Can The Tide Re-Stock And Continue Last Season's Success?
2008 was filled with extreme highs for Alabama and left them with some extreme lows. At the beginning of 2008, Bama was supposed to finish 3rd, at best, in the SEC West. They had quite a few incoming freshmen that were going to see significant playing time, and in the SEC, that is supposed to equal mediocrity. They came out swinging and hit a highly touted Clemson team in the mouth to start the season, and they never looked back. It sent a message to the rest of the league that Nick Saban was ahead of schedule in Tuscaloosa, and everyone was on alert.
They ran through the regular season without a blemish, on their way to a head-on collision with powerhouse Florida in the SEC Championsip game, a win that would have almost certainly landed them a spot in the national championship game against Oklahoma. Even though it was a great game, Tim Tebow and company walked away as the victors and sent Bama to the Sugar Bowl. It appeared Alabama waltzed into the Sugar Bowl thinking that they deserved a more worthy opponent than Utah, or maybe they were out-manned. Either way, they got man-handled by the Utes and left Saban furious. What had started as a promising season ended with the Tide unable to finish what they started.
So what did they learn from last season's roller coaster ride, and what is Saban's message to the team regarding last season? One simple word: Finish. They have been preached to day in and day out about finishing everything: plays, games, the season, it doesn't matter. Their focus better be on finishing what they start.
What's new for Alabama in 2009?
Gone are 2 All-American offensive linemen, Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell. Everyone in the SEC, and throughout the country as well, have already written off the Tide as a contender in the Western division, mainly because they think the 2 vacated slots on the O-Line is going to be too young and/or inexperienced. That is 100% false.
The O-Line will be lead by preseason All-SEC guard Mike Johnson. The other guys playing beside Johnson aren't newbies to the game. They rotated in and out with the other linemen last season, not seeing a ton of playing time, but seeing enough to know what to expect. Half the battle of replacing new linemen is experience and confidence, and the Tide will be bringing a handful of guys into the situaution who aren't short of each. With senior William Vlachos moving to center and Drew Davis at tackle, Barrett Jones is the only real "greenhorn" on the line. But he has proven that he is the man for the job, since no one else is coming close to prying playing time away from him. Oh yea, there is a true freshman that will see some playing time. Highly recruited incoming freshman DJ Fluker, all 6'7", 350 lbs of him. Basically, Terrance Cody's mini-me.
The O-Line won't be as dominating as last season's line was, but they won't be slouches like some are predicting.
Now the $1 million dollar question: Can someone replace John Parker Wilson at quarterback without the offense taking a big step backwards? Answer: Absolutely yes!
In comes Greg McElroy. McElroy is a redshirt Junior who has been waiting in the wings for 3 years to get his shot. Waiting isn't something new to McElroy either. While at Southlake Carrol High School, he didn't play until his senior year, because he was backing up Chase Daniel before he went on to Missouri. But his senior year he flourished. He threw for 4.687 yards and 56 touchdowns, setting state records This offseason, he went to the Manning Passing acadamy where he was turning heads, including roommates Colt McCoy and Colt Brennan.
Now this doesn't translate to automatic Heisman status for McElroy or mean that Alabama will turn into a passing juggernaut. But with the patience that he has shown and his ability to study and learn offenses while at Alabama, this kid has proven that he is no slouch.