If there was ever a time for a shift in offensive philosophy at Alabama, next season may well be it.
Of course, the offensive strategy installed by head coach Nick Saban will have a lot to do with what running back Eddie Lacy chooses to do with his future. Lacy is regarded as one of the best backs in the nation, and his desire to play in the NFL may outweigh his interest in returning to the Tide for his senior season.
If Lacy chooses to stay, the Tide will be absolutely loaded with talent in the offensive backfield. Joining him will be proven commodities in T.J. Yeldon and Jalston Fowler along with returning sophomores Dee Hart and Kenyan Drake.
And let us not forget verbal commits Derrick Henry, a Scout.com 5-star recruit and national career-yardage record holder. He will likely arrive with 4-star recruits Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny.
But it is the state of the passing game that has many talking about the future these days.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron has already announced that he will return for his senior season and third as the starting passer for the Tide. Backing up McCarron will be incoming freshman and likely successor Cooper Bateman, the second-rated quarterback recruit in the country.
So along with being loaded at running back, the passing attack appears to be in good hands as well.
The receivers are the key, though.
Returning for the Tide will be, well, everyone. Freshman sensation Amari Cooper will be back. He will be joined by the experienced Kenny Bell, Christion Jones, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White.
Only tight end Michael Williams will be lost to graduation.
Amazingly, there is no real guarantee that the aforementioned will be guaranteed too much playing time at this point. Saban is adding to his stable of ball-catchers as we speak.
2012 recruit Chris Black was lost for the season due to injury before it ever began and is expected to compete for time next season as well. He will be joined by yet another 5-star recruit in recent commit Robert Foster.
With McCarron coming off of a season in which he has led the nation in passing efficiency and heading into another where he will have more talent around him than ever, Alabama could indeed move to more of a spread offense if it chooses to do so.
If nothing else, the pieces are in place for such a change to occur.
Alabama loses two, if not three offensive linemen after the BCS title game next month in seniors Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack. Junior D.J. Fluker's future plans have yet to be officially announced.
The current Tide line is best known for its ability to run block. But who knows exactly what the future holds for their replacements?
In four of the past five years, Alabama has run for more yards than it has passed for, the exception coming in 2010 (in 2009, 'Bama actually passed for nine more yards than it ran for).
This is a philosophy that has followed Saban through his entire career.
Current offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier comes from a different set of priorities. In the same position with the Washington Huskies from 2009-2011, Nussmeier's offense passed for more yardage each and every year. It wasn't even close in two of them.
If Nussmeier has proven himself well enough to Saban, there might be somewhat of a shift in the Tide offense next season.
But it would not be wise to expect it.
Alabama has made its hay based on the ground game and its ability to physically abuse opponents into submission. The reward for this ground-and-pound effort has been two BCS titles to date and possibly a third less than two weeks away.
With success like this, it would be a stretch to think that Alabama will actually go away from its bread and butter in favor of more of a finesse style of offense.
Saban is very good at what he does. He is also as smart as a whip and knows that it is better to build upon success by sticking to the tenets from which it came.
As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Yes, the conference appears to be slowly moving more and more to the spread look and mobile, dual-threat quarterbacks. But since no one has figured out how to stop the Alabama ground game effectively and consistently, it would be unwise for the Tide to veer away from their already-proven format.
While it is nice to have multiple options offensively, the smart bet would be that Alabama will play relatively close to what we have been accustomed to seeing.
Alabama will most likely enter the 2013 season the same way it will end the 2012 campaign—by punishing its opponents with an old-school ground attack and mixing in the pass when needed to keep the other side honest.
However, if Saban should choose to reinvent his program and coaching style based on the talent that is flooding the beautiful Tuscaloosa campus, 2013 would be a great year to give it a go.
The pieces are in place for Saban and the Tide to do whatever they choose offensively.
While Alabama should—and probably will—continue to focus on the run first, having the ability to change its playing style with the stealth ease of a chameleon could make for quite a fun time in Tuscaloosa next year.
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