10 March 2010
When I said I would write Texas From the Couch later, because you guys would still be interested, it wasn't just because I'm lazy. Although I am-and it sure has been tempting to hope everybody just forgot. Which you probably did.
But really, this is as good a time as any to put it up; maybe the best time, because I'm going to do something a little bit different than usual. Namely, I will look at the game in light of what it means for 2010, and more specifically, what it means for spring training.
Which is right around the corner!
Flow of the Game
I’m not going to spend much time on this, because the game has been hashed over a million times. But I’ll go ahead and belabor the obvious a bit before turning to what we can learn from the game about the 2010 season.
No Bama fan could possibly have failed to have his or her fancy turn lightly to thoughts of
To start with, Saban gave up the second-half kickoff, which is unusual for him, and elected to receive. If this was a vote of confidence in the offense, it may not have been well-placed, given McElroy’s status (of which more below). At any rate, the first possession led to a fake punt on 4th and 23 that failed badly.
Despite the failure, I loved the call. It set the tone early that we were going to be aggressive and pull the stops out, and that we weren’t so afraid of making mistakes we wouldn’t take the initiative. And if the ball hadn’t slipped out of Fitzgerald’s hand as he threw, probably because of pressure from end rusher Curtis Brown, it would’ve worked, because Kirkpatrick had run right by his defender and would easily have made 23 yards on a decent pass.
The Colt McCoy Injury
I’ve written about this already, so I’ll take the luxury of quoting myself on the bottom line:
What they shouldn't do is come out publicly and say things like "If Colt McCoy hadn't gotten hurt, we would've won." My
Anything anybody says about what would’ve happened if McCoy hadn’t gotten hurt is just speculating, but here’s my speculation: honestly, I don’t think it would’ve mattered a bit. Colt McCoy did not have a great season in 2010 and was only in the Heisman hunt by virtue of pre-season expectations.
Anyway, UT’s only real success against our D came when they threw up-top. Gilbert has a much better arm for the deep ball than McCoy.
Weird Special-Team Disasters
I’ve already mentioned my fondness for the fake-punt call. Even though it failed, it wasn’t the kind of early failure that sets a bad tone on the sidelines. The tone it set was “we’re going for it, it didn’t work this time, but we’ll come at you again.”
On the first UT kickoff recovery: everybody keeps pointing fingers at Julio Jones, but here are the facts:
Julio Jones started the play on the 8 yard line. Michael Williams started on the 30 yard line. The ball landed on the 32, two yards away from where Williams started and 24 yards away from where Jones started. Williams, who moved forward to attempt a block at the 40-yard-line, did not appear to be paying attention to the ball. It was simply not Julio’s play to make.
On the second UT kickoff recovery, I don’t really fault Smelley. That was an extremely difficult catch even if he had been looking for it, and one thing you don’t expect when you’re lined up in the up hands position on kickoff returns is a line drive right between the 1 and the 7. (I’m not quite as forgiving of Smelley on the first recovery, because he was running along blocking a guy right beside where the ball hit, apparently all unknowing.)
By the way, that was not an onside kick, and it was not intentionally kicked at Smelley. No kicker is that accurate on a hard-kicked ball. That was nothing but blind luck, and not the fault of anyone either in crimson or in orange.
Hey, is Nick Saban as good a coach as Bear Bryant? While he hasn’t proved it yet, his three years at
But there have been a few grumbles everywhere Saban has been about his offensive conservatism, particularly with leads. And it wasn’t lost on me that, the last time Saban was in this situation, LSU took a 21-7 lead over Oklahoma early in the second half, went stone-cold conservative, and wound up holding on to victory by the skin of its teeth.
You could find echoes of that in a few of
If there was a letdown, it came from the team, not the coaches. (At least on offense.)
What I’m going to do for the rest of this article is look at each Alabama position grouping, point out who were the heroes and goats in the national-championship game, and ponder a bit on what the game bodes for the future.
Of course you can always go overboard by over-analyzing a single game, but this was both the most recent game the team has played and the most important game of the season. If somebody who played a big role in winning the national-championship game is coming back, that’s worth talking about, and the same is true for those who are departing.
