Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Scouting the 2016 Crimson Tide

The national championship was Monday, and Mark Schlabach's already has his "Way-Too-Early Top 25." He has Alabama at number 2, but I don't know about that ranking. The Crimson Tide will lose many key players. 

Here's a my modest breakdown of the position groups for next year's squad.

With Coker departing, that leaves three, possibly four if you include a freshman already on campus Jalen Hurts, vying for the starting spot. Since Bateman started the Ole Miss game, you would think he has a grasp on the job, but the coaching staff is apparently really high on Blake Barnett. Cornwell is supposed to be really talented, but there have been rumors about attitude issues. 

Running Back
It's safe to assume Henry will be go in the draft, and Drake, unfortunately, is a senior. The Tide will replace those two with players who will be sophomores next season: Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Scarbrough reminds me a lot of Henry though I think he runs with a lower pad level. Harris is a highly regarded running back out of Kentucky. Ronnie Clark could get a shot too. 

Offensive Line
The right tackle who had a tough game against Clemson will depart along with a great center Ryan Kelly. Cam Robinson will remain at left tackle, Pierschbacher will likely man left guard, and Shank Taylor will likely return at right guard. We could see Hassenauer take over at the center position, and there are all kinds of possibilities at right tackle: Bozeman, Cotton, Warmack, Casher, et al. 

Wide Receiver
This is probably the strongest position group. Robert Foster will come back from injury, and he was one of the starters at the beginning of the season. Ridley, the guy who became the focal point of the receiving corps, will only be a sophomore. Stewart will be back, and Charlot, Sims, and Falkins round out a stacked position. 

Tight End
I really hope O.J. Howard does not go into the draft. He showed what he can do for Alabama's offense in the final two games of the season, and with another solid season he could be a first round pick. True freshman Hentges played quite a bit this season, though mainly for blocking purposes, so I look for him to see the field even more often. I'd also like to see Ball play more often. 

Defensive Line
The Tide had an outstanding DLine this season. Reed, Pettway, and Lake are gone. In addition, I suspect Allen and Robinson will go into the draft. There is a lot to replace here. Payne will play NT, and he'll need a backup. Tomlinson and Hand will likely start, but Alabama needs to develop a strong second line. Tim Williams will return as a speed rusher/LB on passing downs, and I wonder if he'll nail down a regular starting LB slot. 

Jack Linebacker
Devall will graduate, but Evans and Anderson will man that hybrid position quite well. Both really developed this season. 

Ragland is a big loss, so it'll be interesting to see who becomes the next captain of the defense. Foster could be that guy. Holcombe is likely to get more playing time. Hamilton looks like a rising star, and I've heard good things about Miller. 

Defensive Backs
I hope Eddie Jackson returns for this senior year. He only has one year of playing safety, so another year would possibly help his draft stock. A trio of freshman got important playing time this season: Fitzpatrick and Humphrey at cornerback and Harrison at safety. They were good and should be even better. Maurice Smith could see more playing time or perhaps Hootie Jones. With Fitzpatrick and Humphrey likely to be the starting corners, if Tony Brown is still with the team after being sent home by the team's leadership council prior to the Cotton Bowl (and he didn't suit up for the national championship), he could be the third cb in the nickel package. The Tide loses Cyrus Jones, who was the team's best corner. 

Losing Jones and Drake are major losses because as we saw against Michigan State and Clemson, they can take it to the house. I have no idea who be the punt and kick returners. Scott and Griffith return. 

Overall Assessment
As I said, the Crimson Tide will lose a lot from the national championship team. Pre-season number 2 is way too high because of key losses on the defensive line and running back and questions at quarterback. Somewhere in the top ten is more sensible. 

On offense, I could see the team being more reliant on the passing game because of the strong talent at wide receiver. I think the offensive line could be better. They certainly need to improve in pass blocking. If the team loses Howard, that'll be a big blow. 

As for the defense, if Jackson returns, that grouping is the strength of the defense. The defensive line will likely be strong, but it needs depth. Younger defensive linemen and new recruits will get a shot at a great deal of playing time. 

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