Welcome to another hour of Alabama football talk. We've got spring practice around the corner, the NFL combine starting this weekend and a few coaching hires to discuss. I look forward to fielding your questions. And as always, I'll take them at a first come, first served basis. If you don't get your question/comment answered, just head over to TideNationESPN.com and find the message board. I check the board regularly and would be more than happy to begin a discussion there. With that said, let's jump right into it.
Who will be the Starting Quarterback for Alabama in 2013?
AJ McCarron without question. The more intriguing question is who will back him up.
Can the tide defense get more pressure on quaterbacks in 2013?
I believe it can. Losing Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Quinton Dial will hurt, but none of the three were elite pass rushers. By getting younger, more athletic guys on the field like Jeoffrey Pagan, LaMichael Fanning and Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama might be able to get more pressure on the quarterback. I'm very interested to see how the young crop of linebackers (Dickson, Ragland, Lee, Anderson, Deval, etc.) come along. They could be the difference on defense this year.
Alex. Can you give your best guess as to who will start on Bama's OL in the fall?
It continues to be Cyrus Kouandjio at LT, Anthony Steen at LG, Ryan Kelly at C, Arie Kouandjio at RG and Austin Shepherd at RT. There's a chance Leon Brown wins out at RT but I'm waiting to see how the juco product transitions to the D-I level.
OJ Howard intrigues me. But what is the realistic expectations for the kid his freshman year? Will he crack the lineup as the No. 1 TE in all situations, running or passing? Or will he only be in certain packages? Basically can he block well enough to always be on the field?
Realistically, I think you're looking at a situational H-back. He's not big enough to play with his hand down on the line of scrimmage just yet, but he can do enough in the passing game to see the field early. That said, we were asking what was "realistic" for T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper at this time last year. Anything can happen with a strong spring camp.
Chris Black or Amari Cooper? While Amari established himself, everyone raved over Blacks spring last year. Do we see Black make it as the No. 2? Can this be the best receiving combo in the nation?
Amari Cooper is the No. 1 receiver. We saw that last season when Alabama went to one-receiver sets and Kevin Norwood came off the field. Do I think Chris Black can develop into a No. 2 guy? Probably, but not right away. He's a very talented wideout but we need to see what he can do in live action. He's a shorter receiver so he won't have the advantages of a Cooper or a Norwood. He'll have to create separation with speed and savvy. Watching practice, it looks like he can do that. But we won't know for sure until the bullets start flying. He could be anywhere from a the second to the fourth or fifth receiver. That's how deep Alabama is this year.
Will Bama win with Offense or Defense this year..Defense returns more starters.
You always win with defense. Period. If you can't stop an opposing offense, you can't win in the SEC. It's that simple. And I believe Alabama will continue that tradition. While the offense should be more explosive, don't sleep on the defense. Nick Saban is still the man in charge and as much as he likes to score points, he'd much rather dominate the opposing offense and win with a shutout.
Draft question... How many Bama players do you see going in the first round? Will Lacy, Fluker, and Jones all get taken within the first 32? What about Nico, where is he projected?
I think we're looking at four real possibilities: Dee Millliner, Chance Warmack, Eddie Lacy and Jesse Williams. If D.J. Fluker shows well, he could sneak in to the first, too. He came to the combine in very good shape which was a major question mark for him.
Who do you see as being the 2nd back behind TJ?
Do you think Derrick Henry becomes the # 2 RB ?
I posted those two questions together for a reason. I do not believe Henry will be the No. 2 tailback this season. He's got a lot to learn and I want to see whether someone that big (6-foot-3) can really play running back in the SEC. That means the job will likely fall to either Kenyan Drake or Jalston Fowler. Since Fowler is coming back from a serious injury, my best guess is Drake.
Every year we have a very solid safety. Johnson, Harper, Barron, Lester... can HaHa become that man? While he came on strong at the end of the season, he still seemed too inconsistent.
Clinton-Dix's ceiling is amazing. I believe he can develop into something more than a "very solid safety." He's got all the tools that you look for at the position. He's got very good range and athleticism. With another year under Saban, I expect to see a jump in his production.
What do you think we should expect to see out of Landon Collins this season? He was a monster on Special Teams last year.
Maybe my expectations are too high, but I think we'll see him as the starter. You're right, he was a monster on special teams last season. No doubt that earned him major points with the coaching staff. While he may not be the No. 1 guy from Day 1, I think he takes the starting job by midseason. He's too talented to be kept off the football field.
Did you foresee UA winning it all the last 2 springs and your early opinion of this year's team and title hopes?
