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2010 Alabama Preview – Offense
Alabama QB Greg McElroy
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Hand off, rinse, repeat. The Alabama offense ran 601 times last year to just 346 passing attempts, and why not? With a big, strong, talented line paving the way, Mark Ingram rumbled his way to the Heisman Trophy while also finishing as the team’s No. 2 pass catcher. Throw in ultra-talented backup Trent Richardson, and the Tide has the makings of another devastating ground attack. But the passing game isn’t just along for the ride, even though that might be the perception of QB Greg McElroy’s job. The senior was the perfect fit (at least he was after a midseason funk) keeping the interceptions to a minimum and keeping the chains moving. Unlike last year, he’ll be able to open it up a little bit more with Julio Jones leading a receiving corps that would be among the most productive in America in just about any other offense. The line gets three starters back and will be every bit as dominant as last season’s was, but it has to do a better job in pass protection after allowing 20 sacks.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Mark Ingram
Passing: Greg McElroy
198-325, 2,508 yds, 17 TD, 4 INT
Rushing: Mark Ingram
27 1 carries, 1,658 yds, 17 TD
Receiving: Julio Jones
43 catches, 596 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Redshirt freshman OT D.J. Fluker
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Chance Warmack
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Julio Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ingram, 2) Jones, 3) OT James Carpenter
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Wide Receiver
Weakness of the offense: Pass Protection, Proven Backup QB
Projected Starter: Caretaker. Game manager. Leader. Steady. Any term you want to use for a marginally talented quarterback who happens to be at the helm of a loaded team, go ahead and apply it to Greg McElroy. Whatever you want to say about him, though, you also have to add the tag of national champion.
The 6-3, 225-pounder actually is a passer and was a good prospect coming out of Southlake Carroll High in Texas where he threw for 56 touchdowns the year after taking over for former Missouri star, Chase Daniel. But it’s not his role to bomb away in the Bama offense, and he didn’t as he completed 61% of his throws for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns with (and here comes the key) a mere four interceptions. The myth, though, is that he just spent his year handing off to Mark Ingram. The senior reached the 200-yard mark seven times, and while he hit a mega-wall in the middle of the year after starting out red hot, the team still survived. Playing with bad ribs in the national title game he only threw for 58 yards, but with the offense simply needing to not screw things up after Colt McCoy was out, he did his job and came up with a few key plays when needed. Again, he’s not going to have to throw for a bazillion yards, but he’ll be doing his job if he can keep the picks to a minimum and can connect on his third down passes.
Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman A.J. McCarron will have to fight to be the quarterback of the future and the No. 2 man in the present. The 6-4, 190-pounder was an Elite 11 Quarterback with a live arm and a lightning quick release, and he has the tools and the potential to be terrific with a bit more work. He might not be all that mobile and he might need to get a little bigger with time in the weight room, but he has tremendous drop-back passer talent. He fits into the mold of what an Alabama quarterback is supposed to do, and he could end up adding more of a deep ball element to the equation when it’s his time to shine.
It’s entirely possible that the most talented college quarterback on the roster (and by a mile) could be a true freshman. Phillip Sims , doesn’t have pro prospect tools like A.J. McCarron, and he’s certainly not going to get the call over Greg McElroy on a team that’s gunning for another national title this year, but he’s the best athlete of the bunch, has a live arm, and is terrific outside of the pocket. While the 6-2, 214-pounder is a runner, that’s not his game; he’s a passing quarterback who can make all the throws and is better on the move than Bama’s other options. All he needs is time develop, but once he gets it, look out.
Watch Out For … McCarron. Superstar recruit Star Jackson was the No. 2 quarterback last year and was terrific when he got his chances completing 13-of-18 throws for 116 yards. Now he’s a Georgia State Panther and it’s because of the play of McCarron. There’s no question about the starter, but McCarron has shown enough to assume that the season won’t go into the tank if something happens to McElroy.
Strength: A nice pecking order. McElroy will never, ever get his just due because he’s known mostly for handing the ball off, but he’s a national champion. McCarron and Sims are extremely talented and will wage a good battle for mop-up duty.
Weakness: Backup experience. McElroy might not be Peyton Manning, but he was ultra-efficient in some very big games. He really is a good passer and he gets to be known now as a leader who can carry the team through the rough patches. The backups might have a world of upside, but until they play in a BCS Championship banged up, they haven’t earned their stripes.