Before looking the positions over, some set-up by way of a few comments on spring training is in order. Normally,
Different story this year. The 11 early enrollees dwarfs Alabama’s early enrollee numbers in any previous year in my memory, and 16 Tiders, by my count, earned redshirts last year. If my math is right, there will be an astonishing 27 scholarshipped players available for 2010 spring training who did not play in 2009. That ought to fill a hole or two.
Starters Lost: None
Incumbent: Greg McElroy
Returning Backup: Star
Redshirt: A.J. McCarron
Early Enrollee: Phillip Sims
August Arrivals: None
After putting up a competitors-beware performance against
Frankly, Greg was horrible against
However, we learned after the game that he had been playing with broken ribs, and that could have accounted for all the problems. The avoidable sacks required quick turns and throwaways to the outside, and the Upchurch and Jones misses were also on quick turns and throws to the outside. Quick torso twists are pretty tough to pull off when your ribs are badly banged up and you’re wearing a flak jacket.
My guess is that his performance was solely or almost solely injury-related. His season arc just set too clear a pattern of constant adjustment and improvement against tough SEC defenses for me to think he totally lost it against
But my guess is just a guess. And if it turns out that the real McElroy is a guy who swings between performances like the SEC championship game and performances like the
By the way,
One final note: the
Nevertheless, McCarron never played, all the while McElroy was turning in a performance that was really not up to snuff. I can’t believe that McCarron’s redshirt was even a tiny factor in that decision. It seems more likely that the staff didn’t really have all that much confidence in him.
Of course, A.J. arrived in August 2009 and had never seen game time. He will have different opportunities in 2010. He will also have to fight off the nation’s top prep quarterback, Phillip Sims, who is on campus now and will be fighting for a depth chart spot in the spring.
Starters Lost: None
Incumbent: Mark Ingram
Returning Backup: Trent Richardson
Redshirts: Eddie Lacy, Mike Marrow
Early Enrollee: Jalston Fowler
August Arrivals: Corey Grant
We’re not hurtin’ too bad here for 2010. Do I need to say anything else?
OK, I’ll throw in the Texas From the Couch angle, since we’re pretending that’s what this is. Ingram and Richardson were both stone-cold awesome against
No wonder that rumors are already flying that big Jalston Fowler, who has plenty of ball skills to go along with a very scary body, is working with the linebackers. Rumors also have it that Mike Marrow, another big back like Fowler, will try to fill Baron Huber’s role as a blocking back and occasional receiver.
Despite the glut at this position, if Corey Grant is in good shape when he gets here, I expect he will have a chance to see time. He is one of those jitterbug speedster guys, and as such is distinct from the big boomers that fill out the rest of the depth chart.
Starters Lost: None
Incumbents: Julio Jones, Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks
Returning Backups: Earl Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Michael Bowman
Redshirts: Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Kendall Kelly
Early Enrollees: None
August Arrivals: Ronald Carswell, Keiwon Malone, DeAndrew White
Our passing-game problems against
With nine scholarshipped returnees, this is one position where the Tide can afford not to have early enrollees. The guys on the top line above are all solid and it will take an impressive performance for anybody not on the top line to move past anybody who is.
Kevin Norwood is said to be the most impressive of the redshirts. Rumors have Kendall Kelly moving to safety.
The August arrivees will have their work cut out to crack the two-deep, but as a group they will up the speed ante for our receivers as a whole.
Starter Lost: Colin Peek
Incumbent: Since we ran two tight ends a lot, you could call Preston Dial an incumbent
Returning Backups: Michael Williams, Brad Smelley, Undra Billingsley
Early Enrollee: None
August Arrivals: Brian Vogler, Harrison Jones
Colin Peek didn’t have his best game against
Although the departing Peek is the best tight end Bama has had in years, it’s quite possible we may be improved at this position in ’10. The big question mark is Michael Williams. Williams is more athletic than Peek and showed quite a bit of promise last year in his first year at the position. If he has a good off-season, he could fully replace Peek, maybe become even better.
Regardless of Williams, Preston Dial appears to be set for a solid senior campaign after a solid national-championship game.