Calling it in 2011 wasn't that big of a stretch. The defense was so, so talented and with Trent Richardson at tailback, we knew it could be done. Last season was another story. I'll be honest with you, I didn't expect it. So much of the defense was gone and history dictated that it wouldn't happen. With that said, I think another national title is a possibility this season, but I don't think it will ultimately happen. There aren't enough playmakers on defense and losing so much on both the offensive and defensive line will hurt. At some point, history will catch up with you. Alabama has survived slips the past two seasons, I just don't think they'll be able to do it again.
With his overall hustle and play on special teams, has Landon Collins earned an opportunity to earn the spot opposite HaHa?
I do. You cannot overstate what special teams means to coaches like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. If you don't produce there and put in the effort there as a freshman, you're digging yourself into a hole.
Geno Smith really seemed to be on the field a lot as the season progressed last year. Is he the next great DB following Milliner, Kirkpatrick, and Kareem Jackson?
He's got the ability to be. I think he compares most favorably with Dre Kirkpatrick. I hate to write the word "swag" but the young man has it. He's very confident which is something you need to play a position that's built on failure.
Can John Fulton finally win a starting job?
He needs to prove that he can. He had an opportunity to last season and couldn't, and I don't see him beating out a more talented guy in Geno Smith.
Any chance the NCAA allows Alabama to play with three or four footballs so all the running backs can get their carries?
I'm sure many fans wish they would, but no. It really is something to think about how Alabama has been able to keep so many talented running backs happy. The biggest thing about that is determining expectations right away. These recruits know when they come to Tuscaloosa that they're not going to get handed anything right away and sometimes even when they're ready they have to wait. The best thing that could have ever happened to Saban was Trent Richardson. He was patient and bided his time behind Mark Ingram. When he got his chance, he very nearly won the Heisman Trophy, all the while sharing significant carries with Eddie Lacy.
So you don't think Alvin Kamara or Altee Tenpenny can do what Drake and Yeldon did as freshman ?
I don't see it, but that's not meant to be a knock on either Kamara or Tenpenny. How many guys ever do what Yeldon did? The answer is not many. I think Kamara has the best shot to contribute as a third-down type of tailback. He's got a different set of skills from the other running backs as he's more shifty and adept in the passing game.
Who would you say is our top 6 LB 's are next year ? Mosley, Hubbard, Dixson. And then who ? Devall, Ragland , Depriest ?
Off the top of my head: Mosley, Hubbard, DePriest, Dickson, Devall, Ragland, Patrick. That said, I think Jonathan Allen has a real shot at outside linebacker.
Totally agree about no defensive playmakers,Perry didn't do anything and Sunseri shouldn't be playing safety,they should throw Collins in.Maybe one of new guys like Allen and Eddie Jackson?
I know our recruiting writer, Greg Ostendorf (@GregO_ESPN on Twitter) is very high on Eddie Jackson, and I tend to trust his opinion. Defensive back is a position of need and if he's anywhere near as athletic as his former high school coach has told me, he's got a chance to be something special.
Alex, what's your biggest surprise this month, signing day? New coaches?
Biggest surprise has to be the four players getting arrested. But that's a negative. The bigger surprise between signing day and the new coaches, is the hires. Saban hit it out the park with Kevin Steele and Mario Cristobal. I believe he's gearing up for new NCAA rules in recruiting by hiring the best in the business. I wrote about the subject here: http://insider.espn.go.com/colleges/alabama/football/recruiting/story/_/id/8957009/alabama-crimson-tide-new-coaches-perfect-new-recruiting-rules
Very true Yeldon is a beast ! So what do you think about Tenpenny ? Who is most like in your opinion ?
Big name but this is the one that first comes to mind: Trent Richardson. He's not quite as big, but he looks and runs just like him. He's a between-the-tackles wrecking ball with above average athleticism. I remember watching film of him at The Opening and being blown away. He's my dark horse for the MVP of the 2013 class when we look back three or four years from now.
Do you think Robert Foster or Dee Hart will be our punt returner next year? Christion Jones scared the living daylights out of me back there last year!
I have a feeling it will be Cyrus Jones back there. While he did commit a few mental miscues, I think he's got a shot at being the best guy for the job. Of the two you mentioned, I'd say Foster is most likely. I have no idea whether Hart will be ready to play next season. Back-to-back major knee surgeries doesn't bode well for the young man.
Is Jarrick Williams recovering well ? Seemed like he was gonna be 5th DB before injury ?
That did appear to be the plan for him. He did look good in what little we saw of him during bowl practice. He went full speed, albeit with a black no-contact jersey and a knee brace on. Nonetheless, that was a good sign for his recovery and development.
No. 2 corner... Geno or someone else? Are our corners suspect?
Geno Smith, and yes I do believe that's a fair assessment. Deion Belue had his ups and downs and Smith is still learning the position. John Fulton hasn't separated himself and we don't know what we'll see from Jarrick Williams. It's vital that the front seven does a better job getting to the quarterback this season in order to afford the secondary some support. There won't be a shutdown corner like Dee Milliner around to take away half the field.