Outlook: After winning last year with McElroy, now the team could start winning more because of him. With the receivers he has to work with, and the backs he has to hand off to, and the safety valves he has built into the offense with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson each excellent pass catchers, he should be even more efficient. McCarron will almost certainly be the starter next year and he could use a little game action, while in a perfect world, Sims redshirts to create a two-year window to become the main man.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: Junior Mark Ingram was great as a true freshman, thumping away for 728 yards and a team-leading 12 touchdowns, but no one saw what was coming next. With a special combination of speed, shiftiness, and power, the 5-10, 215-pounder cranked out 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns, along with 32 catches (finishing second on the team in receptions) for 334 yards and three scores, on the way to becoming Alabama’s first Heisman trophy winner.
Others ran for more yards and others came up with more impressive stats, but Ingram’s worth was his ability to come up big in the biggest of games and the tightest of moments. For a team that relied on good defense, solid special teams, and a bruising running game, he was the sparkplug who made everything else go with 150 yards and a score against Virginia Tech, 246 yards and a score against South Carolina, 155 yards against LSU, and a Heisman-clinching 113-yard, three touchdown, two-catch, 76-receiving-yard SEC Championship against Florida. If there was any doubt about whether or not he was worthy, he came through big against the tremendous Texas run defense tearing off 116 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Considered to be one of the top NFL running back prospects, he’s likely going to be gone after this year. While he might not have the same stats with a wee bit more emphasis put on the passing game, and with Trent Richardson taking more carries, he has the talent and the ability to put up another Heisman-like season and be worthy of being in the hunt yet again. He’ll have his chances to shine with so many big games on the Bama slate.
Projected Top Reserves: Yes, it really is possible that Mark Ingram could win a second Heisman and be a top ten pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and sophomore Trent Richardson might still be the more talented back. At 5-11 and 220 pounds, all Richardson needs is more of a chance after running for 751 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, while catching 16 passes for 126 yards as a true freshman. With his size and track star speed, the former star from the same Florida high school as Emmitt Smith would be in the rotation for an NFL team right now if he was allowed to leave early. While he hasn’t shown Ingram’s flair for the dramatic and he hasn’t been any sort of a workhorse, the skills are there to be special.
There’s a big-time buzz brewing over redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy, a strong, fast back who was a nice recruit last year but didn’t get to school until late and didn’t get in the mix. At 6-0 and 212 pounds he has Mark Ingram-like size and inside running ability, but he’s quick enough to tear off yards in chunks. He’ll be a major factor at some point over the next few seasons.
Junior Demetrius Goode was just strong enough this spring to move into the No. 3 role in the running back rotation after running for 108 yards on 16 carries last season and working mostly as a special teamer. The 5-9, 220-pounder was mostly a mop-up player, getting most of his work in against Chattanooga, but he’s extremely quick and will be extremely effective whenever he gets his chance.
Watch Out For … Richardson. Ingram handled the ball 303 times last year, and while he’s built to take the workhorse role, there’s no need to keep feeding him the ball when there’s another NFL back in Richardson to take over. There’s no question who the No. 1 back is, and the coaching staff is going to make sure The Franchise is kept fresh.
Strength: NFL talent. Right now, at least 16 pro teams would have to take a moment or three if they had this offer: Ingram and Richardson for your top two tailbacks. Seattle, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, San Diego and Green Bay would beat each other to a pulp to see who could be the fastest to pull the trigger on that deal.
Weakness: Expectations. Ingram appears to have both feet firmly on the ground, and if he doesn’t, Nick Saban will be certain to nail them there. Everyone will be falling all over themselves telling Ingram and Richardson how good they are, and after last year, defenses are going to have a little extra juice when it comes time to stop the stars.
Outlook: Virginia Tech and Wisconsin have legitimate claim, but Alabama should have the most talented group of backs in America. Ingram is a special talent who can catch, run inside, and bust big plays on the outside, and this year he’ll prove that he really was unquestionably worth the Heisman Trophy (and didn’t just win it because no one outside of the Pacific Time Zone saw Toby Gerhart play). Richardson is a devastating No. 2 and would start for almost anyone else.
Unit Rating: 10
Projected Starters: As the famous saying went, the only person who could consistently stop Michael Jordan was Dean Smith. 6-4, 211-pound junior Julio Jones has NFL franchise, No. 1 wideout written all over him if, and it’s a big if after having a few problems in his first two years staying healthy. He has the size, he has the elite speed (being named the Alabama Track and Field Athlete of the Year three years ago), and he has the attitude. Not a diva, he’s a driven football player who’ll make himself better, but again, he has to prove he can produce through the nicks and bumps and he also has to show he can be consistently unstoppable. However, even though he doesn’t put up huge stats, he takes plenty of attention away from everyone else and is a whale of a downfield blocker. A player with top-five overall talent should do more than catch 43 passes for 596 yards and four touchdowns in a national title season, and while the style of offense that Nick Saban runs (along with the injury issues) might be the way to keep him under wraps, it’s time to blow up and be truly special instead of having all-world talent with honorable mention All-SEC production.
