2014 Alabama Preview: What You Need To Know
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Posted Jul 21, 2014

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2014 Alabama Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Alabama Preview  
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It’s not like the offense needed tweaking after averaging 454 yards per game and finishing seventh in the nation in passing efficiency, but if the line comes together, it should be even better. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will simplify things a little bit while also taking a few more shots down the field and speeding things up a tad. Don’t expect the hurry-up, but the pacing should be a bit crisper. Blessed with a ridiculous array of talented running backs, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyon Drake would all start and be Doak Walker candidates anywhere else. Amari Cooper leads a veteran receiving corps that should benefit from the huge arm of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, who’ll most likely take over AJ McCarron’s starting gig. It’s Alabama, so the line will be outstanding, but it might take a little bit before true freshman superstar recruit Cam Robinson shines at left tackle – he will. Everything else is in place for this to be an even more dangerous and more devastating attack.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Compared to Alabama’s ridiculously high standards and the precedent set during the Nick Saban era, the D wasn’t up to its normal snuff. It finished fifth in the nation overall and fourth in scoring D, and it dominated the above-average and worse, but it got torched by Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma in the three big games of the year. The secondary needs to be tighter at corner, but Landon Collins and the safety situation should help the cause. Trey DePriest Is back at linebacker, but this might not be a vintage corps – again, compared to the amazing recent history. However, the line should be a brick wall, starting with A’Shawn Robinson, who looks like the next great Crimson Tide NFL prospect up front. The talent is in place to finish in the top five again, but can it be the killer it was during the national title campaigns? If the corners are better, and the coaching staff figures out how to deal with talented dual-threat quarterbacks, absolutely.

Players You Need To Know

1. RB T.J. Yeldon, Jr.
It’s hard to step in and be a special back at Alabama, but Yeldon was able to do it, ripping off 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 6.3 yards per pop as a true freshman, and he followed it up with a team-leading 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns with 20 catches for 183 yards as an all-star sophomore. At 6-2 and 218 pounds, the former Mr. Alabama football star and five-star recruit - who ran for 2,132 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior - has the size to go along with the quickness, power and speed – he can do it all. While he’s not asked to be a workhorse, he can handle the ball 20+ times a game if possible, running 24 times or more four times last season and hitting the 100-yard mark each time, and now, with the other backs established in the mix, he should be even more effective – he doesn’t have to be the entire offense. Destined to be the key part of some NFL team’s running game next year, he might not get the hype of Georgia’s Todd Gurley, but he might be the SEC’s best back.

2. LB Trey DePriest, Sr.
The NFL-looking 6-2, 245-pound man in the middle finished second on the team in tackles two years ago and followed it up with 65 stops – third on the team – with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss last year. One of the nation’s top middle linebacker prospects when he first came out, he was considered one of the stars among stars in the 2011 whopper of a haul for Alabama. Very big, very fast, and very tough, he has great range to go along with his leadership and reliability to stuff everything up inside. It was a bit of a shocker that he decided to return for his senior year, but now he should be on the short list for Butkus and All-America honors.

3. S Landon Collins, Jr.
The former Parade All-American was considered the nation’s No. 1 safety prospect with the 6-0, 215-pound size, great hitting ability, and excellent quickness against the pass. Last year he finished second on the team with 70 tackles with two picks and a team-leading six broken up passes while also coming up with a few big pops, forcing and recovering two fumbles. The Louisiana native got away from LSU, and he turned into more of a true stat-sheet filler on the way to All-SEC honors. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix received more publicity on the way to being a top draft prospect, but Collins might turn out to be better and more consistent.

4. RB Derrick Henry, Soph.
It takes a special kind of player to step into an already crowded running back situation full of next-level talents and think there’s a chance to make an impact, but Henry was no ordinary recruit. The 6-3, 238-pounder out of Florida has a frightening blend of speed, size and power, making him one of the nation’s top recruits two years ago after earning Parade National Player of the Year honors with a record-setting 12,124 career yards and 151 touchdowns with 4,261 yards as a senior. Brought along slowly, he didn’t see much work with a mere 35 carries on the year, but he made them count averaging 10.9 yards per pop with 100 yards on eight carries – and one catch for a 61 yards score - against Oklahoma and 111 yards on just six carries against Arkansas. The scary part is that he’s now about to really show what he could do now that he’s a year removed from a broken leg suffered in spring ball last season. This offseason, he looked ready to dominate.

