2011 Alabama Preview – Offense
Alabama OT Barrett Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Last year the big concerns revolved around the defense and replacing all the key stars. Now the spotlight will be on an offense that loses the three top skill players and has to reload in a hurry. While averaging 444 yards and 36 points per game is hardly anything to be upside about, the offense should've done more considering the experience and with the talent returning up front, but there are plenty of things to get excited about. The line was mediocre, but now it should be better with four returning starters and a good group of backups to count on. The running game might miss Mark Ingram, but Trent Richardson is more than ready to grow into a Heisman-caliber superstar if he can stay healthy. The loss of Julio Jones from the receiving corps means Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have to become special to help out new starting quarterback. While A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims might have more talent than Greg McElroy, the new options have to prove they can be as heady and as efficient.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Trent Richardson
Passing: A.J. McCarron
30-48, 389 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Trent Richardson
112 carries, 700 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Marquis Maze
38 catches, 557 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore QB A.J. McCarron and/or Redshirt freshman QB Phillip Sims
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman WR DeAndrew White
Best pro prospect: Richardson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Richardson, 2) OT/OG Barrett Jones, 3) OT D.J. Fluker
Strength of the offense: Line Experience, Running Game
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback Experience, No. 1 Receiver
State of the Unit: Gone is Greg McElroy, the consummate leader, game-manager, and winner who was never really considered the biggest piece of the national championship puzzle, but was still a factor in the success over the last few seasons. He was able to keep the mistakes to a minimum and he kept the offense moving completing a whopping 71% of his passes for almost 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. McElroy was drafted by the New York Jets, but that was for his head and smarts more than his skills. The Alabama quarterback situation might not be better without McElroy, but there's more overall talent.
There will be an ongoing battle for the starting spot, but if the season started right now, sophomore A.J. McCarron would probably be the main man. The 6-4, 205-pounder has a big arm and good size, and he should be ready to handle more of the workload physically after adding about 15 pounds of muscle. The Elite 11 Quarterback camper has a great release, a little bit of mobility, and all the tools to be a terrific dropback passer who can spread the ball all over the field. He saw a little time completing 63% of his throws for 389 yards and three touchdowns without a pick, but his main role was as a holder for the kicking game.
The sky's the limit for Phillip Sims, who might have had the most pure talent of any Alabama quarterback when he came in as a true freshman. All that's missing is time after redshirting his first season, but expectations are sky-high considering his skill set. At 6-2 and 217 pounds he has decent size and a huge arm with the ability to put the ball anywhere on the field. While he can run, he's not necessarily a running quarterback throwing for a Virginia high school record 10,725 yards and 119 scores. Considered to be the No. 1 quarterback prospect coming out last season, he could've gone anywhere, and now he needs to step up his play and his consistency in practices to push McCarron for the starting job.
Even with the quarterback situation appearing to be set for the near future with McCarron and Sims, Bama still got a nice pickup in the 2011 class grabbing Phillip Ely out of Tampa. He's not big at only 6-1 and 187 pounds, but he's a pro-style passer with a good, accurate arm and excellent leadership skills. While not anywhere near the same class of Sims and others when it comes to prospects, he's a heady type who could redshirt this year, learn the ropes, and be a major factor as an upperclassmen. He'll be a steady passer, while 6-0, 212-pound redshirt freshman Blake Sims could provide the dash. A high school quarterback, he'll end up working as a receiver or in another spot to get his athleticism and speed on the field. However, he has passing skills and could end up being a change-of-pace playmaker in a Wildcat sort of way.
Watch Out For … the battle. McCarron is good, but the upside on Sims is through the roof. They both have pro potential if they develop and improve, but one of them has to show up and become The Man.
Strength: Talent. It's not often when a team loses an NFL draft pick and national champion-winning quarterback and gets better. Of course, if you were to tell the Bama coaching staff right now it could get the exact same production this year out of the starter that McElroy provided last year, it would be a no-brainer. However, McCarron and Sims have better skills and should someday do more with the passing game than McElroy did.
Weakness: The starting quarterback. It's not like the quarterbacks have been bad in practices, but no one has been lights-out great. Not having Julio Jones around anymore will be a problem, but there's more than enough receiving talent in place to make the passing game shine. The job shouldn't still be there for the taking, but it is.
