Thursday, March 29, 2007

Let's look at Alabama

Granted, I criticized overly optimistic Bama fans here. Actually, I think it was more like I simply disagreed with them and carefully explained my reasoning. The word "crazy" was not used, and don't check on that. Just believe me. I didn't use it. I live in Tuscaloosa and do business here. I'm not about to be overly critical of Bama football. As I said in my introduction I am always going to be fair, objective, and non-sensationalist in evaluating other teams.

I said that I thought it was foolish to think that Bama would win or even compete for the National Championship next year or the year following, but I really do think Bama looks like they will be better next year than last year, and I'd think that with or without Saban at the helm.

One rule of thumb is that a team that loses a lot of close games has a very short road to improvement. If you're getting blown out a lot, it takes a lot to make up that difference, but if you're staying in games, it doesn't take much. Last year, they lost a lot of close games, and had a terrible red zone offense. A modest improvement to the red zone offense could be the difference in 2 to 3 games.

Also, keep in mind that Bama will finally have a veteran offensive line next year. For the past two years, Bama ended the season without a single senior starting on the offensive line. Also, last year, the two best offensive linemen were a sophomore and a true freshman. Those guys will have one additional year of experience, as will the guys around them.

Bama does not lose a single key player from its offense. By "key player" I mean one who was productive and not relatively easily replaced. Ken Darby graduated following a very good career, but his senior year was terribly unproductive. Graduations of Tim Castille and McClain leave the fullback spot open, but again it's usually not that difficult to find a good fullback. Their best tailback from last year, Jimmy Johns, returns. They lack, at this point, a real game breaking tailback, but Johns is a very serviceable power back.

Their entire passing game returns. They return their QB, every tight end, and all of their top 5 wide receivers from an offense last year that saw JP Wilson set a single season Bama record for passing yardage, though as my earlier post shows, he was only mid-pack in the SEC as far as production per play. If you're a Bama fan, you hope he's poised for improvement in his second year as starter. DJ Hall and Keith Brown are both playmakers at the wide receiver position.

In short, then, the Bama offense returns virtually entirely intact, but one year better and more experienced.

On defense, they have to replace their defensive tackles, their best safety, their best linebacker, and their second best corner. I'm not discounting those losses, but they return playmakers Simeone Castille, Prince Hall, and Wallace Gilberry. They lose some, but they don't lose nearly as much as they lost the year before, and the defense was pretty good last year. They'll have to find a couple more playmakers, but every team has to do that.

So, I think Bama has an offense that is due to improve greatly, and a defense that looks like it will probably stay close to the same. That makes for an improved team. As long the coaching change doesn't cause too many disruptions, they are very likely to be an improved team.

No comments: