As usual, Alabama has lost plenty of talent. The Crimson Tide also is coming off a loss in the national championship game, which some may point to as a sign that its reign of dominance is coming to an end. But to think Alabama won’t be one of the best teams in the nation again this season is folly.
While the Crimson Tide loses seven starters on defense and five on offense, recent history suggests that no matter how good the player, no one is irreplaceable. That has applied to assistants as well, so long as Nick Saban remains coach.
With another No. 1 recruiting class, including a staggering 16 early enrollees, Alabama will be steadily building for the future while putting together another strong team in the present.
The three biggest position battles
1. Quarterback. Could sophomore Jalen Hurts really be locked in a position battle a season after starting as a true freshman? The answer is yes. While he did win SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors and scored the would-be game-winning touchdown in the national championship, he did have his struggles as a passer. That’s not to say early-enrollee freshmen Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones are better, but they should be good enough to push him.
2. Offensive line. There are two open spots — one at tackle, one at guard. Because Saban says he looks to start his five best linemen regardless of position, most players, including freshman Alex Leatherwood, junior Lester Cotton, junior Elliot Baker, redshirt freshman Scott Lashlee and junior Dallas Warmack, should be in the mix at the two spots, though not necessarily both. Sophomore Jonah Williams likely will move from right tackle to left tackle, while junior left guard Ross Pierschbacher and senior center Bradley Bozeman should remain in their roles.
3. Safety/cornerback. It’s mostly dependent on where junior Minkah Fitzpatrick, a foregone conclusion to start, plays in the secondary. If it’s at safety, senior Tony Brown, former walk-on Levi Wallace, sophomores Shyheim Carter, Aaron Robinson and Jared Mayden and redshirt freshman Nigel Knott will compete for one cornerback spot (opposite senior Anthony Averett), as well as nickelback (Star). If it’s at cornerback or nickelback, senior Hootie Jones, sophomore Deionte Thompson, and freshmen Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright will compete for the open safety spot opposite Ronnie Harrison.
The three strongest positions
1. Running back. From top to bottom, Alabama has an absurd amount of depth. Juniors Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris make for a strong unit, but the Crimson Tide also has sophomores Josh Jacobs and B.J. Emmons, as well as freshmen Najee Harris (considered one of the top-three prospects overall in the 2017 recruiting class) and Brian Robinson this spring. Alabama could lose two or three of these players and still be just fine.
2. Offensive line. Alabama returns three of five starters – right tackle Jonah Williams (who likely will move to left tackle), left guard Ross Pierschbacher and center Bradley Bozeman – and has a number of talented options as replacements to fill the vacated spots. If the Crimson Tide whiffs at first with its new starters, it’s bound to find someone who will do well in the job.
3. Linebacker. Alabama loses three starting linebackers, and each is projected to be either a first- or second-round pick in the NFL draft. The fourth starting linebacker from 2016, Shaun Dion Hamilton, likely will miss spring because of injury. But senior Rashaan Evans has starting experience, and the outside linebackers, in particular, offer plenty of options.
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