Outlook: McElroy will be missed for all the intangibles and all the smarts he brought to the offense, and most mistakes will be made with either McCarron or Sims. But in a little bit of time, the quarterback situation should be better. Expect more picks and more big, ugly errors, but also expect more big plays and a few times when McCarron – who'll likely end up getting the gig – looks like a world-beater. The Bama quarterbacks are good now. They'll be outstanding next year.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: The Bama running game was fine, but considering the backfield was the best in the nation with a Heisman winner and another first round-caliber talent as a reserve, finishing fifth in the SEC was a disappointment. Of course, almost everyone would kill for a 5.1-yard average and 30 rushing scores, but the pieces are there to do far more, even without Mark Ingram. The New Orleans Saint led the team with 875 yards and 13 touchdowns in a banged up year, and while the mediocre play from the offensive line had something to do with the all-around production, more is needed from the backs even with Ingram leaving a year early.
For the last two years, the fashionable belief has been that Trent Richardson might be better than Mark Ingram. Ingram had one special year and two decent ones, but he was the type of back who had to be fed the ball time and again to establish him as a base for the offense. Richardson has been more of a jack-of-all-trades home run hitter who averaged 6.2 yards per carry with 700 yards and six touchdowns, while catching 23 passes for 266 yards and four scores and averaging a whopping 26.4 yards per kickoff return. At 5-11 and 224 pounds, Richardson is very big, freakishly strong, and lightning fast. With his size and track star speed, the former star from the same Florida high school as Emmitt Smith could be a starting back for an NFL team right now. However, he has to prove he can handle the role of being the main man for a full season, and he has to prove he can hold up. With Ingram hurt, Richardson tore off 144 yards and a score against Penn State, and ripped up Tennessee for 119 yards on just 12 carries, but he had a midseason knee injury and has only carried the ball more than 15 times twice in his career. But if he can stay in one piece, everything is there to be in the hunt for Bama's second Heisman winner in two years.
Just like there was a buzz about Richardson, even though Ingram was the main man, now there's the same type of excitement about Eddie Lacy, even though he's the No. 2 back. At a strong 6-0 and 220 pounds with tremendous speed, he has the skills to be a starter if needed and should be a great complementary back in the rotation. The sophomore finished third on the team with 406 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, while serving as a strong special teamer. He cranked out 111 yards and two touchdowns against San Jose State in his biggest game of the season, and now he should be good for around ten touches a game while handling the ball in blowouts.
Already in the mix this offseason is true freshman Demetrius Hart, a superstar high school prospect who can be used as a runner, receiver, and a kick returner after tearing off 7,405 all-purpose yards in high school. At 5-9 and 187 pounds he's a smaller back than the rest of the stars in the rotation, but he's built like a perfect third down option. While Hart is the smallish, speed runner, 6-1, 25-pound sophomore Jalston Fowler brings the power. He saw time in almost every game last season as a pure thumper, but he averaged 7.9 yards per carry with 111 yards and a score in his limited role. He'll also work on special teams.
Watch Out For … Richardson to be a front-runner for the Heisman. At the very least he'll be a Midseason All-American as he handles most of the workload as the main man for the offense. He has taken on more of a leadership role this offseason and his work ethic has been terrific.
Strength: Talent. Taking away a back like Ingram always hurts, but there's more where that came from. Lacy is a great-looking back who should shine whenever he gets the chance, while Hart is a terrific prospect who could've gone anywhere. Richardson might be the best back in America.
Weakness: Greg McElroy. Last season it was the offensive line that was the issue as it struggled to open consistent holes and not doing enough to pound away on a consistent basis. This season it could be the quarterback change that occasionally screws up the ground game. A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims will be fantastic in time, but McElroy was able to make teams pay for cheating against the run. If the passing game struggles early, then all 11 defenders will focus on stopping Richardson.
Outlook: The starting threesome in the Bama backfield is as good as any in America. There's NFL talent, speed, power, and the ability to crank out big yards no matter who's handling the ball. Richardson will be the workhorse, but he doesn't need to be with other phenomenal options ready to handle the work whenever needed. The only question mark is proven full-season production, and while the numbers will still be there, losing a leading rusher like Ingram is still a negative.
Unit Rating: 9.5
State of the Unit: The passing game loses a player worth trading an NFL team's future for. Julio Jones was a once-in-a-generation athlete with special size, tools, and mentality to be a superstar. However, he was always dinged up and wasn't consistent. There might not be a Jones in the 2011 Bama receiving corps, but the complementary playmakers of last year will now get their chances to take on bigger roles, and they should be able to come through just fine.
