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Top 10 questions going into Alabama’s 2014 season

Alabama football 2014 Preview

Many months removed from the “Kick Six” and the Sugar Bowl collapse that doesn’t have a catchy title yet, Alabama is now just days away from beginning a new season with somewhat of a new look. The experienced leaders are gone, taken away by the NFL and graduation day, and replaced by fresh faces waiting to be yelled at by Scott Cochran.

With only five days left before Alabama’s 2014 campaign kicks off against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome, many questions still remain unanswered:

1. Who will be Alabama’s quarterback at the end of the year?

You’ll notice I didn’t ask “Who will start at quarterback?” because the answer is basically irrelevant. For all the coverage this decision has received, the choice itself isn’t as crucial as many others. The fact is that Alabama can win without a star quarterback.

On Grantland, Matt Hinton wrote a sprawling tome on the game-managerialness of Alabama’s quarterbacks dating back to Steadman Shealy in the 1970s. Losing AJ McCarron and his experience hurts, but remember, it wasn’t that long ago that McCarron was the “co-starter” with Phillip Sims in their first game of 2011. Alabama won a national championship that year.

Blake Sims is well-liked by his teammates and has been a practice superstar, although it hasn’t yet transferred to the field on game day.

Jacob Coker is a physical fit for the job in every way, from size to arm strength to hair flop, but he is still a relatively unknown commodity.

Neither quarterback has taken a meaningful snap since coming out of high school.

Again, this competition is interesting mainly because the quarterback is the face of the program, the focal point. But even I could hand the ball off 40 times and win a couple of games at Alabama. Whether it’s Sims or Coker, the primary jobs of the eventual QB will be to be a leader and make some plays within the system.

It will most likely be Coker. Saban wouldn’t bring in a transfer if he was totally confident in Sims.

2. What will Lane Kiffin’s offense look like?

Best Case Scenario: The Crimson Tide’s offense will mechanically disintegrate opposing defenses and leave scorched earth in its wake. The depth of talent that is available to Kiffin is arguably the best he’s ever had, and certainly the best since his 2005 USC squad that averaged 49.1 points and 579 yards per game.

Kiffin’s pro style offense should fit Alabama’s historical mold, while also opening up the call to include more than Doug Nussmeier’s approximately seven plays. His main problem is Alabama can only play with one ball on offense.

Worst Case Scenario: The quarterback battle is still unclaimed after multiple games and Kiffin reverts to his conservative 2013 USC play-calling. He has been known to overthink and overcomplicate things, which usually results in running a draw play on 3rd and 18 and calling 47 screen passes a game.

3. Will Lane Kiffin be fired this season on the tarmac at Tuscaloosa Regional Airport (TCL)?

Doubtful.

4. How will the running backs split carries?

For as much well-earned lauding as Derrick Henry received in the Sugar Bowl, T.J. Yeldon is still the starter. The outlier is Kenyan Drake.

While Drake is phenomenally fast and could be a key change-of-pace back from the bigger, bruisier Yeldon and Henry, he hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

Expect Yeldon to get the bulk of the carries early with Henry spelling him, and maybe Drake finally gets to regularly see the field and prove his potential.

5. Will the most anxious moments of Alabama games continue to be when the field goal unit takes the field?

A Crimson Tide fan’s worst nightmare of late has been the sight of the field goal unit. Cody Mandell was excellent in the punting role last season, but for all of the high-profile recruiting successes that Saban has had since coming to Tuscaloosa, finding a somewhat reliable kicker has not been one of them.

Mr. Kick Six himself Adam Griffith returns as Alabama loses the highly iffy Cade Foster to graduation. Saban says Griff makes field goals from 60 yards in practice, but the kicker in the Iron Bowl and the A-Day game will still initially make fans cringe.

Alabama’s special teams were solid in every game last year, except against Auburn, the single most important game of the season. New recruit JK Scott should step in right away at punter, while Griffith is still teeing up 57-yard kicks, hearing Verne Lundquist in his sleep.

6. How will the offensive line take shape this season?

Last year’s offensive line saw an unfortunate but inevitable decline in continuity. Trying to match the dominance of the 2012 squad might still be a stretch for this year’s crew, but Alabama has the personnel to give it a shot.

Cyrus Kouandjio, his size and his holding penalties have moved onto the NFL and it looks like a true freshman may take his place. Anthony Steen also moved on, as well as backup center Chad Lindsay, who filled in for Ryan Kelly when he was injured. But Kelly and fellow starters Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd are back, with five-star recruit Cam Robinson, JUCO transfer Dominick Jackson and sophomore Grant Hill all vying to fill the openings on the line.

Even with the losses at key positions, Alabama’s line should fill in nicely and be one of the better units in the country.

It took the first few games for the O-line – or the “offense of line” as some on Twitter apparently call it – to really gel in 2013, but this year should be better.

7. Who will stick at cornerback?

Even with Nick Perry and Vinnie Sunseri going down last season, the safety position didn’t see too much of a drop-off with the established Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and rising star Landon Collins stepping up.

But last season was a revolving door at cornerback with Deion Belue hobbled, John Fulton lost downfield somewhere and Eddie Jackson oftentimes left on the sidelines.

The cornerback position was a major focus for Alabama’s offseason recruiting strategy. The Tide successfully locked up highly touted, five-star recruits Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. While Hoover’s Humphrey recently arrived on campus for fall camp, Brown was an early enrollee and saw some early playing time and productivity in the A-Day Spring game.

Jackson is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve can step in, but don’t be surprised if Brown plays heavy minutes this season as a freshman.

8. Can Trey DePriest fill the C.J. Mosley role?

Losing Mosley may end up mattering more than McCarron. Alabama’s defensive leader is in Baltimore now and it’s up to DePriest and his linebackers to pick up that slack. Reggie Ragland, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Reuben Foster have all been working the position this fall camp, with Ragland poised to join DePriest in the defensive playcalling role.

But other than the linebackers, DePriest will have to rely on a young secondary and a defensive front four comprising of A’Shawn Robinson and friends, who will lighten the load. DePriest and his experience will carry them through.

But the most important questions for every Alabama fan right now are:

9. Can Alabama win the SEC?

Yes.

10. Will Alabama win the SEC?

Probably.


Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Biles

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