Like many college football teams this time of year, the Alabama Crimson Tide have lost a few key pieces of the national championship team. Cornerback Dee Milliner, running back Eddie Lacy and right tackle D.J. Fluker have all announced that they will leave Tuscaloosa (per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough) in hopes of hitting it big in the NFL.
Those are three starters who won't be around next season, and that doesn't even include losing a few other guys to graduation.
Now it is important to note that, even with these losses, Alabama still remains the team to beat entering next season. With the depth that was on the roster and the recruiting done by a terrific coaching staff, the Crimson Tide aren’t going anywhere.
However, Milliner will be missed more than any other player that has left last year’s Alabama squad. Lacy already has his replacements lined up and there are a handful of solid offensive linemen to replace Fluker in no time.
This isn't the case in the Alabama secondary.
The former Crimson Tide cornerback was by far the best defensive back on the field and is sure to be the first player at his position taken come April. The problem is that Alabama did not have any shutdown guys besides Milliner on the roster last year. Deion Belue looked lost in coverage at times and a safety combination of Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri has seen better days.
While Alabama did have the best defense in college football again last season, the 35 receptions of 20 yards or longer was 20 more than the defense allowed back in 2011. This year’s defense also allowed 173.6 passing yards a game, which was a 62.1-yard increase from the team that won the national championship a couple of years ago.
Milliner is a physical corner who gave Alabama that dominant and proven defender on the outside. He could take away the opposing team’s best receiving threat and force the offense to go somewhere else.
He proved this in the title game when blanketing Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.
Guys such as John Fulton and Geno Smith are expected to be the front-runners to replace Milliner, but they are the same players who were being burned for big plays in the secondary. Both players must step up, because the All-American corner isn't going to be on the field anymore to help out.
As for the running back position, Alabama will be just fine, like it has always been. When Mark Ingram left for the draft, Trent Richardson was able to step on up. When Richardson moved on, Eddie Lacy filled the role.
Now with Lacy gone, T.J. Yeldon will be given the keys to the offense. A home run threat, Yeldon cleared 1,000 rushing yards and averaged nearly 12 yards a reception during his freshman year.
The soon-to-be sophomore will also have help from Kenyan Drake and true freshman Derrick Henry, who will be on campus soon and ready to roll. While Lacy provided the toughness and physicality to wear defenses down, the running game will be in great hands, like it has always been under head coach Nick Saban.
Right tackle is a question mark with Fluker leaving. In fact, the majority of the offensive line is a concern with a few other guys graduating. However, Alabama does have a JUCO transfer who goes by the name of Leon Brown, expected to replace the future first-round pick.
Brown is considered one of the top offensive line recruits from the 2013 class and has the size and footwork to step in right away.
I talked to Coach Stoutland and Coach Saban and they both said they were proud about my decision and couldn't wait to get me down there. Brown said. I play left tackle- they like the way I play and feel like I have a chance to come in and contribute.
Brown listened carefully and knows just how important he will be to this team, as he is one of nine commitments that will enroll early. Other guys that will look to make an impact are last year’s backup Austin Shepherd and Kellen Williams, but Brown has by far more upside at the position.
Like most teams that lose many key starters, Alabama will go through growing pains in trying to replace these players. But if there is one thing that Saban has shown in the last few years, it is that he will have all of the replacements ready to go by the time the 2013 season kicks off.