2013 Alabama Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know:
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier isn’t going to
change things up too much, but there might be a
little bit of tweaking with so much talent to work
with. This will be one of the most efficient and
effective offenses in college football, but it’ll
have to be consistent again, too, despite some huge
losses up front. As good as the 2012 line was – it
was as talented as any front five in the history of
the game – it wasn’t always a rock in pass
protection and it wasn’t always as dominant for the
ground game as history will show. Fortunately,
tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and guard Anthony Steen are
back as building blocks to work around, and if the
line is good, the offense should dominate.
Quarterback AJ McCarron is the unquestioned leader
now, and he has an embarrassing array of riches to
work with helped by a loaded recruiting class. T.J.
Yeldon is one of the SEC’s most effective backs,
Amari Cooper is one of the most dangerous receivers,
and there’s more NFL talent waiting in the wings to
show what it can do.
Star of the offense: Junior OT Cyrus Kouandjio
Passing: AJ McCarron
211-314, 2,933 yds, 30 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: T.J. Yeldon
175 carries, 1,108 yds, 12 TD
Receiving: Amari Cooper
59 catches, 1,000 yds, 11 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore C Ryan Kelly
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Austin Shepherd
Best pro prospect: Kouandjio
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kouandjio, 2) RB T.J. Yeldon, 3) QB AJ McCarron
Strength of the offense: Skill Players, Recruiting Class
Weakness of the offense: Line Depth, Backup Quarterback
It’s time to put senior AJ McCarron up among the legends with two national championship rings as a starter, a third on the bench, an epic comeback to beat LSU last season, a famous girlfriend, and enough talent to eventually become a decent NFL starter. The 6-4, 214-pounder might not be No. 1 overall caliber passer, but he’s steady and unflappable completing 67% of his passes last season with 30 touchdowns and just three picks. Two of the interceptions came against Texas A&M and the third in the SEC championship game, but he threw for 309 yards against the Aggies and came through in the clutch against Georgia. With his résumé, he has earned the right to be a more vocal leader, and now the team is his; he’s the unquestioned leader now of the attack. He doesn’t have a top-shelf arm, he’s not going to take off and run and he has benefitted by working behind one of the nation’s top lines, but the former Elite 11 Camper is a whip-smart decision maker and has a good, quick release that gets him out of jams.
6-0, 202-pound junior Blake Sims is more of a mobile, dangerous option completing 50% of his throws for 77 yards in his limited time, but he finished fourth on the team with 187 yards and two touchdowns averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The Georgia native is a smart, dual-threat option with a live arm and great quickness. McCarron isn’t going anywhere, but Sims could see a little more time as a change-of-pace option.
Watch Out For … the true freshmen. How fast can Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod learn on the fly to be ready if needed? The 6-3, 215-pound Bateman is the far better of the two prospects with pro-style tools and skills with a huge arm – a HUGE arm - and a polished delivery, However, he needs to work on his accuracy. The Elite 11 Quarterback from Utan got to school early to get his reps in, but he won’t be a factor until next offseason. The 6-3, 190-pound McLeod is another pro-style bomber with great smarts and deadly accuracy. However, he’s almost certainly just a backup prospect.
Strength: Efficiency. McCarron ended up leading the nation in passing efficiency, and while he’s good, it helped a ton to have plenty of big-time weapons to work with. The receiving corps will make him look fantastic again, and vice versa.
Weakness: The backups. Is Bateman ready yet? Sims is a decent option, and there are other young passers waiting in the wings, but the difference between a national title and a strong season is No. 10’s ability to stay in one piece.
Outlook: McCarron will be a fringe Heisman candidate all season long because of who he is and his leadership skills, but he needs to come up with the same numbers and few interceptions. He might not get as much time to work, but he’s a great decision maker who knows what he’s doing. The backup situation needs to be stronger, but some young players and untested options have plenty of upside.
