The defending national champions are down five starters on offense and seven from one of the greatest defenses in school history, so plenty to choose from.
But for all of the attention placed on Alabama’s defensive reset and comparisons to 2010, when the Tide replaced nine starters from a great defense, offense has this analyst’s eye.
The pass-catching positions, especially, have this analyst’s eye.
First, Alabama has a new offensive coordinator in Doug Nussmeier, so things will change, right?
Not much, his boss says, but there’s this interesting nugget from Nick Saban about Alabama’s offense.
“I would think we would like to move toward being more like what we were in the bowl game in terms of the diversity of what we do on offense,” he was quoted as saying before spring practice started.
If Alabama wants to play offensive football as it did in the Tide’s 21-0 rout of LSU in the Bowl Championship Series final, then that means more passing, especially on first down.
Quarterback AJ McCarron completed 14 of 20 passes for 165 yards on first-down plays in that game. The Tide ran 30 total first-down plays, with only 10 runs for 30 yards.
McCarron spread the ball among seven receivers but majored in tight ends, with 11 completions going to Brad Smelley, Michael Williams and Chris Underwood.
Smelley had a team-high seven catches for 39 yards.
Look around spring practice these days. Smelley and Underwood are gone.
So are wide receivers Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Brandon Gibson, and they spearheaded a so-so receiving corps in 2011.
The wide receiver position became an issue in 2011 because no one emerged as the game-breaking threat Alabama lost when Julio Jones declared for the NFL draft after 2010. That’s why McCarron threw a lot of passes to tight ends and running back Trent Richardson, who’s also gone.
Alabama’s current crop of wide receivers features backups Kenny Bell, Christion Jones, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White. Early enrollees Chris Black and Amari Cooper are unproven, as are 2011 redshirts Marvin Shinn and Danny Woodson, Jr.
Promising prospect Duron Carter, son of NFL receiving great Cris Carter, is suspended.
Alabama’s ability to diversify on offense will depend on its ability to pass. McCarron showed in the BCS game he can carry the load, but who will catch it?
That’s a real question mark this spring, and that question mark threatens to carry into the fall.
Despite his Twitter traffic to the contrary, doubts persist about Carter’s future with the program. Questions about his academic eligibility kept him out of action this past fall.
If he plays, then he should make a difference. He’s at least a proven commodity, having caught 13 passes for 178 yards as a true freshman at Ohio State. He also caught 44 passes for 690 yards and 10 touchdowns at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
Otherwise, Alabama has little to no proven talent at wide receiver. The running back and two tight ends that that helped to float Alabama’s passing game in 2011 are gone.
It’ll be interesting to see what Nussmeier can get done in the passing game this spring — interesting, because the boss agitated for more first-down passing before the BCS game and, clearly, liked what he saw against LSU.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.