- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama has won two of the past three BCS national championships, but Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said his team’s offense has yet to become the kind of attack he wants it to be.
Last season, when the Crimson Tide went 12-1 and defeated LSU 21-0 in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, it ranked 69th nationally in passing (215.1 yards per game) and 31st in total offense (429.6 yards).
“We’ve never been quite the style of offense I’ve wanted to be here,” Saban said. “We’ve always had such good backs, and our offensive line has been pretty good. It’s hard not to feed those guys the ball. When I was at LSU, we were a lot more explosive with our quarterbacks and wide receivers. We need to continue to develop that balance.”
Last season, Crimson Tide tailback Trent Richardson led the SEC and ranked No. 5 nationally in rushing with 129.1 yards per game. In 2009, when Alabama went 14-0 and defeated Texas 37-21 in the BCS National Championship Game, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram ran for 1,658 yards with 17 touchdowns.
“I think we’ll never forget who we are,” Alabama center Barrett Jones said. “We can always run the football. I’m not saying we won’t open things up, but I don’t think we’ll ever forget our identity. Our identity is we don’t care how many people you put in the box, we’re always going to run the football.”
Alabama might be more equipped to open up its offense heading into the 2012 season. Quarterback AJ McCarron is entering his second season as a starter, after completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,634 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
McCarron threw the ball down the field more effectively against LSU in the BCS title game, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards. He has an even better command of the Tide’s offense now.
“It was about midway through last year when I could really say something to the guys and really tell them what I wanted to happen,” McCarron said. “Now it doesn’t matter if it’s a run play or pass play. Receivers will come to me and say, ‘Who do I need to block?’ Even before the ball is snapped, I’ll point it out. Guys will come to you and ask for advice. It’s something that’s really cool. I’m just trying to get the best out of everybody around me.”
Jones, who is moving from left tackle to center this coming season, said he’s noticed a difference in his quarterback during spring practice.
“Toward the end of the year, I think he really started to develop the confidence you need to play quarterback in the SEC,” Jones said. “He’s really started to take a lot more responsibility for the offense, and is making a lot more calls and is more comfortable with our scheme and what we’re trying to do. He’s doing a lot more of it on his own this year.”
Even though Richardson left Alabama for the NFL draft after his junior season, McCarron might have better weapons around him. The Crimson Tide signed arguably the best crop of incoming freshman receivers, including Chris Black of Jacksonville, Fla., and Amari Cooper of Miami, who enrolled at Alabama in January. Sophomore Christion Jones of Adamsville, Ala., has been one of the Tide’s most explosive receivers during spring practice, and another highly regarded freshman, Eddie Williams of Panama City, Fla., joins the team this summer.
“They’re really good,” McCarron said. “I know we’re going to have some growing pains to start out with. The system’s not easy to learn, but in the short amount of time they’ve been here, they’ve done a good job so far. Amari and Chris Black, and the new guys coming in are different types of guys, but they’ve done a good job of learning and listening to the older receivers. They know the way and how it’s done, which is going to help them in the process.”
The Tide also lost offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who was named Colorado State’s new coach. Saban hired Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to replace him.
“He’s younger,” McCarron said. “Being younger, he kind of relates to you a little bit more outside of football. Nuss just brings a lot of energy to practice, and he’s hyped up. I think it’s because he drinks like nine cups of coffee a day. He definitely has a lot of energy, and it helps practice go a lot smoother. He definitely has some different ideas, which have been cool to learn.”
McCarron said the Tide will keep much of its offense in place, but Nussmeier has added a few wrinkles.
“I think we’re going to be in the gun a little more,” McCarron said. “Nussmeier likes going four or five wide, and even spreading out the running back and putting him out there. We’ve been doing a lot of that.”
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