To get in a more positive frame of mind about Alabama football, I'm relishing the fact that the Tide will haul in yet another strong recruiting class and there's a lot of talent in Tuscaloosa.
So I'm projecting a very early roster of the 2014 Crimson Tide. With some of the positions on this two-deep roster (three deep at the wide receiver and running back), I've provided my reasoning behind these choices. For each phase of the game ~ offense, defense, and special teams ~ I have provided commentary. Without further ado, here are my so-called thoughts.
I suspect the Tide offense in 2014 will rely more heavily on the run like they have in the past. With a serious question mark at the QB position, competition for that position will garner most of the media attention. However, creating a cohesive and kick-ass offensive line will be the most important goal. While this past season the o-line worked well at times, they were inconsistent. Left tackle, left guard, and right guard will have new starters there. That's a concern. There are plenty of skill-position players to use at running back and wide receiver, but sound blocking and solid qb play are key. I hope for a big year from Derrick Henry.
Quarterback: Blake Sims or Player-to-be-Named
This is the huge hole the team has to fill. Blake Sims has been the back-up quarterback for two years, so he obviously has an advantage knowing the system well. After Sims, who is a senior, you have a gaggle of QBs who had chances to take away the back-up qb job away from Sims but never did: Alec Morris, Luke Del Rio, and Cooper Bateman. The Tide landed the highly recruited David Cornwell from Oklahoma, but he's coming off knee surgery. InterWeb rumors indicate that Jacob Coker, the back-up QB at Florida State, may transfer to somewhere, possibly Alabama. Coker is a very good QB and if he lands in T-Town, the A-Day game will be even more interesting.
Running Back: Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake
Drake was the number-two back for most of the season, but he has gotten in the doghouse over the past couple of years. Henry showed he is the best back on the roster in the Sugar Bowl, so that's why I have him number one.
Fullback/H-Back: Jalston Fowler, Brian Vogler
Left Tackle: Grant Hill or Cameron Robinson (tf)
With Cyrus K off to ply his trade in the NFL, this opens up an opportunity for arguably the number-one recruit in the nation, Cameron Robinson. Grant Hill has a lot of potential too, but I wonder if his future is at right tackle.
Left Guard: Chad Lindsey, Isaac Luatua
With Arie K having graduated, Lindsey might take over here. He started at center some last season because of injuries to Kelly, but he can also play guard.
Center: Ryan Kelly, Chad Lindsey
Right Guard: Leon Brown, Alphonse Taylor
In the Sugar Bowl, Brown manned this spot because of Steen being out after surgery. It's possible that a true freshman might crack the two-deep, but I doubt it.
Right Tackle: Austin Shepherd, Grant Hill
Tight End: O.J. Howard, Brian Vogler
In 2014 O.J. Howard needs the ball thrown to him more often.
Wide Receiver: Amari Cooper, Raheem Falkins, Robert Foster
Even with the departure of Norwood and Bell, the Tide has a strong stable of wide receivers. Though he's not on the three-deep here, a true freshman to watch is Cameron Sims.
Wide Receiver: Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, Chris Black
I hope Chris Black, supposedly one of the fastest players on the team, shines in 2014.
With the horrible losses at the end of the season, I believe the Tide D will bounce back. The front seven looks strong, but a major emphasis will be in the secondary. In 2013 the defense had one shut-down corner who was banged up most of the season and a bevy of guys trying to become the second corner. With Belue gone, the CB position is wide open for both corner spots. All of the CBs have promise but also have disappointed. The defense will welcome back Sunseri at safety, and a number of younger guys will have a chance to become starters at corner: Eddie Jackson, Jonathan Cook, Maurice Smith, Jabriel Washington, Anthony Averett, and true freshman Tony Brown.
Nose Tackle: Brandon Ivory, Darren Lake
These are the main guys from last year with Korren Kirven playing some, but juco recruit Darran Reed or true freshman Josh Frazier could make an impact here. There's a lot of good internal competition here.
Defensive End: A'Shawn Robinson, Dalvin Tomlinson or D.J. Pettway
Robinson was one of the best defensive linemen for the Tide this season, and he was only a freshman. DE is a position where the Tide needs an upgrade though, so a healthy Tomlinson and the return of Pettway could provide a much-needed stronger rush on passing downs.
Defensive End: Jonathan Allen, Da'Shawn Hand (tf)
The emergence of Robinson has been widely talked about, but Allen played well and quite a bit as a true freshman. Hand could push for playing time here.
Sam Linebacker: Dillon Lee or Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton (tf) or Christian Miller (tf) or Ronnie Clark (tf)
Mike Linebacker: Trey DePriest, Reuben Foster
DePriest has quietly played well over the years. As the cliche goes, he hits like a ton of bricks, but it remains to be seen if he'll take over as commander of the defense like McClain, Hightower, and Mosley were. To take that role, he needs to be on the field for every play, which requires that he gets better at pass defense. Also, I guess Foster could play at a different LB spot.
Will Linebacker: Reggie Ragland, Shaun Dion Hamilton (tf) or Christian Miller (tf) or Ronnie Clark (tf)
The gaping hole is that Mosley is gone.
Jack Linebacker: Denzel Duvall, Xzavier Dickson or Tim Williams
For whatever reason, Dickson was suspended for the Sugar Bowl, so we'll see what happens with him. However, the Tide hasn't had an impact guy at this position since Hightower and McClain were playing together.
Cornerback: Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve
Cornerback: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Smith or Tony Brown (tf)
Nickelback: Jarrick Williams, Geno Smith
Safety: Landon Collins, Geno Smith or Jarrick Williams
Safety: Vinnie Sunseri, Laurence "Hootie" Jones (tf)
Jones is a special player in the return game. There will be new starters at both kicker and punter.
Placekicker/Kick-offs: J.K. Scott or Adam Griffith
Punter: J.K. Scott
Punt Returner: Christion Jones, Player-to-be-named
Kick-off Returner: Christion Jones, Player-to-be-named