This week's blogger q&a is with the good people at Roll Bama Roll. I haven't spent a lot of time looking through their comment threads, but the editors, writers, etc I've dealt with are good people. Check out my answers to their questions over there.
1. Nick Saban has received a lot of grief for running the program like an NFL team. Mainly, people don't like the fact that he "cuts" players in order to get under the 85 player roster limit. What are your thoughts on this?
One of the most important things to understand about how Coach Saban runs the Alabama program is that, in many important ways, it is like a professional team. He runs it like the CEO of a major corporation which it actually is. Part of that is having a very clear vision of how it will move forward and having the rest of the decisions follow from that.
In terms of recruits, the key is to maximize the amount of talent while addressing the needs of the team itself. If it were just a case of stockpiling players then the criticisms of the methodology might have more weight. But that isn't the case. Every player is assessed and given their particular situation, a plan for how to handle them and/or the lack of them is drawn up and then followed.
The talent level of a player has been assessed prior to recruitment, so it's not a factor after they are on the team. Basically if a player doesn't fail drug tests, makes good grades, puts time in the classroom, etc. and nothing happens to them. (And it's vastly important to keep from confusing this issue with the competition for playing time)
2. So... maybe you don't want to talk about this one. Um... I'm not sure if you were paying attention, but South Carolina beat you on Saturday. I watched the game, but explain how that happened. Is it a schematic issue that other teams can exploit or just a series of things that went perfectly for South Carolina?
One thing the level of competition in the SEC has taught us is that if you want to remain competitive, you have to have talent and depth. And if you are not trying to maximize those within the rules laid out by the NCAA, then you have to be willing to suffer the on-the-field consequences. If someone has an issue with that, they should move to change the rules.
The common "storyline" in the wake of the South Carolina game was that Alabama was "exposed." But for those of us who follow the team there really wasn't a heck of a lot about the loss that was new to us. We saw the same issues crop up against Penn State, Arkansas and Florida. This team has some very serious shortcomings that have been evident to varying degrees all year, Steve Spurrier just put together the complete gameplan to exploit them all.
The secondary is very young and prone to problems with execution. They don't have consistency with following their assignments and basic aspects of the defense still seem to elude them. The off-season answer to this was that the pass rush would step up to address that by putting heat on opposing quarterbacks. It has not materialized.
On offense there are some achingly potent tools but we've had persistant issues in maximizing their effacity due to limitations in the passing game. Greg McElroy makes a minimum of mistakes and is a true leader, but he also struggles to stretch the field vertically. That gives savvy defensive coordinators an opportunity to stop the potent run game.
3. Alabama lost a lot of defensive players last year, but the defense has played pretty well so far. Name two or three players that have stepped up from relative anonymity into a position of making important plays.
Safety Robert Lester: A relatively unheralded safety prospect, he made strides in the Spring and got the attention of the coaching staff. The pressure on him to produce increased exponetionally over the off season as standout Robbie Green was suspended. His performance has ranged from impressive -- his four interceptions is among the best in both the conference and the nation -- to woeful (http://www.rollbamaroll.com/2010/10/14/1750569/film-review-nightmares-in-south-carolina).
TIght End Preston Dial: With the likes of Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson returning this year, few folks thought much of the loss of Tight End Colin Peek. But the truth is the position is a critical one for offensive coordinator Jim McElwain's system (http://www.rollbamaroll.com/2010/6/2/1473808/things-to-freak-out-about-for-2010). The short chain-moving receptions are as important as the key blocks on the edge that make the various running plays work. There was some question going into the season if Dial or Michael Williams would earn the starting spot but No. 85 has made his mark.
4. If Julio Jones can't play, what should we look for from the team? Will that affect playcalling? Who are the other receivers who will make up for him being out?
According to Coach Saban, Julio Jones will start on Saturday. And, yes, it's massively important. There are a number of solid pass catchers on the offense -- Marquis Maze and Dareius Hanks, for example -- but no Number One downfield thread like Julio. The amount of respect his presence on the field demands of the secondary simply cannot be replace. Moreover, his blocking and route running skills are much more a factor in the Tide running game than most people realize. It's hard to say how McElwain will cater the playcalling to the injury since we really don't know how it will affect Julio's play but one thing you can be sure of, as long as No. 8 is on the field he'll be playing as hard as he possibly can.
5. What's your prediction on the game? Final Score? How does it get there?
By all reasonable measures, Alabama should win this one easily. Practically speaking, the talent level alone makes it a no brainer but add the fact it's a home game after a tough loss and it seems a foregone conculsion. Of course, it's not that simple. If the Tide don't respond positively to the setback in Columbia and, more importantly, address the problems it revealed, Ole Miss is more than capable of getting the win. Still we feel it'll be a convincing Crimson Tide Homecoming victory: 35-24.