5. WR Amari Cooper, Jr.
Never quite right last year early on with a foot injury, he was sluggish out of the gate with just nine catches in his first four games. While he came up with a few big plays here and there, he wasn’t really a part of the shootout fun against Texas A&M, and he failed to come up with more than 75 yards or five catches in any of the first 11 games. And then came the finishing kick, cranking out six catches for 178 yards and a score against Auburn, and making a season-high nine grabs for 121 yards against Oklahoma. The 6-1, 202-pounder should be back to his true freshman level of 59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, but most importantly, he needs to be the clutch game-changer he was in 2012. The Miami native has good size, dangerous deep speed and the experience to be Jacob Coker’s – most likely Coker as the starting quarterback – No. 1 guy.

6. TE O.J. Howard, Soph.
Alabama is all about getting prototype, best-of-the-best prospects at each position, and Howard is the exact mold needed and wanted in today’s NFL. The 6-6, 237-pounder can hit a little bit, but he’s more like a big wide receiver with dangerous deep speed and the route running ability and hands to be used even more as a go-to target. He only caught 14 passes last year, but he averaged 19.21 yards per try with two touchdowns, highlighted by a 52-yard play against LSU. He’s way too good not to be more of a featured star in Lane Kiffin’s attack.

7. DE A'Shawn Robinson, Soph.
The 6-4, 320-pound lineman was the nation’s No. 1 ranked defensive tackle and considered the top all-around lineman – some thought he might end up on the offensive side. A five-star recruit, he made an immediate impact despite starting just two games, making 38 tackles with a team-leading 5.5 sacks with eight tackles for loss. The prototype for what Alabama likes to do defensively, he’s an NFL ready tackle who can fit in any scheme with great quickness off the ball and tremendous toughness to hold up inside against the run. Taken away from the Longhorns, the Texas native has it all, as long as the motor is running full-tilt all the time.

8. OT Cam Robinson, Fr.
Center Ryan Kelly might be the leader and key to the line, but Robinson is destined to be the star. The 6-6, 325-pound elite of the elite recruits will likely get thrown into the fire at left tackle from Day One – he’s really that good. The Louisiana native has all of the NFL tools to anchor another great Alabama line, and best of all, he has the fight to work for it. Scout.com’s No. 2 overall prospect, he’s the prototype, and while he needs some refinement, he’s freakish with his quickness, power down the field and his ability to get on the move and blast away.

9. WR/KR Christion Jones, Sr.
The 5-11, 185-pound veteran has been a nice receiver, but not a killer finishing third on the team with 36 catches for 349 yards and two scores, and he got a couple of carries last year running twice for 34 yards. However, the one-time star defensive back recruit has found his calling as a kick and punt returner, turning into one of the most dangerous in America averaging 14 yards per punt return with touchdowns against Virginia Tech and Chattanooga, and averaging 10.1 yards per try in 2012. As a kickoff returner, he averaged a whopping 28.7 yards per try with a score against the Hokies in last year’s opener, and averaged 26.6 yards an attempt two years ago with a score against Ole Miss. He’ll be a No. 3 wide receiver again, but his real worth will continue to be as a gamebreaking special teamer.

10. RB Kenyan Drake, Jr.
The only question is his doghouse status. A 6-1, 201-pound home-run hitter, the 2011 Gatorade Georgia Player of the Year was a nice complementary piece finishing second on the team with 694 yards and eight touchdowns – averaging 7.5 yards per carry – to go along with 12 catches for 135 yards and a score. Fantastic in back-to-back 100-yard rushing days against Kentucky and Arkansas in the middle of the season – with two touchdowns in each game – showing what he could do when given the chance. Suspended during the season for a violation of team rules, he was suspended again this offseason after being arrested for obstructing governmental operations – he was trying to cross a crime scene to get to his car.

- 2014 Alabama Preview