Unit Rating: 8
All T.J. Yeldon did in his true freshman season was finish second on the team with 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 6.3 yards per pop, and he caught 11 passes for 131 yards and a score. The 6-2, 218-pounder has size, speed and outstanding cutting ability, feeling and seeing defenders well before he needs to. With five 100-yard games on the year, including a 153-yarder against Georgia and 108 yards against Notre Dame, he’s both explosive and reliable. The 2012 Alabama Mr. Football was unstoppable in his senior year with 2,131 yards and 31 scores, and after stepping off the bus and onto a national champion, now he’ll do even more for the Tide.
Lost in the spotlight on Yeldon and Eddie Lacy was the season from sophomore Kenyan Drake, a 6-1, 201-pound speedster who can also be used as a receiver and a kick returner. Not just the 2011 Gatorade Georgia Player of the Year, he was also a state champion sprinter in the 100. He got away from the Bulldogs and last year saw a little bit of work averaging 6.7 yards per carry running for 281 yards and five scores, spreading out his time in blowouts. He has all the skills and all the tools, as does 5-9, 187-pound sophomore Dee Hart, a superstar high school prospect ago with the ability to be used as a runner, receiver and kick returner. However, he was set back by a torn ACL a few years ago, and he didn’t get into the mix too much last season with 88 yards and just two catches. The talent is there, but he’s going to have to hold off a slew of jaw-dropping freshman talents.
The Tide has too many superstar running backs with all four new recruits good enough to be the starter just about anywhere else in America. The star of the show is Derrick Henry, a 6-3, 242-pounder out of Florida who earned the Parade National Player of the Year honors after rushing for 4,261 yards as a senior and 12,124 career yards. A special athlete for his size, he’s big, fast and explosive, but he suffered a broken leg this spring, and while he’s expected to be ready to go this fall, that’s not a given.
6-1, 250-pound junior Jaison Fowler has tailback running skills averaging 7.7 yards per pop on his 11 carries, but he’s more like a fullback and H-back. While he could be a big, bruising part of the rotation, his job is to blast away and power up for the ground attack and in pass protection. Also in the mix for the spot is junior tight end Harrison Jones, a 6-4, 241-pound special teamer who came in with a nice prep résumé and the upside to be a good all-around factor. While he can block, he has the hands and route running ability to be more of a receiver.
Watch Out For … the freshmen other than Henry. The program preaches the idea of the best player playing, and that’s why all the star prospects want to come in and show what they can do. Henry might have been the best recruit on the lot, but the three other recruits can play, too. 5-10, 195-pound Alvin Kamara is more of an all-around back with tremendous receiving skills with excellent cutting ability and quickness. He’ll work in the backfield, but he could quickly be moved to wide receiver. 6-0, 207-pound Altee Tenpenny was the top player out of Arkansas, getting away from Bret Bielema and the Hogs. While he won’t bring the power, he’s a pure runner who finds the hole and gets through it in a hurry. Tyren Jones is a 5-9, 215-pounder out of Georgia with a great future ahead as a kick returner as well as a tough, productive back. While he’s not a blazer, he can crank out yards in chunks and is powerful on the inside when needed.
Strength: The freshman depth. With Lacy gone, the Tide needs options to help keep Yeldon from wearing down. The new guys will get their chances as soon as humanly possible, and while a couple of the freshmen will redshirt, they’ll be used as needed.
Weakness: Sure-thing backups. Yeah, there’s a world of talent coming in, but they’re still true freshmen playing at the highest of SEC levels. Drake and Hart can run the ball, but can they have to prove they can be special in the big games as well as the blowouts.
Outlook: When you have the production Alabama has cranked out with its running game over the last few years, there’s the assumption that everything is going to keep on rolling. However, the offensive line is undergoing a massive change and it might not be quite the killer ground attack it was last year. However, the backs are young, talented and ridiculously deep. Yeldon is one of the best in America, and there are more behind him.