Senior Darius Hanks has been a solid veteran for the last few seasons, finishing third on the team with 32 catches for 456 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 14.2 yards per catch, and while he has been reliable, he now has to be even more explosive and more of a big playmaker. He was okay in 2009 after coming off a badly broken leg, and while he made big improvements last year, he can do a lot more. At 6-0 and 185 pounds he has decent size and excellent speed at either receiver spot. Working into the split end rotation will likely be sophomore Michael Bowman, a 6-4, 225-pound banger who brings the size that Hanks doesn't. He saw a little bit of time as a true freshman after coming to the Tide as an elite recruit, and while he could beef up a bit more and become a tight end or an H-Back, he has the skills to stretch the field as a mismatch of a wideout.
Taking over a starting role from Jones is senior Marquis Maze, a 5-10, 180-pound veteran who finished second on the team with 38 catches for 557 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 14.7 yards per catch. Unofficially, he's considered the team's fastest player with the raw wheels to stretch the field and come up with game-changing big plays. While he has the ability to be spectacular, he was more of a steady target last season good for around three catches per game. While he's set for a prime role, he'll be pushed by 6-2, 194-pound senior Brandon Gibson, who's coming off a great offseason looking ready to become a major factor. He only caught four passes for 39 yards last season, but he was the star of the spring game and showed he's ready to finally break through. If needed, he could move to the secondary and will be a good special teamer.
While the Tide is already set at receiver, the No. 1 target could be on the way if Ohio State transfer Duron Carter, son of should-be Hall of Fame NFL receiver Cris Carter, can get everything squared away. He has to get his schoolwork in order after leaving the Buckeyes with academic issues, but everything appears to be on track after spending a year at Coffeyville CC in Kansas catching 44 passes for 690 yards and ten scores. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, the junior has tremendous size and good speed, and now he's going to be asked to possible be a major factor right away. Even if Carter is in the mix, 6-0, 181-pound redshirt freshman DeAndrew White will play a role. The Houston native was taken away from Texas and Texas A&M, and now he'll get his chance to show off his Texas state champion-level speed with the nose for making the big play. A perfect slot target, he could be the team's offensive breakout star.
In the mix somewhere will be sophomore Kenny Bell, a 6-1, 175-pound speedster who caught two passes in a limited role, but has the talent and tools to be a starting-caliber playmaker when he gets more of a shot. 5-11, 185-pound redshirt freshman Keiwone Malone is another flash of lightning who could see time at a variety of spots. Sophomore Kevin Norwood caught three passes in his first season but has 6-2, 193-pound size and the toughness to be a factor either in the slot or on the outside.
Back at tight end is Michael Williams, a 6-6, 269-pound junior who caught eight passes for 100 yards and a score, but is more of a blocker for the ground game. A good athlete for his size, he can do more for the passing game if he's targets, but he's at his best when he gets to hit someone.
Working as a second tight end, fullback, H-back is senior Brad Smelley, who's technically a tight end but is used in more of a jack-of-all-trades role. At 6-3 and 229 pounds he's a tall blocker with nice hands, catching six passes for 55 yards. Adding more of a receiving threat as both a tight end and H-back is Chris Underwood, a 6-4, 243-pound senior who spends most of his time on special teams but has the athleticism to act like a big wide receiver at times. He caught three passes for 36 yards and a score last season.
Watch Out For … Carter. Assuming all is fine and assuming he's going to be in the receiving rotation this fall, he has the size and the talent to be a bigger, slower Julio Jones. The offense doesn't need more talent, but Carter could be a different type of option who takes the pressure off everyone else.
Strength: Talent. Like every other area on the Tide, the receiving corps is loaded with top recruits who could've gone anywhere. Maze and Hanks weren't exactly secondary players to Jones, but they weren't the main men. Now they should show off with their bigger roles, while other great prospects like White, Gibson, and Bowman appear ready to break out.
Weakness: Julio Jones. He caught 78 passes and turned his game up several notches over the second half of last year to become the superstar everyone expected he'd be after coming to Bama as one of the program's biggest receiver recruits ever. While he wasn't consistent and he didn't always come through in key spots, he was a true No. 1 receiver. Maze and Hanks have to prove they can pick up the slack.
Outlook: It would be interesting to see what this group could do in a high-octane passing attack. The talent is there and the skill and speed are unquestioned, but have the receivers been developed enough to help make the new starting quarterback look good? This is a deep, athletic group that should be able to get the job done in a strength-in-numbers sort of way, but it would be nice if one target could emerge and become a go-to playmaker.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The Bama offensive line was okay, but it struggled in pass protection, finishing tenth in the SEC and 88th in the nation in sacks allowed, while not doing a consistent enough job for the ground game. Considering the talent across the board and the playmakers in the backfield, 183 rushing yards per game seemed a bit light. Four starters are back, and the production needs to follow the experience.
