<
>

Alabama post-spring breakdown

Good news, college football fans: We’re officially 100 days away from the first Saturday of the season.

To mark the occasion, we on the SEC blog will take a look at where all the conference teams stand right now.

Up first is Alabama.

What we learned on offense: Sorry, there are still no answers at quarterback. While Nick Saban will tell you that if Alabama were to play USC today that Cooper Bateman would be the starting quarterback, that’s more a function of Bateman’s experience than whether he’s leaps and bounds above the competition. The margin is slim for last year’s No. 2 QB with David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and even Jalen Hurts all right there. The better question, however, is who will protect the quarterback. It was bad enough that three-year starting center Ryan Kelly would have to be replaced, but now the status of star left tackle Cam Robinson is up in the air thanks to an offseason arrest.

What we learned on defense: If A-Day taught us anything concrete, it’s that the defense was way ahead of the offense. And really that should come as no surprise. Because for as much as Alabama lost to the NFL draft (Cyrus Jones, A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, etc.), what it didn’t lose was more important. The return of safety Eddie Jackson and defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams -- all of whom would have been drafted -- give new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt a solid foundation to build off of. With Daron Payne maturing at tackle, former five-star Da'Shawn Hand coming into his own at end and a slew of talented linebackers to rotate in (see: Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Rashaan Evans, etc.), Alabama’s front seven promises to be as lethal as it was in 2015.

Breakout player: At this time last year, no one was talking about Tim Williams. He was one of the many former top recruits fans looked on as having untapped potential. He was fast, sure, but what else? For some reason he wasn’t playing much. But then he found a niche, working primarily as a pass-rush specialist, and he wound up ranking second on the team in sacks with 10.5 despite never starting a game. Now, after putting the NFL on hold, he returns to school as a presumptive starter and potential star. By adding a few pounds and working to round out his skills, Williams is being looked on as a top-10 level draft pick.

Key storyline: A week can change a lot. A week ago we would have been discussing the revamped defense, the depth of the running game or the quarterback battle here. But then Robinson went and got arrested, along with teammate Hootie Jones. Now everything is up in the air. Robinson is the most important cog on the offensive line, and possibly the entire team. And while he faces a felony charge, Saban won’t say whether he’s suspended or, if he is, for how long. Now we’re left to play a guessing game. Can Alabama survive USC without him? The next two games would be fine, but what about Ole Miss? A week ago Alabama was the clear favorite to win the SEC. Now, with Robinson’s status up in the air, there’s some doubt starting to creep in.