After ruining the hype I created for the event, Alabama head coach Nick Saban released his depth chart one day later than expected.
Nonetheless, now it is time for me to give my thoughts on every position and how it ended up after preseason camp.
If you have not seen the depth chart, you can either scroll down to the post below this one to view or it open it by following this link: http://www.brettatbama.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/nick-saban-releases-depth-chart-for-michigan-game/
Quarterback: Status quo. AJ McCarron has been the guy since Week Three of the 2011 season and no one has come close to challenging him since. I have a feeling that will remain the same until he leaves Alabama.
Runningback: Now here is where my interest climbs a little bit. First things (or in this case, players) first, I would consider this the end-all-be-all for the injury talk surrounding Eddie Lacy. He has looked incredibly close to 100 percent ever since he returned after missing spring practice. I must admit, I was skeptical of it all for a little while, but he has looked to good to doubt recently.
Jalston Fowler is not the topic of discussion at this position, either. He was the No. 2 the whole way once Lacy returned. The real headline here is T.J. Yeldon.
Yeldon had a phenomenal spring training, and the sense around the program was that Dee Hart and Yeldon had some battling to do after Yeldon stepped in and proved himself immediately. Yeldon continued his break-neck pace up the depth chart and won his share of the second-string job.
How these two will rotate is tough to guess. My prediction: Fowler will come in as a third-and-short back, while Yeldon’s pass-catching ability and shiftiness will make him an appealing option when the situation suits him.
Lacy is still the most experienced all-around back the Tide has, and the game is his to dominate at the start, but Fowler’s brute toughness and Yeldon’s edge speed plus his catching ability will earn him some playing time, probably against Michigan.
Wide Receiver, X: As expected. DeAndrew White blew the doors off in camp after recovering from his nagging injuries over the spring. Amari Cooper starting the season in the No. 2 slot is not very surprising to me. He showed consistency in practice and really separated himself from Marvin Shinn and Danny Woodson, Jr., after an injury to Chris Black sidelined him.
My best guess is that Cooper will only start in five wide sets, and will be what I call a windbag guy. If someone needs a break after a few deep routes in a row or a good hard hit, Cooper will come in and relieve them.
Wide Receiver, Z: Well, hello, Kevin Norwood. You may remember Norwood as the guy who toasted Tyrann Mathieu in the BCS National Championship Game last year. Now he’s the guy that beat out Alabama’s best deep threat, Kenny Bell, for a starting job.
Simply put, Norwood was just too good from January to now to keep him out of the starting lineup. Norwood’s confidence shot up after the national title game and before anyone knew it he was out making plays with the best of them. He seems to always be in the right spot at the right time.
That being said, I think Bell will definitely be the first wideout off-the-bench when the Tide decides to go four wide. Bell’s deep threat makes safeties respect him and follow him, giving all the yards-after-catch room in the world to a precise route runner like Norwood and a natural-born playmaker like Christion Jones. Speaking of…
Wide Receiver, H: Christion Jones may not be the best route runner on the team (Norwood is), and he may not have the best hands (TBD), but he can see everything when he has the ball. What I mean by that is, as soon as he knows he has the ball, he sees the cut he has to make and where he has to make it before anyone else does, especially before the defense can crash to it.
Jones is the type of guy that the coaching staff will likely run plays specifically designed for him. He may not be able to run past his corner and dance into the endzone from the 10-yard-line because no one is close to him, but he’s liable to turn a five-yard drag route into a 35-yard backbreaker if the paly is run right.
Tight End: Michael Williams was the No. 1 guy here from the start, very much like McCarron. I am a little surprised that Brian Vogler settled in as the No. 2 guy at this position as opposed to trying his luck at a starting job as the H-Back. But, when you’re listed at 6-foot-7 and 258 pounds and have a little bit of athleticism, tight end is normally going to be the first position you’re tested at.
H-Back: This is the surprise of the depth chart to me. Kelly Johnson getting the start over Harrison Jones is incredibly interesting. I would breakdown Johnson here, but we really don’t know much about the kid. He’ll be under a pretty tight microscope on Saturday night.
Right Tackle: D.J. Fluker, like the rest of the offensive lineman, was pretty set in his starting job. With size like that, it would take a nuclear meltdown to bring him out of his starting job.