With buckeyes rolling thru the easy big ten and being perfect again this season, sure alabama will be right there at #1 or #2. Do you see this match up as the most likely scenario next year for the championship game?
I'll be honest with you, I think it's way too early to say. Ohio State will have a tougher road to hoe this season. The pressure will be on for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. I think Stanford, Oregon or another team from the SEC will be right there. Georgia will have Aaron Murray back and I believe Florida could be downright scary. After the beat down Louisville gave them, you better believe the Gators will have a fire in their belly. If they get any production from the quarterback, they could make some noise. That said, there's a reason Alabama will be the preseason No. 1. If I'm making the odds, Ohio State and Alabama are up at the top of my list.
What do you think about Reuben Foster next year ? Plays at all ? Special Teams ? Plays as back up ?
Plays but as a backup and on special teams. There are too many guys in front of him right now. When Norwood leaves after this season, the door will be open for him.
Alex, a while back I asked you about LaMichael Fanning and how we haven't heard much about him since the body slam vs Mizzou. You said to watch out if it ever click. Do you think he now gets his chance given Pettway is presumably done for good?
He had a chance this past spring and he didn't come through. But yes, for fear of sounding overly pessimistic, this year is another big opportunity for him. Alabama is looking desperately for a pass-rusher at defensive end, and he's capable of fitting the mold.
Could you explain why a RB with Henry's height is detrimental?
Too big a target. Actually, let me give you the professional scouts take. From our own Tom Luginbill: "First off, his pad level is a real concern and it is hard for him to get it down without changing or decreasing his effectiveness as a natural runner. He is a downhill, one cut runner that is most effective with his shoulders square, but he has marginal lateral agility and lacks sudden explosiveness to jab, cut and most importantly avoid and make people miss. This has manifested itself against marginal competition at the high school level and will only become more accentuated against SEC competition. He is a back that if the middle is clogged, he will immediately bounce the play to the perimeter, but against top flight competition this will be far more challenging for him because he is not a sudden, 0-60 guy in terms of a speed. It takes a him a bit to build to top end speed. The positive is that when he gets to top speed on a straight-line he will win most, if not all footraces. Another concern for us is whether he can create and make positive runs if penetration confronts him in the backfield. This is another area where his lack of suddenness and inability to jump cut to avoid comes into play. All of his measurables scream OLB/DE or jumbo WR/H/TE at the next level."
I think it is going to get considerably harder for Bama to win this year... only because they HAVE to go undefeated. Do you agree there may be some prejuidice to keep Bama out this next year if they are a one-loss team. I just think voters will vote a different direction despite if they play like a no 1 or 2 team in the nation.
I don't think there's much of a concern for prejudice. I think that comes when people question whether a team is deserving. And with Alabama, it has proved it is more than deserving of the top billing. No one is questioning the championship merit of the Crimson Tide after the way it throttled LSU and Notre Dame in back-to-back years. Fans may start viewing UA as the Yankees if they don't already, but I don't think it influences voters' minds.
Do you think Texas A&M will be as big of a threat this year considering we play them early in the season and have a week off before?
I do, and for the simple fact that the game will be in College Station, a place Alabama hasn't played in a very long time. That said, Texas A&M has a lot to prove with some turnover on the offensive line, its top pass-rusher gone and its offensive coordinator having taken his shades to Lubbock. Johnny Manziel is still Johnny Manziel and the young talent Kevin Sumlin has assembled is still remarkable. Texas A
Is reggie ragland good ?
Yes. He's a talented young man with an NFL linebacker's body.
Would you say, having worked as a journalist and covered Bama for a while now, you can get a feel for a guy after talking to him a few times? I ask because I wonder if you can tell if a guy like Henry would transfer to a school that would keep him at RB.
You can get something of a feel for the players, but they're always guarded. That said, after talking with Henry and his coach, I don't see him being a threat to leave if things don't work out at running back. He knows the situation he's going in to and is aware nothing will be handed to him. He's very much of the business like approach.
Do you think that Alabama's o-line will have a positive or negative effect in 2013?
Overall I think we'll be talking about them in a positive light by season's end. The guys coming in are young and inexperienced, but they're talented. Cristobal is a good coach. He'll find a way to maximize the talent. Plus, Kouandjio and Steen are two rock solid building blocks.
Hate to say it, but that's all the time we have today. I apologize if I didn't get to your question. As always, head on over to TideNationESPN.com for your latest Alabama news and feel free to jump on the message board with any questions or comments you might have. You can follow me on Twitter at @AlexS_ESPN or our recruiting writer Greg Ostendorf at @GregO_ESPN. Cheers!