In his final year, 6-0, 184-pound senior Darius Hanks is looking to play a far bigger role at Flanker. The veteran has nice hands and he’s a good target with tremendous speed and explosive quickness, but he hasn’t shown it off much outside of practices. Part of the problem was a career-derailing broken leg suffered a few years ago, and while he was decent, he wasn’t special last year catching 17 passes for 272 yards and three scores. But that’s his role. If he can average 16 yards per catch like he did in 2009, and he can make a grab or two per game, he’ll be doing his job.
Mark Ingram was the team’s second-leading receiver, but junior Marquis Maze was the second-leading wide receiver catching 31 passes for 523 yards and two scores averaging 16.9 yards per catch. Unofficially, he’s the team’s fastest player and a devastating field stretcher with all the attention paid to Julio Jones on the other side. At 5-10 and 182 pounds he’s not all that big, but the elite wheels more than make up for his stature.
After spending last year working behind Colin Peek, 6-6, 265-pound sophomore Michael Williams will take over the starting tight end job with good blocking skills and nice hands to be used as a midrange receiver. He caught three passes for 29 yards as a backup, and while he’ll make a few catches here and there, he’s not going to be the receiver Peek was. However, he should do more for the running game with his blocking skills.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 192-pound junior Brandon Gibson only made two catches for 25 yards, but the talent is there to do far, far more. The problem is that he works behind Julio Jones, who doesn’t get enough work his way as is. A deep threat with size and good hands, he’s also physical and could work well as a downfield blocker.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Norwood has the look of a future star. The 6-2, 180-pound option for the slot has outstanding deep speed and the potential to become a major yards-after-the-catch target. He’ll start out working behind Marquis Maze, but he could quickly be moved to the outside to exploit single coverage on deep patterns.
6-4, 210-pound sophomore Michael Bowman came to Alabama as an elite wide receiver recruit, and he saw a little playing time early on making a catch for seven yards against North Texas. Now the big, physical flanker might be moved around a bit with the potential to become a devastating pass catching tight end, but he has the skills to continue to develop as a key weapon at receiver.
In a major steal, Alabama was able to snag DeAndrew White away from Texas as well as all the big players in the SEC. The 6-0, 180-pound star recruit from Houston was among everyone’s list of the top receiver prospects with Texas state champion-level speed and a nose for making the big play. He’s a dream of a slot receiver and should immediately push for time.
Technically, junior Brad Smelley is a tight end, but the 6-3, 233-pound veteran is used more like an H-Back. He’s built like a smallish fullback, but he has great hands and route running ability catching ten passes for 149 yards. Like a big wide receiver, he’s a nice blocker, but he’s worth more as a dangerous target averaging 14.9 yards per grab.
Once again working as an H-Back and occasionally a tight end is senior Preston Dial, a 6-3, 233-pound veteran of 38 games with seven starts last year. Mostly a blocker for the ground game, he’s a physical hitter who plays stronger than his lanky size might indicate. He only caught three passes for 25 yards, but he has the hands and the quickness to do more.
Watch Out For … the intense scrutiny of Jones to start. The stats simply aren’t going to be there in this offense and with this running game, and there will be several articles and message board postings about how overrated the one-time superstar recruit is once the draft analysis starts to kick in. That’s okay. The NFL types see things a wee bit differently.
Strength: Top shelf deep play talent. Jones, Maze and Hanks form one of the nation’s best trios of deep play targets. They might not be used all that much, but they make the most out of their opportunities. Jones averaged 13.9 yards per catch, Maze averaged 16.9, and Hanks averaged 16. Those numbers aren’t going to get any worse.
Weakness: Proven backups. As expected, Bama has loaded up with four-star recruits over the last few years, but Bowman, Gibson, and Norwood are green. Part of the greatness of the starting threesome is the threat they pose to take the pressure off the ground game. That’s gone if injuries strike.