Unit Rating: 9
There was some hope that Amari Cooper would be a factor as a true freshman, but as a late comer in the recruiting process, no one could’ve envisioned him being as mature and as productive as he was at the highest of levels, leading the team with 59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns averaging 16.9 yards per pop. Not just productive, he was insanely clutch, coming up with the game-changing touchdown grab against Georgia and ripping up Notre Dame for 105 yards and two scores, finishing the year with five 100-yard games and four in the final five. At 6-1 and 202 pounds, the Miami native has good size and dangerous, functional deep speed. He’s a home run hitter who always seems to find ways to get open.
Senior Kevin Norwood was expected to be a nice part of the passing game, but he was never anything special until his give game against LSU in the 2012 BCS championship making four grabs for 78 yards. It all came together last season as he turned into a decent No. 2 target catching 29 passes for 461 yards and four scores, averaging 15.9 yards per play, but he made his plays in bunches catching five passes against LSU, five more with two scores against Auburn and three against Notre Dame, but he disappeared for stretches. At 6-2 and 195 pounds he has size, good speed and enough experience to be reliable.
6-0, 180-pound junior DeAndrew White is a Houston native taken away from Texas and Texas A&M, and with Texas state champion-level speed he has the potential to do even more as a big play target after coming back from a knee injury. He started out well with eight catches for 105 yards and two scores before getting hurt, and fortunately he got hurt early enough to give him time to come back. Also in the backup hunt is 6-1, 180-pound senior Kenny Bell, one of the team’s fastest players who averaged a whopping 25.4 yards per catch making 17 grabs for 431 yards and three scores before suffering a broken leg late in the year. While he wasn’t used too often, he was good for a few catches a game.
5-11, 182-pound redshirt freshman Chris Black missed last year with a shoulder injury, but he’s back now and healthy. Good enough to have played late in the season if needed, he ended up sitting out to keep his redshirt, but now he’s ready to roll using his tremendous quickness and athleticism to be dangerous whenever he gets the ball in his hands. He needs to find time somewhere, as does 5-11, 185-pound junior Christion Jones a starter in three-wide sets and also a terrific returner. He finished third on the team with 27 catches for 368 yards and four scores, averaging 13.6 yards per pop as a steady part of the mix. He didn’t do much in SEC play, his four touchdowns came against WKU, Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina, but he’s reliable.
The Tide has veteran tight ends who can get the job done, but it’s true freshman O.J. Howard who’ll be in the spotlight from the start. The nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect, he’s NFL-ready as a receiver with 6-6, 235-pound size and dangerous deep speed. While he needs to get bigger and functionally stronger, and he needs to block a bit, he’s the total package as a prototype target. Trying to hold off the rookie is 6-7, 260-pound junior Brian Vogler, a massive target with the size and frame to be a short-range go-to target and a good hitter. He caught two passes for 21 yards last season, but he can hit and can be used far more as a receiver.
Watch Out For … Robert Foster and Ardarius Stewart, the team’s two best receiver recruits. At 6-3 and 187 pounds he has tremendous size and dangerous deep speed. The Pennsylvania native has the 4.4 wheels to go along with the size and the physical style to be a matchup nightmare, but he just needs a little bit of polish. The 6-0, 190-pound Stewart, a former quarterback, isn’t a lock to work at receiver, with the ability and skill to see time as a running back or a defensive back depending on where he’s needed. A dangerous all-around playmaker, the coaching staff will find ways to get the ball in his hands.
Strength: Big plays. Not only are Cooper and Norwood dangerous and experienced, but there’s more big-play talent behind them ready to do more. Ultra-efficient, the Alabama passing game averaged 13.9 yards per catch with 31 touchdowns, and the deep ball skills are there to do it all again.
Weakness: Sure-thing star reserves. Cooper was phenomenal, and AJ McCarron spread the ball around well, but Norwood wasn’t exactly steady and the rest of the targets have to show they can do even more when called on.