One of the big keys to the line will be replacing left tackle James Carpenter, the 25th overall pick in the NFL Draft going to Seattle. Getting one of the first looks for the job is right guard Barrett Jones, who might end up staying at his normal spot but will get a long look at the all-important starting gig on the outside. At 6-5 and 311 pounds he has excellent size, and he has the talent to earn all-star honors on the inside, but the feet are there to become a killer tackle over the next few years if he can stay healthy after having problems with an ankle injury late last year. Always going full-tilt, he has the motor and the smarts to keep the mistakes to a minimum. If he stays at right guard, 6-6, 307-pound junior Tyler Love could end up stepping in and starting with 6-6, 307-pound size and excellent quickness. He hasn't seen much time so far, playing in just five games last year and having problems with a foot injury, but he was one of the nation's top recruits a few years ago and has the talent to be a future star.
If Jones moves into the one open starting spot up front, then 6-3, 303-pound sophomore Anthony Steen will get a long look at the starting right guard job after stepping in and starting the final three games. While he's not huge, he might be the team's strongest player and he can move a house. Built for the position, he should be a good run blocker with a bigger role. He'll work in combination with 6-5, 300-pound senior John Michael Boswell also getting work. After a great first season he has been a key backup, working mostly on special teams. While he's a bit tall for the interior, he's a decent run blocker.
If it's not Jones at left tackle, the star of the line should be sophomore D.J. Fluker, a 6-6, 335-pounder who's massive, but actually slimmed down a little bit over the last few years and now should shine at right tackle. Even though he missed four games with a groin injury, he earned Freshman All-America honors after growing into a terrific run blocker. The sky is the limit with size, athleticism, and the agility to be a starting NFL right tackle for a long time. While Fluker is firmly entrenched in the starting job, 6-5, 321-pound redshirt freshman Austin Shepherd has the ability to step in and start if needed or could work at either guard job. Good on the move, he's built to be a tackle, but he could get shoved aside in the pecking order if super-recruit Cyrus Kouandjio is the real deal right away. Famously, he chose Auburn, but looked like someone told him Christmas was cancelled when he made his announcement, and then switched over to Bama to join his brother, Arie. Considered the nation's best offensive tackle prospect, and possibly the best overall recruit, the 6-6, 322-pounder has NFL size and shocking athleticism.
Anchoring the veteran line will once again be senior William Vlachos, who stepped into the starting role a few years ago for heart-and-soul blocker Antoine Caldwell and grew into a strong leader up front. With 27 games of starting experience under his belt, the 6-1, 294-pounder knows what he's doing, is great on the move, and gets terrific leverage. This should be the year he finally starts to earn all-star recognition. Serving as the understudy is sophomore Kellen Williams, who at 6-3 and 307 pounds is a bigger option for the middle and can play either guard spot. After coming back from a knee problem, he's ready to be a pounding run blocker.
6-3, 320-pound junior Chance Warmack stated every game last year at left guard after taking over for all-star Mike Johnson. Huge and with phenomenal strength, he has the make-up to be a dominant run blocker, but he was inconsistent at times and hasn't quite played up to his potential. Even so, it's all there, including the drive and the want-to, to be a special blocker and a bulldozer for the interior. Fighting for time at the spot behind Warmack will be 6-3, 311-pound senior Alfred McCullough, who could work at tackle if needed, starting four times on the right side last season, but might work better on a long-term basis as a versatile, veteran guard.
Watch Out For … Kouandjio. It takes a lot to be a good enough recruit to be considered special by Alabama's current standards, and Kouandjio qualifies. Players of his size simply don't move as well as he can, and once he gets his feet wet, it'll be a major disappointment if he's not one of the team's best blockers earlier than later.
Strength: Experience. Not only do four starters return, but many of the backups have had enough starting time to be ready to step in if needed. McCullough and Steen can play, and Boswell and Love are ready to do more.
Weakness: Pass protection. It was mediocre in the national title season and was flat-out bad last year. A line this good can't give up 32 sacks and there's no reason for the line to not be air-tight. Considering there's a new starting quarterback, the pass protection has to be far better.
Outlook: Andre Smith left, and James Carpenter stepped in and was terrific. Carpenter is gone, and now it's time for Jones, Vlachos, and Fluker to become even more dominant blockers. There's too much talent at all five spots, and there's too much depth, for this to not grow into one of the nation's best lines.
Unit Rating: 8
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2011 Alabama Defense |
Alabama Depth Chart
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