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2019 SEC Football Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

As I’m writing this, another Tide starter is in danger of going down for the season.

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

2018 Record: 14-1, 9-0 SEC

2018 S&P+ Rankings: Overall (1st), Offensive (2nd), Defense (7th)


Well, a storyline finally overtook the Alabama Crimson Tide’s miserable loss to the Clemson Tigers in the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship Game: boo-boos.

Big boo-boos. Boo-boos to serious players who play serious positions on the field.

The latest one has the potential to be the most devastating given the importance of the player and the lack of depth behind him. If you’re a Tide fan, it causes you great unrest given the particular position group over the last two seasons has seen a litany of injuries that would make a Maryland QB room shudder.

All told, three ‘Bama players who were vying for major playing time have been lost for the season and the first game hasn’t even been played. On top of those, there have been several camp-stalling injuries to players on both offense and defense.

Still, there are plenty of weapons (for now) to put Alabama football in contention for the conference title by season’s end.


Offense

Based on reports that surfaced Tuesday evening, it appears there may be a few starters (and a primary back-up) missing from action during the first half of the Duke game.

Nothing has been announced by Alabama head coach Nick Saban, himself, but the Tide could be without running backs Najee Harris and Brian Robinson and wideout Devonta Smith for their opener against Duke for at least the first quarter. No specifics, but it appears to be discipline-related.

That being said, the outlook for the season is still very good. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hopes to build on a Heisman finalist season by being a little more measured in his decision-making with new OC (yes, another) Steve Sarkisian calling plays.

Harris and Robinson form a pretty mean two-headed monster at running back. And if the reports are true, two freshmen (one redshirt, one true) in Jerome Ford and Keilan Robinson look to work their way into the rotation as they gain major experience against the Blue Devils.

Once Smith returns, the Tide have the most dynamic and dangerous receiving corps in the nation. The options in front of Tagovailoa include 2018 Biletnikoff winner Jerry Jeudy, the Tide’s fastest player, Henry Ruggs III and, arguably, the most electric player on the team in Jaylen Waddle. Together they accounted for nearly 3,600 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. One goes out and there’s another waiting in the wings.

Alex Leatherwood (left tackle) and Jedrick Wills (right tackle) form one of the top tackle tandems in the conference and there are, conservatively, five players who are in position to occupy the three interior spots on the offensive line, including former five-star true freshman Evan Neal.

The only real question mark revolves around the tight end position, where the Tide must replace the prolific Irv Smith, Jr. and Hale Hentges. Redshirt junior Miller Forristall is in position to help fill the void, but a knee injury two seasons ago hampered his development.

With Sarkisian back in Tuscaloosa, the hope is his more balanced, West Coast approach will give the offense the ability to work under center with more play action concepts than last season’s RPO-heavy influence.

Most familiar with Sark’s Atlanta Falcons teams the last two years will be concerned with the red zone issues (something that plagued the Tide at the end of 2018), but an improved run game should put them in the end zone plenty.

Despite the losses of Jonah Williams, Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, Smith and Ross Pierschbacher to the NFL, the 2019 Alabama offense should at least match the success from last season.


Defense

The aforementioned injury to ‘Bama middle linebacker, Dylan Moses, on Tuesday is a major blow to a defense that was looking to rebound from an average (for Saban standards) 2018 defense.

Moses was going to be the signal caller and, given his inherent athleticism, a do-everything style ‘backer along the lines of C.J. Mosley. Now, that he’s out Saban and new defensive coordinator Pete Golding are going to have to rely upon two true freshmen to man both ILB spots.

However precocious Shane Lee and Christian Harris are, being thrown into the fire in this manner could have repercussions to a defense that was looking to get back to the “‘Bama Way” in 2019. This is to say nothing of the loss of fifth-year senior, Josh McMillon, who was primed to be the starter at the other ILB position before tearing his ACL during the first fall scrimmage.

All is not lost, however, as Tide defensive stalwarts such as defensive end Raekwon Davis, outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings, cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain, Jr. and safeties Xavier McKinney, Shyheim Carter and Jared Mayden will the Alabama team weather the storm.

With Golding taking over play calling duties from Tosh Lupoi, Saban presumably has a more natural fit to coordinate his defense in 2019. His experience with defensive back formations is a major plus, given that former Saban coordinators Will Muschamp, Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt were all former DBs themselves.

Lupoi’s experience with edge rushers was a slight departure from the above pattern and the general consensus is that Saban made Lupoi DC because he needed to keep his best recruiter on staff.

(Lupoi’s current employment with the Cleveland Browns instead of another college team bears this out.)

All that being said, Golding being the inside linebacker position coach should help Lee and Harris feel more comfortable as the season wears on.

While it probably won’t be the defense that was expected heading into the season, it should still be good enough against 80% of its schedule.


Special Teams

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

(I’m good.)


Overall

Even with the injuries, suspensions, etc., this is still a team to be reckoned with.

What might’ve been a liability from a leadership standpoint in 2018, could be a major factor in putting this team over the top this season. Ten players from the 2017 recruiting class (all upperclassmen, now) will be starting this Saturday against Duke. That’s almost 50% of the offense and defense who are juniors.

These guys now know what it’s like to feel utterly humiliated and Saban’s one of the best in the business at hammering that emotion into said players.

Will it yield the results Tide fans want? Well, that remains to be seen. If they can shore up the injury issues on the defense, though, this is still a nationally competitive team until they aren’t.


Prediction: 11-1, 7-1 SEC