Right Guard: Anthony Steen showed more improvement over the course of the 2011 season than any other offensive lineman. That improvement is being rewarded by retaining his starting job.
Center: Barrett Jones. This depth chart has finally confirmed what the entire world already knew. Now it’s time to see if Jones can win a national championship as a starter at all three positions on the offensive line (I feel confident that’s never been done before).
Left Guard: Chance Warmack has been getting a lot of publicity in the offseason, and the good kind. When the scouts and NFL draft experts when into their offseason caves to study film before the football season, Warmack’s name was one that came out of the dust as a guy who translates well to the NFL game.
Left Tackle: Cyrus Kouandjio. Kouandjio turned heads from the day he stepped on campus. He showed the freakish athletic ability to succeed in the SEC as a true freshman last year until a knee injury ended his season. Kouandjio will likely have his fair share of attention, from the media and the suits from the next level, by season’s end.
Defensive End 1: Damion Square. As expected, no one could unseat him from his starting position. He performed too well for the Tide last year to be threatened by anyone.
Defensive End 2: This was more of a battle. I thought Quinton Dial would be winning this battle, but Ed Stinson was listed as the No. 1 on today’s depth chart. This entire situation is puzzling because Dial continues to practice ahead of Stinson, even today as the depth chart was released hours before practice.
I can see why Stinson would be the best bet for a team like Michigan, as he is more athletic than Dial and arguably a little bit better in the pass rush. But watch out, this No. 1 could be short-lived, more of a situational sub. Stay tuned.
Noseguard: Coach Saban does not care about this part at all, but is it legal to keep an Australian that still has his accent on the football field? I wonder if Jesse Williams still has his accent when he makes checks at the line.
Sam Linebacker: Sometimes I wonder if anyone at the college level can consistently block Adrian Hubbard. He disrupts the pocket with eye-popping consistency, which is perfect for Saban’s defensive scheme.
Mike and Will Linebacker: The names aren’t as interesting as the rotation will be. Trey DePriest is listed as a starting Mike and Nico Johnson as a starting Will, with C.J. Mosley as the alternate starter at both positions.
If I were in charge (disclaimer: I’m not. At all), I would use the Johnson/DePriest combo as a run stopping duo and use Johnson/Mosley as a passing situation tandem. Johnson will need a breather every now and then, which is when I introduce the Mosley/DePriest two-headed monster.
Again, this rotation is one of the most interesting developments of the depth chart to me. I think it would have been most ideal if the Tide could have gotten these three on the field at the same time, but too much shifting would have created problems eventually.
Jack Linebacker: Xzavier Dickson is everything Coach Saban wants in a Jack. He’s an agent of chaos. Although unproven with a lack of game experience, Dickson has all the potential in the world.
Cornerback 1: Dee Milliner used to be known as “toast” by select members of the Alabama fanbase for getting burned often in his freshman year. Now, he’s the most consistent man-to-man cover corner Alabama has returning. I guess that whole experience thing Saban preaches is true.
Cornerback 2: Deion Belue’s spring practice and fall preseason camp was so good, fellow JUCO transfer Travell Dixon had to leave the program to find significant playing time.
Belue, like Milliner, is talented, and he may be better at coming up on the run than Milliner is. But what Belue lacks is experience. The near upset at Arkansas and the upset at South Carolina in 2010 can both be attributed to inexperience in the secondary. Belue will have to shake off the young-guy reputation quickly.
Strong Safety: Alabama might have the best safety in the SEC in Robert Lester. He has a knack for the ball, making his first big play in the previously-mentioned 2010 Arkansas game (a interception with a lengthy return that basically sealed the game).
He’s also in his fifth year in the program. He knows everything there is to know about playing at Alabama, especially the on-field schemes, and now he’s ready to expand his leadership role on the team and be the general. Saban would lose sleep at night at the thought of having to play without him. Seriously.
Free Safety: Vinnie Sunseri and HaHa Clinton-Dix are listed as co-starters basically for the Nickel package. Since the coaching staff has fallen in love with how Sunseri plays the Money (nickelback) position, he will move there when necessary and open the spot for Clinton-Dix.
In most cases, coaches list two guys as the co-starter at a position when they have not made a final decision on that position just yet. In this case, it’s because the both of them will play just as much as starters anyway.