Depth figures to be improved. All the depth from last year returns, in the form of Williams, the smaller receiving-type tight end Smelley, and big Undra Billingsley, who got little PT last year but has the physicality to play a Travis McCall-type role. Rumor has it that Michael Bowman will be moving to tight end, where he could provide stiff competition to Smelley for his playing time.
Spring training will be interesting to see what kind of development has been made by Williams and Billingsley after having been moved to the position a year ago. After that, it won’t be easy for the August newcomers to break into the depth chart, but Vogler is the highest-rated tight end recruit the Tide has inked in quite a while so he will bear watching.
Starters Lost: Mike Johnson, Drew Davis
Incumbents: James Carpenter, William Vlachos, Barrett Jones
Returning Backups: John Michael Boswell, David Ross, Taylor Pharr, Brian Motley
Redshirts: D.J. Fluker, Kellen Williams, Anthony Steen
Early Enrollees: Darius McKeller,
August Arrivals: Arie Kouandjo
Drew Davis had a solid final game, generally handling the speed rush of Sergio Kindle. Top speed-rushers like Kindle have been the Tide’s biggest offensive bugaboo over the last few years. Most of the runs went away from
Mike Johnson made several important run blocks, including opening the hole (along with Carter) for
Numerous solid run blocks were thrown by returnees James Carpenter (including a nifty reach-back block on a linebacker that was just as key to
Despite the loss of two starters, this group figures to be solid in 2010, anchored by three excellent returnees. Boswell, Ross, and Motley have all seen competitive game time, Fluker was a blue-chip prospect and has a year of conditioning and techniques drills under his belt, and Steen impressed in August last year before the depth chart relegated him to a redshirt. The Tide certainly won’t be lacking for large young gentlemen.
Starters Lost: Terrence Cody, Lorenzo Washington, Brandon Deaderick
Incumbent: Marcell Dareus [not officially a starter, but played most of the time]
Returning Backups: Josh Chapman, Luther Davis, Kerry Murphy,
Redshirts: Darrington Sentimore, Chris Bonds, Brandon Moore, William Ming
Early Enrollee: Brandon Lewis
August Arrivals: Alfy Hill, Adrian Hubbard, Wilson Love, Brandon Ivory
These are heavy losses, and the departing guys played a big role in the win, especially Lorenzo
As is his usual MO, Cody did not rack up tons of stats, but was the equivalent of a three-yard-wide brick wall in the middle of the field. Like most of our foes,
Dareus, of course, made Bama’s two most visible defensive plays of the game, the truly crushing hit that sent Colt McCoy to the dressing room, and his prancing, dancing, spinning TD interception return just before the end of the first half. The only other returnee to make a significant impact in the game was Chapman, who was solid in a relief stint for Cody, leading all defensive linemen with three tackles.
Dareus is the real deal, and will anchor the line in 2010. Chapman is also a proven commodity. Dareus and Chapman is a better start that one might think upon initially seeing that the Tide loses all three starters.
After that, there are a lot of bodies and little to say what the depth chart will look like. Luther Davis will probably start at the beginning of spring training, but unless the light has come on for him he may be vulnerable to the abundant young talent coming up from behind. The other leading candidates for playing time include Kerry Murphy and Darrington Sentimore. Put
It will be interesting in spring to see whether Murphy and Brandon Moore are used at tackle, end, or both.
Starters Lost: Rolando McClain (sigh), Cory Reamer, Eryk Anders
Incumbent: Dont’a Hightower, Nico Johnson
Returning Backups: Jerrell Harris, Courtney Upshaw
Redshirts: Tana Patrick, Jonathan Atchinson, Ed Stinson
Early Enrollee: Petey Smith
August Arrivals: C.J. Mosley
There’s no replacing a Rolando McClain. Rolando had a normal game against
Eryk Anders? Maybe the best game of his career. Eryk is trying like heck to make it in the NFL, and may or may not succeed, but on January 8 he made some memories he will never lose. Cory Reamer, not so much.
The only returnee who showed much against
Hightower was approaching McClain level when he went down early last year—but his knee injury has been described as “major.” I’m not counting on full-speed performance from Dont’a this year, although I’m certainly hoping for a pleasant surprise. If he is fully ready to go that will be a huge boost.
