First Practice: March 16
Spring Game: April 20
So in case you hadn’t heard, this Nick Saban has a pretty good thing going at Alabama. Getting ready to enter his seventh season at the school, Saban has won a whole bunch of ball-games, with five-straight 10+ win seasons, two SEC titles and a ho-hum three National Championships under his belt.
(//Cue to Saban yawning, while the rest of college football silently weeps in the corner//).
Yet what might be most incredible about Saban’s reign of terror (terror of course, unless your Alabama fan) is that there appear to be no signs of things slowing down anytime soon.
Despite coming off a second straight National Championship, the Crimson Tide enters the spring locked and loaded, with A.J. McCarron and a bunch of teammates back and set to start the year ranked…you guessed it… No. 1 in the country. Another top-ranked recruiting class is set to enroll in the fall (Saban’s fourth in five years) and also proves that even with all the wins, Saban doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon.
That's right, for the first time ever, we in the media began calling Alabama a "dynasty" following their BCS title game victory.
And the scary part is that- in theory- the best might be still yet to come.
Stability Factor (1=chaos, 5=rock solid): 6.0
Yes, we know that the scale only goes up to “5.0” but aswe've learned about Alabama football, just about everything they do (from recruiting, to dominating the SEC) is quite literally off the charts.
And with that, it’s hard to argue that any program is currently more stable than the Crimson Tide’s. They’ve got Saban at the top (a man who appears as though he'll never coach a game for anyone other than Alabama the rest of his career), a litany of well-paid and experienced assistants who don’t appear to be in a rush to go anywhere (I mean seriously, how many head coaching gigs has Kirby Smart turned down at this point…100?) and a system in place which replaces one seemingly irreplaceable superstar with another.
Alabama football isn’t just a “well-oiled machine,” but are the well-oiled machine that all other well-oiled machines are judged by.
Honestly, I’m totally sure if that even made sense.
Then again, nothing with Alabama really does these days.
And I mean that in the best way possible.
Under the Microscope: The Offensive Line
It’s hard to say that any one unit is “under the microscope” but if we had to go with one, it’d probably be the offensive line. Gone is stalwart Barrett Jones at center, as are probable first round picks D.J. Fluker (tackle) and Chance Warmack (guard) who each elected to head to the NFL a year early, after helping dominate defensive lines all across the SEC over the past two years.
Safe to say, things aren’t good… Except, well, this is Alabama. And I’ve got to ask, are you really worried?
Sure you might not know the names of new projected starters like Austin Shepard (right tackle), Chad Lindsay (left guard) and Ryan Kelly (center), but then again, what do we really need to know about them, other than that Saban thought they were good enough to play at Alabama? That’s enough of a scouting report for me to know that… damn, those guys are probably pretty freakin’ good.
Not to mention that only at Alabama (and we hate to keep pressing this theme, except it’s true) could they lose three potential first round picks along the offensive line, and still have two left over for good measure. Assuming nothing crazy happens, Cyrus Kouandjio will be a Top 10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and guard Anthony Steen could go in the first round at some point as well.
Locked and Loaded: Running Back
Actually, couldn’t you argue that there isn’t a team in the country more “locked and loaded” at any position than the Crimson Tide are at running back? The short answer: “Not really.”
That’s because in addition to returning T.J. Yeldon (the only freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in program history), the Crimson Tide will also return fellow sophomore-to-be Kenyan Drake, who scored five touchdowns last season in a role that I aptly described as “The Human Victory Cigar” (as in, the guy who only got touches long after one-sided blowouts had already been decided). Not to mention that former five-star running back Dee Hart also returns, after missing all of 2012 with an injury.
Then there is the recruiting class, and my goooooooooooodness will that group add depth to a position that didn’t already need it. Alabama will bring in will bring in four players who were at least four stars or above, including an already enrolled player named Derrick Henry, who just so happens to be the ALL-TIME leading rusher in high school football history.
And the crazy part about Henry is this: Alabama has so much depth at running back, that they’re actually considering moving him over to the defensive side of the ball.
I mean if that isn’t the definition of a #BamaProblem, what is?
Jockeying for Position: Defensive Line
Again, there really aren’t a ton of holes to fill on this team, but one place (besides running back) where competition could be fierce is along the defensive line. Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Quinton Dial are gone to the NFL, and a number of young faces are looking to step up and replace their reps.
Luckily, like most top schools in the country, Alabama tends to rotate quite a few defensive linemen, meaning that while we might know a lot of these player’s names, they have already seen the field in some capacity the last few seasons. Projected end Jeoffrey finished with 33 total tackles last year and four tackles for loss, with Brandon Ivory returning following a 23 tackle season as well.
Also, don’t sleep on true freshman Jonathan Allen. If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the years, it’s that Saban will play the best players regardless of age (see Amari Cooper and Yeldon), and the 6’3 263 lb. defensive end looks like physically he can step in and play right away.
Name to Know: Safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix
Despite putting up big numbers in 2013, Dix was often overshadowed at the safety position this past season by Robert Lester. Don’t expect the same to happen in 2013.
Dix is already coming off a solid sophomore campaign in which he tied Lester for a team-lead with four interceptions and finished with 37 total tackles. But with more responsibility and a larger role with this team, expect Dix to shine further. He will likely start alongside safety Vinnie Sunseri at the safety spot.
Given Saban’s proclivity for producing great defensive backs plus the flashes that we saw in 2012, don’t be stunned if Dix ends the season as a first team All-American.
Spring Will Be a Success If: Everyone Simply Follows The Process
Look at this point, we’re done questioning anything and everything about Saban, this program, or the way they do things. The proof is in the pudding. What Alabama does, works.
The question now becomes if everyone will remain engaged. Remember we’re looking at a scenario where something in the neighborhood of half the roster hasn’t ever finished a season without winning a National Championship and where the starting quarterback A.J. McCarron (hey, remember him!) now has more championship rings (three) than he does losses as a starter (two).
There are only two things that are going to slow down Alabama right now, and none of them are Miles, Manziel, or anything football related. Nope, the only things which can slow this program down are “entitlement” and “complacency.”
It’s something we don’t expect to happen, but something that Saban has to be sure and guard against.
Otherwise, these are heady times at Alabama, and things don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
For all his opinion, insight and analysis, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.