While we might not always see eye to eye about some things -- as you will witness soon enough -- Roll Bama Roll is one of the better blogs out there about any team in the SEC. Unabashedly pro-Alabama and sprinkled throughout with photos of dictatorily appointed site sweethearts and Gospel YouTubes, it is also its own kind of sports blog. As part of Alabama week, RBR answered a few questions for us.
Greg McElroy. Discuss.
What to say about young McElroy...I guess we can start with the basics. A native of Southlake, TX, McElroy came to Tuscaloosa after originally comitting to to Texas Tech, but the Tide's victory over the Raiders in the 2006 Cotton Bowl swayed him our way. After redshirting his freshman season, McElroy waited behind John Parker Wilson to assume the reigns, and has seemed poised and ready to do so since spring camp. He's drawn favorable reviews from the coaches and his teammates, and talks and acts like he's the leader of the team. He isn't going to blow you away with his arm and pass it 60 times a game, but word is he knows the playbook and offense inside out and, even though he can make all the throws he needs to, his greatest strength is being able to read the opposing defense and know which throws to make. Saban has favorably compared him to Matt Mauck, who won him a national title at LSU despite being a dubious passer at best. The two biggest keys to success for McElroy will be whether or not the offensive line can stay healthy and function as a single, cohesive unit all season long, and if the ground game can be as ferocious as it was last year.
First, last year's o-line was the best Alabama has fielded this century, and the biggest reason they were so dominant wasn't necessarily that they were the most talented. Sure, Andre Smith was an All-American and Antoine Caldwell was All-SEC, but Marlon Davis, Drew Davis, and Mike Johnson weren't overly special or supremely talented. All they did was work their asses off, do their jobs, and manage to stay healthy (for the most part) the entire season. Off the top of my head I can't remember a Crimson Tide offensive line that managed to take just about every significant snap from the spring game to the end of the season in the same grouping and positions like last year's did. The two games they didn't play in that particular grouping (against Tulane and Utah)? Worst offensive performances of the season. We have plenty of talent and competition for the starting five, but the group that comprised the first team on A-Day is likely the one that will open against Va. Tech (with maybe one D.J. Fluker shaped shift), and if they can stay in that grouping and remain healthy all year, they should be just as solid as last season's bunch. Second, with Mark Ingram back, Roy Upchurch finally healthy, and Trent Richardson (who many think is even better than Ingram) on campus and ready to go, the ground game shouldn't experience any drop off in production either. Given all that, the nature of our offense (more pro-style and straightforward than anything the rest of the SEC is running, save Spurrier), and OC Jim McElwain's stellar track record of developing QBs, there is plenty of reason to believe McElroy can be successful right away.
The defense this year looks to be absolutely ferocious, while the offense is in flux to say the least. Is this going to be a 1992-style year, where Alabama has to win on defense and (essentially) defense alone?
I don't really think so. Youth and inexperience aside, the offense arguably has more raw talent than last year's unit and has a number of playmakers at wide receiver that have shown a lot of flash and promise over the past two seasons. If they can step up/stay healthy/be more consistent/etc., then we should actually be able to cash in on some of that explosiveness and be an even better unit. Remember, despite a non-flashy run oriented attack Alabama finished at or near the top of every significant offensive category in the SEC last season. Just duplicating that is entirely within reason, and if we can get some better production out of the receiving corps and are able to utiliize Julio Jones in more ways than we were last year then the offense has the makings of a very dominant unit.
Whom are you more worried about in the SEC West: LSU or Ole Miss?
That's actually a pretty tough question. I'm not buying the top ten hype of Ole Miss and doubt they win the west, but at the same time they will be a good team that is going to win a lot of games and make it to a good bowl again. More than that, of the last five Tide victories in this series only one was by more than a single score (a 28-7 win in 2004) so even during the Orgeron years we were barely scraping by the Rebels (though, to be fair, most of those were also "Shula" years...). Meanwhile, simply having John Chavis running the defense should completely help LSU turn a big corner this season. They had the talent to be a solid unit last year, yet their two headed DC was clearly in way over it's heads and they should get the same boost Ole Miss did last season, namely improving on the field simply through increased competence on the sidelines. So yeah, that's kind of a toss up. I'd say I'm more worried about the overall SEC West than any particular team. Arkansas should be this year's Ole Miss; they have a competent QB now, one of the best RBs in the league in Michael Smith, one of the best pass catching TEs in D.J. Williams, and return the entire front seven on a defense that can only go up. Say what you will about Petrino, he's an excellent coach and he'll rain on someone's parade this season, and just having that one extra team that's a threat week in and week out could throw the whole division into chaos by season's end.
What's the goal this year? Atlanta or bust? Pasadena or bust?
First, you can't talk Pasadena without talking Atlanta, so "Pasadena or bust" is just putting the cart before the horse. Second, just making it to Atlanta isn't enough; we started out 12-0 last year, but the two game skid to end the season pretty much put "bust" on the season no matter how awesome the start was. I'd say the goal is "hold a significant trophy over our heads or bust," with that significant trophy either comign from the SEC Championship or, at the very least, a New Year's Day bowl.
Is there anything we've said this week that you feel the need to debate or correct?
You mean beyond the several (and wholly unimaginative) "Bammers don't know Bear is dead" gibes?
C&F: A moment for a response, because this has come up over and over again over the course of this week. There were not "several' of these jokes -- there were two. One of those was a Sprints item about a Roll Bama Roll review of a book about Alabama after Bear's death. And I wonder if Todd wrote this answer at about the same time kleph put the finishing touches on his post about the author of a play about Bear Bryant, which meant there were as many posts about Bear-related literature on RBR this week as there were jokes on this site about Bama fans being unable to accept Bear's death. This site is meant to be irreverent; we have fun at the expense of all programs and all fan bases. And unless we do something in poor taste -- for example, I will not post the Bear carcass photo, which I find repugnant -- we will make no apologies. (Or at least I won't. And since I was the one who made the jokes, I doubt Year2 is going to be offering any mea culpas.) We now return you to your regularly scheduled Q&A.
Not really, though I do think you probably overestimate the effect of Brandon Fanney's transfer on the front seven. Yes, he was a starter at Jack last year and a stat line that reads 66 tackles (2nd among returning LBs and first among the D-Line) isn't always production one relishes losing, but at the same time (as our own OTS was quick to point out) only 26 of those were solo while the rest were a function of the entire front seven collapsing a play and Fanney getting credit for half a tackle when all he really did was jump on the pile. Further, he was an absolute non-factor where the pass rush was concerned and getting to the QB is a big point of emphasis for this year's defense. Not being able to effectively rush the passer really came back to haunt us during the two game skid that ended the season, and it isn't like losing Fanney off the edge is suddenly going to make us a bad pass rushing team. In fact, with Dont'a Hightower working at Jack during the spring (and Courteney Upshaw showing promise as a pass rusher from the Jack as well), it may have actually opened the door for a better athlete to move into his place and actually make the front seven that much better.
Again, check out Roll Bama Roll during the season for Alabama news and analysis. Whether or not you've accepted Bear's death. Okay, so that's three now ...
MONDAY: Alabama Aims for Something Special
TUESDAY: Tuscaloosa Nights (and Days); Nick Saban Runs for Congress
WEDNESDAY: How About That Defense? We Also Have to Play Offense?
THURSDAY: Tomorrow's Tide
LATER TODAY: Nick Saban, Alabama and History