Outlook: With White, Bell and Black adding more to the mix, and with the freshmen coming in at both wideout and tight end, the receiving corps that was a little bit of a question mark going into last season should be a strength. If Cooper can do that again and Norwood can do even more, look out. They’ll make McCarron look great.
Unit Rating: 8
One of the most effective lines in college football has to replace three fantastic starters in left guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones and right tackle D.J. Fluker, but the most talented of the blockers returns. 6-6, 310-pound junior Cyrus Kouandjio slimmed down a wee bit, but he could carry himself at 325 without much of a problem if he needs to for the next level. For now, though, he’s going to be a rock of a pass protector at left tackle as he shows off for the NFL scouts as, possibly, a top five overall pick. Better than the No. 1 pick of 2012, Eric Fisher, it’s not crazy to suggest that he’d be the top overall selection if he could’ve come out last year even though he’s not all that far from a torn ACL suffered as a freshman. He’s the prototype with quickness off the snap, size and the right frame to erase the next-level caliber SEC speed rushers, the power guys, and everyone in between.
While Kouandjio is the best blocker on the team, and in college football, it was 6-3, 309-pound senior Anthony Steen who became the go-to guy of go-to guys up front late last year. He might not be as talented as Warmack, and he might not have had the attention of Kouandjio or Jones, against Notre Dame he was KILLING the defensive front on grinding running play after grinding running play. The longtime starter at right guard isn’t massive, but he’s one of the team’s strongest players and a blaster for the ground game. While he’s firmly entrenched on the right side, Cyrus’s brother, Arie Kouandjio, will step in for Warmack at left guard. The 6-5, 315-pound junior isn’t his brother, and he isn’t Warmack, but he’s a talented all-around hitter who got back into the mix of things again coming off a bad knee injury suffered in 2011. He has the skill to work at tackle, but he’ll be more effective in the interior next to his younger brother.
Trying to replace the irreplaceable Jones at center is sophomore Ryan Kelly, a 6-5, 290-pound talent who can play anywhere up front but is desperately needed in the middle. Not surprisingly, he came to Alabama with a tremendous prep résumé, and he has been groomed over the last few years to be ready to come in. Well past the torn ACL suffered three years ago, he’s ready for the job.
6-5, 315-pound junior Austin Shepherd will get the first look at right tackle taking over for Fluker. He’s a good talent, but it’s been hard to find a way into the lineup with so many superstars in front of him at tackle; now it’s his time to produce. He has seen a little time, and he has decent quickness for his size, but he’s mostly a scrapper who’ll battle. Shepherd should be ready, but he’ll be pushed really, really hard by JUCO superstar Leon Brown, a 6-6, 313-pound transfer from ASA College in New York. The junior had his choice of places to go, and he’s a dominant force with a world of upside.
Watch Out For … Grant Hill, a 6-6, 301-pound guard who needs to hit the weights a bit and get a little bigger, but he’s a dominant blocker who fits the mold. Able to play anywhere up front, and possibly a center someday, he’s extremely strong and destroys his man in the ground game. Really, really tough, he’s going to be a destructive force inside.
Strength: Steen and Cyrus Kouandijo. Two of the best blockers in college football, the Tide has a nice base from last year’s line to build around. These two are dominant anchors, and there’s a boatload of talent ready to fill in the gaps.
Weakness: Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones. Even if you’re Alabama, you don’t lose three NFL starters and get better. The real killer is Jones because of his leadership. Kelly is technically proficient and will be fine, but Jones was an all-timer in every way as the quarterback up front.
Outlook: There’s going to be a step back. The line might have worn down late in the regular season, but when it was time to turn it on, everything clicked at a special level. This will still be a very, very good group, but it’s a wee bit thin in terms of developed depth, and the pass protection has to be a little stronger. This will be a very, very good line, but it won’t be 2012’s.
Unit Rating: 8
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