1. Coker, Cornwell, or QB #3?
The most obvious question on the board, the game’s most important position needs a leader by the time the Tide takes the field in Dallas September 5. Senior Jacob Coker would appear to be the frontrunner, with redshirt freshman David Cornwell on his heels. But is there a darkhorse in the race? True freshman phenom Blake Barnett has been working hard this summer, traveling to Seattle to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield. Remember Blake Sims put in similar work last summer, and we all know how his story came to be.
Still, as the signal caller issue will be settled in the coming weeks, not getting the team beaten with poor decisions will be the ultimate barometer, regardless of age or class. Making an occasional extraordinary play is just a bonus.
2. Who will step into the role Amari Cooper filled last season?
I’ll answer this one quickly: No one. Cooper was the most dominant receiver ever to have played at the University of Alabama. That’s not to say the Tide doesn’t have playmakers. Robert Foster (#8) has the physical presence you look for in a downfield receiver. Chris Black (#1) is a quick target who can get behind defenders to make a play. ArDarius Stewart (#13) has already shown flashes of playmaking ability, with flashes of Marquis Maze type of versatility. But then there’s Cam Sims (#7), who when he returns from injury is as good as you will see in college football. And incoming freshman sensation Calvin Ridley, one of, if not the most sought after receiver in this year’s class. Not to mention Derrick Kief (#81), incoming freshman Daylon Charlot, Raheem Falkins (#80) and Oregan State transfer Richard Mullaney. Whoever the quarterback will be, he’ll have plenty of targets to choose from.
3. How good can this defense be?
Comparisons are already being made to the Tide’s 2011 unit, which trumped the 1992 defense in several catagories. That defense gave up 9 touchdowns all season…three of those to an underappreciated Georgia Southern team days before the Iron Bowl. While it’s premature to cast such light on a unit that hasn’t yet taken the field, it’s easy to see why this is so.
Bama’s defensive front will be the best in college football this season. The Tide doesn’t just have playmakers, they have NFL prospects all along the front seven…2-3 players deep, many of those first rounders. No one will run the ball with consistency between the tackles on Alabama in 2015. The key will be trying win the battle through the air, but a much improved Bama secondary should make that feat difficult as well.
A tough defense will be exactly what a new quarterback needs, giving him time to come into his own by the time the brutality of October’s schedule gets here.
4. What role will Kenyan Drake play?
The Drake showed incredible burst before a devastating injury sidelined him against Ole Miss in 2014. Though he wore a non-contact jersey in the spring, he appeared to have picked up where he left off in terms of speed. Again, comparisons are often ridiculous, but the Drake is a Reggie Bush (the college version) type threat, and in the hands of the game’s top offensive mind, expect to see #17 lined up any and everywhere on the field. Lane Kiffin will find the mismatches, and defenses will pay.
5. Who will the Tide’s #3 runningback be?
If there’s a fingerprint on the Bama offense in Nick Saban’s 8 seasons at the Capstone, it’s that #3 guy in the backfield. When a true Saban offensive philosophy is in motion, the first two backs pound for your three quarters, then the third back comes in to freshly break your back and will in the final period. That player was going to be Bo Scarborough before a knee injury sidelined him last spring. Whispers from Tusclooosa have been that his rehab has gone exceptionally well, and is ahead of schedule. If Bo is back in the fold by Georgia October 3, look out. If not, Kiffin may again put more of his fingerprints on the offense, using crossover playmakers like ArDarius Stewart and Kenyan Drake to move the chains.
Practice in Tuscaloosa begins this Thursday, August 6.