The 2009 season for the Alabama Crimson Tide was a magical one to say the least. Now, what will Nick Saban and Co. do for an encore in 2010?
While the offense is basically in place, including Heisman winner Mark Ingram (running back) and undefeated QB Greg McElroy, there are a number of questions on the defensive side of the ball, given the fact that nine key players are no longer applying their trade in Tuscaloosa.
What should have ‘Bama fans excited is the return of several offensive keys, many of whom had big plays back in January in Pasadena, when the Tide rolled past Texas 37-21 in the BCS title game.
Ingram, the Tide’s first Heisman winner, returns as the school’s all-time single-season rushing leader; wide receiver Julio Jones, despite battling injuries the past two campaigns has led the team in catching and receiving yards; McElroy, who has not lost a game in both college and high school as a starter; and capable tailback Trent Richardson will be among the leaders on the offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, nine key players must be replaced (Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain and nose tackle Terrence Cody to name just a few, along with the secondary) , but Saban and staff have high hopes with the likes of middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower; strong safety Mark Barron (seven INT’s as a sophomore) and defensive end Marcell Dareus (defensive MVP in the BCS title game) back in Tuscaloosa.
“I feel really comfortable with the players we have,” head coach Nick Saban said recently to Rolltide.com, regarding his young secondary. “The most difficult thing through this camp was when you have a lot of guys that haven’t played you really like to get some continuity in practice with guys playing together.
“We’ve continually had two or three guys out and haven’t been able to do that. But saying all that, I am really pleased with the progress that we’ve made and the improvement that we’ve made with the group.”
Special teams will also be a focus in 2010, given the key departures of kick returner Javier Arenas and four-year placekicker Leigh Tiffin (son of Alabama kicking great Van Tiffin).
While Alabama has been known for its smothering defense in recent years, will this year’s squad have to win more games on the offensive side of the ball?
In looking at the schedule, ‘Bama opens at home this Saturday (Sept. 4, 6 p.m. CST) with San Jose State, then gets a call from perennial power Penn State to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 11. The month concludes with road dates at Duke (Sept. 18) and the first SEC West encounter in a visit to Arkansas (Sept. 25).
The Crimson Tide could very easily come out of September at 4-0, but then again could be 3-1 or even 2-2 depending on what they get from the Razorbacks in the month’s final game.
Safe to say that Saban doesn’t want and will not let his squad look too far ahead down the schedule. The main focus all this week will be on the Spartans of San Jose State and nothing else.
That becomes especially important given Alabama is a 38.5 favorite on a number of the lines come Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
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Written by Dave Thomas