Fall practice can't get here soon enough for Tide fans.
The Alabama Crimson Tide head into the 2009 season with most preseason magazines ranking them in the top 10. Last year, they were ranked in the bottom half of the Top 25 and shocked everyone by winning 12 games in a row and held the No. 1 ranking for the latter part of the season.
With exactly one week to go until fall practice starts, here are the storylines to watch out for.
5. Can Alabama generate a consistent pass rush from the defensive line?
Projected 2009 starters: Brandon Deaderick, Terrence Cody, and Lorenzo Washington
It can be argued that Alabama hasn't had a consistent pass rusher since Wallace Gillberry in 2007 (27 tackles for loss and 10 sacks). The starting defensive line from last year (Brandon Deaderick, Bobby Greenwood, and Terrence Cody) didn't equal those numbers, with 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks total.
Granted, Cody's presence helped the Tide's linebackers to stop the run, but spread teams like Florida and Utah took Cody out of the game with their passing ability.
Cody has lost weight to better prepare him for the season so he can play on third down, but it remains to be seen whether or not the defensive line can disrupt the timing of opposing quarterbacks.
4. Will Alabama have a playmaker from the Jack linebacker position?
Contestants: Courtney Upshaw, Eryk Anders, and possibly, Dont'a Hightower
Nick Saban hasn't had a playmaker from this position since Jason Taylor. Yes, the Jason Taylor who plays for the Miami Dolphins.
In 2006, Taylor recorded 13.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Because of those efforts, he was selected as the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
If Saban can get close to this type of production, he will proabably sleep better at night.
Brandon Fanney was the starter last year at the Jack position, but he was more of a run stuffer than a playmaker, recording only one sack through 14 games.
Courtney Upshaw has the potential to be a playmaker from this spot with his size and speed, but he lacks game experience. Eryk Anders has shown he can get to the quarterback, but he is undersized when it comes to run support. And Hightower, who plays as an inside linebacker, was used in the Sugar Bowl as an experiment.
3. Can Mark Ingram be a featured running back?
Tide fans will miss the way Glen Coffee ran the football. Anytime you run for 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns, your presence was felt. His vision, strength, and speed is what separated him from the rest of 'Bama's running backs.
What was impressive about Coffee's total was the amount of carries he split with Ingram and Roy Upchurch. Ingram was a great change of pace running back last year that gave defensive coordinators another person to account for in the backfield.
However, as good as Ingram was (728 yards and 12 touchdowns), there were times last year that his play was limited, especially the Tennessee game.
If you look at both Upchurch and Ingram, pushing their statistics aside, you could make the argument that Upchurch is the better all-around running back. When he is healthy and out of Saban's doghouse, he has shown the ability to be a big time playmaker. His ability to pick up blitzes and make catches out of the backfield should not go unnoticed.
Going into his final year, it remains to be seen if Upchurch becomes the highly-touted running back that Tide fans have waited for since he signed his LOI in 2005.
It is no secret that Saban likes to rotate his running backs in order to keep defenses off balance. Last year, the rotation of Glen Coffee, Ingram, and Upchurch did just that.
This year, look for Ingram, Upchurch, Terry Grant, and true freshmen Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy to crack the rotation.
2. Will the Tide have a receiver to throw to other than Julio Jones?
Contestants: Mike McCoy, Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Kenny Bell, and Michael Bowman
The Tide's passing game consisted of the following options: Throw the ball to Julio Jones.
If he's not open, throw it to him anyway.
If he happened to be double-teamed, throw it to him anyway.
If all else fails, get him the ball anyway.
Without question, Jones was the main receiving threat that the Tide had. His 58 catches and 924 yards receiving led the team.
But after Jones, the wide receiver who finished second in catches and yards was Mike McCoy with a whopping 16 catches and 191 yards receiving.
If that doesn't produce a red flag, then I don't know what does.
Later in the season, teams began to catch on to Alabama's offensive gameplan and forced the offense into third-and-long situations by bringing eight defenders into the box on first and second downs and daring John Parker Wilson to beat them deep.
This year, a reciever not named Julio Jones will have to step up, or else the offense will stay in neutral. Greg McElroy's experience in knowing the expanded playbook should alleviate some of those problems in getting the offense out of bad situations.
1. Who will start on the offensive line?
Contestants: People who aren't named Mike Johnson and Drew Davis.
Greg McElroy cannot be a good quarterback if he's on the ground most of the time, and there is no question that the offensive line is the hottest topic among Alabama football fans.
Mike Johnson at left guard and Drew Davis at right tackle are the only spots that are written in stone, considering they are the two returning players who started last year.
After that, you can say that William Vlachos will man the center spot since Evan Cardwell will not play due to injury, junior college transfer James Carpenter will play at left tackle, and Brian Motley will play at right guard.
That seems simple enough, since they were the A-Day starters for the first-team offense.
Or is it?
Not by a long shot.
This group comes in with more questions and combinations that has taken up the entire talk on all the message boards. With the center, left guard, and right tackle spots taken up, the right guard and the important left tackle position are still up for grabs.
Considering that James Carpenter played left tackle during the spring, there is talk about highly touted freshman D.J. Fluker to come in and take that spot. A dream scenario for fans would be for Fluker to play at left tackle and move Carpenter to right guard.
But here's the dilemma: Would you play a freshman—who played left tackle for the first time ever in his senior year in high school—against preseason All-ACC first-team Jason Worilds, who had 18.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2008? Or would you start Carpenter since he has the experience?
Either way it goes, this is one of the many reasons why Alabama is paying Saban the big bucks to make these kinds of decisions.
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