College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Alabama , who starts spring practice today .
Spring Practice Question: Does Alabama have the offense to win another national championship? Or, alternatively, do they really need one?
As spring practice opens today in Tuscaloosa, most eyes are going to be on the revamped Tide offense, and with good reason; with no Greg McElroy, no Mark Ingram, and no Julio Jones, the Alabama attack is going to undergo a more thorough overhaul than any it's undergone since Jones and Ingram burst onto the scene in 2008.
But it's also because there's not a lot for most eyes to see on the Tide defense. With 9 or 10 starters back from a unit already ranked fifth in the nation in total defense, including the entirety of the Tide's linebacking and secondary groups with those including All-American safety Mark Barron and potential All-American linebacker Dont'a Hightower , on paper this will certainly be one of the FBS's best defenses. And the Tide may look even better on the field than they do on paper; after last year's (relative) 10-3 disappointment and occasional backbreaking defensive letdowns (as vs. Auburn and LSU), there's little doubt Nick Saban is going to be at his most firebreathingly intense (and most scrupulously detailed) this offseason.
In short, the defensive show put on this spring isn't likely to be any different from what Tide observers already saw prior to the Tide's undefeated regular seasons in 2008 and 2009. The offense, on the other hand, has several issues to resolve:
Quarterback: Certainly the most high-profile of those issues, the starting quarterback job will be contested this spring by sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. McCarron boasts the advantages of an extra year in Jim McElwain's offense and a modicum of playing time in 2010 (that's him at right in the Tide's laugher against Duke), but in the end Saban seems likely to select whichever quarterback can be safer with the ball. Opposite that defense, playmaking ability may come second in importance to not-turnover-making ability. That goes double considering the ...
Offensive line: One of college football's biggest mysteries during the 2010 season was why a previously dominant rushing attack featuring a Heisman Trophy winner at tailback and an offensive line loaded with both talent and experience wound up seventh in the SEC in total rushing in conference games. Don't expect Saban to let it happen again, Ingram or no Ingram, with new line coach Jeff Stoutland lighting a fire under talents like former five-star tackle D.J. Fluker, All-SEC guard Barrett Jones, and veteran center William Vlachos. Still, Tide fans will no doubt want to be reassured that numbers like the 2.3 yards per-carry Alabama averaged in their three losses a year ago are a thing of the past.
The running backs aren't nearly as much of a question mark; after biding his time for two years alongside Ingram, Richardson should be ready to fully establish himself one of the SEC's best, and even if he's not (or struggles with injuries), powerful sophomore Eddie Lacy or true freshman (and spring enrollee) Dee Hart should be able to pick up the slack. Pair them with the defense described above, and it's easy to see the Tide making a run at yet another national title if the line can get back to its road-grading ways and the passing attack can be simply competent.
How big an "if" is that? We'll start to find out these next few weeks, and there's no doubt plenty of observers across the SEC (and maybe the country) hoping it proves bigger than we expect it to be.