Outlook: If the Alabama starters played for anyone with a high powered passing game (like Arkansas), they’d be ranked among the best corps in America. Talent-wise, this group can hang with anyone and there will be two or three times this year when some secondary is caught napping and gets lit up like a Christmas tree. Everyone knows their place, but Jones is too good to not get the ball more, and Maze and Hanks are far too dangerous to not have plays designed for them.
Unit Rating: 8.5
Projected Starters: Be honest; you have no idea who James Carpenter is unless you’re a die-hard Bama fan. All the 6-5, 300-pound senior did was take over at left tackle and very, very quietly came up with a terrific season taking over for Andre Smith. The former JUCO transfer was a superstar recruit who came close to going to Oklahoma before picking the Tide late in the game, and while he wasn’t a dominator like Smith, he was terrific in pass protection and was a huge part of Mark Ingram’s success. Now the Second Team All-SEC blocker will be a factor in the hunt for All-America honors and could boost up his NFL stock considerably (right now he’s around a third rounder).
The other key replacement on last year’s line was at center where junior William Vlachos turned in a good year in place of heart-and-soul leader Antoine Caldwell. The 6-1, 289-pounder isn’t all that big as a short, squatty blocker, but he gets great leverage and has tremendous strength for the ground game. Great on the move, he’s an athletic blocker in the middle who pounds away for the ground game, but he has to get healthy after suffering a foot injury.
The new star of the show should be former top recruit D.J. Fluker , a 6-6, 340-pound redshirt freshman who has slimmed down a bit and now should shine at right tackle. While he wasn’t as hyped or as highly-regarded as Andre Smith, he wasn’t far off with his combination of size, agility, and strength. He slimmed down a bit (for him) as he’s trying to get off the bad weight, and all eyes will be on him from Day One to see if he can live up to the hype.
6-3, 301-pound sophomore Chance Warmack has the unenviable task of trying to take over for Mike Johnson at left guard, and he has the potential to be even better with his phenomenal strength and limitless upside, but he still needs time and seasoning as a pass protector. He’s a people mover who saw a little bit of mop-up time, and now he should be ready to be a key part of the running game as a bulldozer for the interior.
In a slight surprise, sophomore Barrett Jones took over the starting right guard job and was phenomenal throughout. The Freshman All-American is a great practice player, always goes full-tilt, and always finishes his blocks. On top of his skills and his toughness, he’s smart in the classroom and doesn’t make mistakes on the field. The 6-4, 301-pounder is versatile enough to be moved around where needed and he could end up stepping in at tackle from time to time.
Projected Top Reserves: Versatile backup David Ross was a top prep player who has mostly filled in as a key reserve and with spot starting time a few years ago. Indispensible because of his 33 games of experience and his ability to play either guard position or center, he’ll start out in the middle, where he could play a big role if William Vlachos has problems with his foot, or he’ll be one of the first guards off the bench.
6-6, 304-pound sophomore Tyler Love is being groomed for the starting left tackle job when James Carpenter is done. One of the nation’s top recruits two years ago, Love was expected to be a big factor right away but suffered a foot injury in the opening game and took a redshirt. He’s filling out his frame but continues to have tight end athleticism as a pass protector. He saw time in six games last year and will be a bigger part of the rotation this year.
Junior John Michael Boswell was an oft-used option off the bench seeing time in 12 games. While the 6-5, 291-pounder has mostly been considered a tackle, he’ll see time at left guard as well as on special teams. He’s a bit tall for the interior, but he’s an experienced, tough run blocker.
Watch Out For … Carpenter. The SEC coaches know all about him and he has the ability and potential to be the team’s anchor, and now he should be the signature star of the line. The running game will be among the best in America and the awards always follow for the key lineman who helped make it happen. That should be Carpenter.
Strength: Run blocking. It doesn’t matter which prep superstar the Tide throws into the mix; the running game will phenomenal. This is a decent pass blocking group that needs Fluker to be fantastic to keep Greg McElroy upright, but there will be no problems whatsoever opening up big holes for the stars in the backfield.
Weakness: Pass protection. It’s nitpicking time. The line wasn’t all that bad in pass protection, but it still allowed 20 sacks in only 346 pass attempts after giving up 25 sacks in each of the previous two seasons. Considering every defense is quaking at the Bama running game and not thinking too hard about getting into the backfield, the Tide line could be better.
Outlook: Two starters have to be replaced, but it’s business as usual. Carpenter is going to be an All-American, Vlachos is a rock in the middle, and Jones will get some all-star honors. Before their time is up, Fluker, Warmack, and Love will all be All-SEC performers. There’s depth, versatility, and lots and lots of talent.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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