The question marks are massive, but so is the returning talent. Jerrell Harris, Nico Johnson, and Tana Patrick are all blue-chippers who now have some seasoning under their belt. Jonathan Atchison would’ve played last year if spots had been anywhere near as available as they are now.
Along with talent, the Tide’s other ace in the hole is coaching. Sal Sunseri’s arrival last year signaled an uptick in
So there is reason for optimism, along with reason to worry. This group will be closely watched when spring drills begin.
Starters Lost: Javier Arenas, Kareem Jackson, Justin Woodall (and I’ll throw in key reserve Marquis Johnson, the best pass coverage nickel back in the land)
Incumbent: Mark Barron
Returning Backups: ?Robbie Green?, Dre Kirkpatrick, Rod Woodson, Robert Lester
Redshirts: B.J. Scott (redshirted during his sophomore season to move to DB), Phelon Jones (not a redshirt, but sat out a year after transferring from LSU)
Early Enrollees: DeMarcus Milliner, John Fulton
August Arrivals: Jarrick Williams, Dequan Menzie, Deion Belue, Blake Sims (athlete who is likely to play DB)
First, the departure of Chris Rogers means that Nick Saban will probably face less danger of concussion on the sidelines after future national championships.
The losses are crushing here, and it showed in the
On the other side of the coin, and as good as those guys were, Mark Barron was probably the Tide’s top DB in the
Robbie has been suspended, of course. If the rumors nxojkt and I have heard are true, we won’t see Green this year.
If that happens, he’s going to have a long, steep hill to climb because, despite the losses, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. The oncoming talent level is amazing.
Start with Dre Kirkpatrick, the #1 high school cornerback prospect in America a year ago, and a guy who showed he really was all that as soon as he arrived on campus. If the depth level hadn’t been so deep and intense in the secondary, Dre would’ve seen more time last year. Next in the cornerback line, if insiders are to be believed, may be Phelon Jones, who impressed in practice last year while sitting out his transfer year.
This year’s #1 cornerback in the nation, DeMarcus Milliner, and the #4 cornerback, John Fulton, are not just new signees but also early arrivees who will participate in spring drills. Also in spring drills will be Burton Scott, a five-star prospect and amazing athlete who was redshirted last year to give him time to acclimate to a new position. And don’t forget highly-rated juco prospect Dequan Menzie. Menzie is Saban’s third juco signee, and the other two—Terrence Cody and James Carpenter—moved immediately into starting positions.
The competition will be just as hot to fill the other safety spot alongside Barron. Rod Woodson is a terrifying tackler and will be very difficult to keep off the field if Saban, a known stickler for DB technique, is satisfied with his progress. The fact that Barron and Woodson are in the same hitter mold, though, may leave room for more of a coverage guy at the other safety slot. Robert Lester returns to compete against blue-chip August arrivee Williams, and it would surprise no one if one of the many talented cornerbacks on the roster winds up at safety, possibly starting. Candidates include Scott, Menzie, and possibly Kirkpatrick or Milliner.
Starters Lost: Leigh Tiffin, P.J. Fitzgerald, Javier Arenas.
Returning Backups: Julio Jones, Trent Richardson
Early Enrollees: Cade Foster
August Arrivals: Jay Williams
I don’t have a lot to say here about
Javy Arenas is one of the best punt returners I have ever seen at any level. Personally, I even put him above one of the brightest stars in Bama’s historical pantheon, David Palmer.
But I don’t think we’re going to miss him all that much. We’ve got too many guys with too many wheels. Where do I start? Incoming freshman Deion Belue, who had nine (!!!) kick return TDs (six punt, three kickoff) his senior year? How about John Fulton, who had seven kick return TDs his junior year? Julio Jones, who was excellent last year when Arenas missed a game with injury? The elusive Kirkpatrick? Marquis Maze? This will be fun to watch.
When the horn blew, and Bama walked off the field to pick up a crystal football, here’s the first thing that came out of my mouth: “That was a good start.” What can I say? I’m a Bama fan. I’m greedy. And I see what’s coming back from that game, and from guys who didn’t play in that game.
Anything can happen in this crazy game. The Tide could be hit with a string of injuries and bad luck in 2010 and wind up losing several games. But that ain’t what I’m expecting.
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