cody, Brandon Deaderick, Lorenzo Washington, Rolando McClain and Cory Reamer.
Dont’a Hightower was nowhere near fully recovered from the season ending knee injury the year before. Marcell Dareus reported to camp heavy, and Courtney Upshaw limped through the season from the first game. Bama’s reserve pool was building, but was nowhere near as deep as it is now. In the secondary a young Dre Kirkpatrick struggled early in the year, as did Robert Lester.
Secondary for this season appears different. Newcomer Deion Belue has the potential to be the best defensive back Coach Saban has coached while at Alabama. But veteran leadership in getting young players in position may be the key.
“I couldn’t be happier than with (Robert) Lester and (Vinnie) Sunseri right now,” defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said this week. “They understand defense and help get others lined up properly. This is so key to the success of any defense.”
This 2012 defense looks solid right now. Jesse Williams, Damion Square, Quinton Dial, Ed Stinson, Nico Johnson, CJ Mosley, and Trey DePriest make up a unit that looks to be very strong. But it’s the quickness and aggressiveness of the defensive line that stands out.
Adrian Hubbard, who looks to step up in place of Upshaw, will be key to the year’s pass rush, along with the physicality of Xavier Dickson. Case in point, there are bodies everywhere on defense, with more options than a coordinator could ever ask for.
But offensively, Alabama has one of the best offensive lines in college football, but must develop depth.
And then there is quarterback, where Nick Saban realizes the need.
“We must develop depth at quarterback and offensive line,” Saban said earlier this week. “Both our young backup quarterbacks (Phillip Ely and Alec Morris) have made strides on their own, and have done fairly well so far in practice. We keep putting them in situations to make decisions. So far their progress has been encouraging. We have some good young players that need to develop confidence and consistency.”
New offensive coordinator Gus Nussmeier recognizes what he has at the position, however.
“I’ve been fortunate in my career to be around some really, really good quarterbacks,” Nussmeier said. “I have coached or tutored players such as Jeff Smoker, Drew Stanton, Ryan Hart, Tom Brandstater, Jack Locker, Keith Price, Brooks Bollinger, Gus Frerotte, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. When you look at his (McCarron’s) body of work, from where he started at the beginning of last season to where he ended and then where he started spring ball and finished it, and where he started fall camp, I think he continues to get better every day. He works extremely hard. He’s very conscientious. I’m really excited about what the future holds for him. I think he has a very, very high ceiling.”
The offensive backfield is loaded with talent, as are the young but able receiving corps. Amaari Cooper has already received extremely rare praise from the Tide’s three-time national champion head coach, something you just don’t hear from him very often.
But the key to this season avoiding the letdowns of 2010 is simple experience. 2010 did not have a 2010 season to draw from. This team does, remembering the core reasons of why that season fell short. Remembrance doesn’t always amount to difference, but when you combine motivation with talent and leadership, good things follow.
It all begins September 1st, some 23 days from now. Will Bama repeat as national champs? Maybe. It’s a tall order. But one thing is for sure in Tuscaloosa that isn’t true in other places around the state and conference:
The Tide will once again be in contention.