2020 Pre Season Show

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By Dave Ozment and Tom and Dave. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Oh, glory be, fall is here. The crisp winds have made landfall across the south and, albeit delayed, topflight college football is in the offing. Only whispers of it please, for 2020 can hear you, but tufts of normalcy are threatening to emerge from this long threadbare of a year.

For sake of expediency, I’ll dispense with further preamble and introduce and get on with the main course.

The Crimson Tide of Alabama is poised for big things in 2020. The roster is well stocked and the demons of a three loss 2019 (calendar, not season), are poised for exorcise.

Blow the horn, let’s go.

Quarterback

To begin the season, junior Mac Jones will play ahead of freshman phenom Bryce Young, who is backed by rs-freshman Paul Tyson.

Reports from camp have been positive regarding all three scholarshipped signal callers, and that’s certainly good news as each will see action.

Roster / Rotation

Let’s say this once and agree it applies to all positions. Rotations will be faster and deeper due the threat of Covid along with NCAA allowances regarding eligibility. More players will play more snaps as Saban resists his urge to shorten the bench. It should be lots of fun for roster watchers.

With that done, let’s get on with it.

Mac, Bryce, Paul is the gist of the roster and rotation at quarterback. Anything else, absent injury or illness, is a headline grab.

What to Watch For

But that’s not to say there’s a want for watch items. How firm is Mac’s grasp on the starting role and exactly how ready is Bryce Young, are top shelf questions.

For those answers we read the breadcrumbs:

  • Snap count distribution – Saban is loyal to his starters and knows the top guys need reps to refine their games. When guys rotate heavily its often due to an uncertain long-term pecking order – see AJ McCarron and Philip Sims
  • Score differential – Does Bryce see substantial action while the game is still in question? Missouri may distort this observation but watch for it.
  • Units – As the backup, Bryce will play with the backups, but does he get reps and drives with the rest of the starting offensive unit?
  • Situational football – how does a player respond to key situations – third and long, 2-minute offense, 4-minute offense, rebounding from a bad play, answering a score, adjustments out of half? A backup quarterback can look good but never really face these opportunities when they matter. A true winner excels in these moments. How quick is Saban to put Bryce into these situations? That will be telling.

Prediction

Saban is Smarter than Smart

At one time Georgia boasted Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, and Justin Fields in their quarterback room. That did not end well for Kirby and his hounds.

Saban prefers to keep both Mac and Bryce happy, but you can bet he’s determined who he wants if he can only keep one. I’ll help you with the easy ones, that’s going to be Bryce Young.

Against Missouri, Mac Jones is likely to see most of the action into the third quarter. This is more a reflection of TAMU in week two than Young’s readiness, so be prepared to ignore the blustery reports and second guessing.

Instead watch for the signs of Bryce getting pre-defined reps with the ones. I don’t believe Saban will pull a Spurrier and rotate quarterbacks every snap, but look for a drive count rotation similar to how he managed running backs earlier in his Alabama days. A rotation that is situationally independent is a sign that a change in pecking order may be coming.

Running Back

Under Nick Saban Alabama has boasted a deep corps of running backs on the regular. Truth is, the hype the 2020 group is getting is more a reflection of 2019’s thin squad than a challenge to all-time-ness.

That is not me banging on this group, I like this group and predict history treats it well. Instead, in the moment I acknowledge four of the seven scholarship backs have never played, one is AWOL, and one is rebounding from a suboptimal showing last season.

And the other may be the best running back in the country.

Roster / Rotation

Najee Harris is the clear starter

Brian Robinson and Trey Sanders are quick in the rotation.

Freshman Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan both flashed in camp and will round out a deep rotation.

Fellow frosh Kyle Edwards likely redshirts under normal conditions but will see his share of plays. This otherwise unexpected opportunity should allow him to pop in the second half of the season.

Keilan Robinson is the wildcard given his absence from camp. He’d start for some teams and would see regular time ahead of the true freshman at Alabama.

Watch List / Questions

Can Najee retain the mantel as the clear number one back?

Is Brian Robinson ready to play a primetime role?

Is Trey Sanders as good as advertised?

Prediction

Najee v2020 is better than v2019, but his numbers will not reflect it. Watch is play, not his production for a true sense for his talent and skill level.

Trey Sanders puts his name atop the 2021 preseason Heisman watch list.

Brian Robinson is the 3rd Alabama running back to amass at least 700 yards during the 2020 season. Pundits will talk about the 2020 running backs similar to how they discussed the receivers in 2019.

All three freshmen make a mark on special teams.

Wide Receivers

Would it surprise you if I suggested the receivers might be the easiest group to project?

Roster / Rotation

Alabama most often lines up in a three-receiver set:

DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, John Metchie

Four and Five sets add, in order:

Slade Bolden, Javon Baker

Speedster Xavier Williams will see time and is a situational threat to spread the defense deep. Meanwhile, true freshmen Traeshon Holden and Thaiu Jones-Bell provide depth and should see their reps increase as the season progresses.

Watch List / Questions

With two legit number one receivers the question is more about ball distribution which likely follows the 2019 template. Week to week nothing is forced and the matchups dictate distribution. Thankfully, the Tide pass catchers have the dispositions to allow such an approach to work.

Slade’s sub-package will be fun to watch. He was a cult hero running the wildcat and even throwing for a score in 2019.

Does Javon Baker flash as the next great Bama receiver?

Can Xavier Williams carve out a sustainable role?

Predictions?

A concerted effort is made to place Smitty atop Alabama’s all-time receivers list. A repeat of his 2019 performance almost seals the deal.

Jaylen will score touchdowns in all forms and fashions from all other the field. In the end, he’ll be Alabama’s leading Heisman candidate, but does not win it

Tight Ends

Similarly, would it surprise you if I suggested this unit were the most difficult to project?

For all the hype around this being one of the deepest positions on the team, I can’t get over the weakness of this position in 2019 and the relatively little difference across the line up this year.

Yet, I also see potential and upside throughout the group. Does any single player have an opportunity to explode or will multiple players pop?

Roster / Rotation

My guess is Miller Forristall leads the way and the rotation is more situationally determined.

Carl Tucker is used more for blocking, though is prototypical in his ability to do block and catch.

Jahleel Billingsley is a talented jumbo receiver and could carve out a role in short yard and goal line situations.

Major Tennison is a back up to Miller’s role, I call it a motion TE.

Cameron Latu is a back up to Carl Tucker’s role but will also see short yardage reps as a lead blocker.

Watch List / Questions

My question, how the hell does all this shake out? Its like an ensemble cast where some of the characters may never develop, is there enough focus on the tight end position to flesh out what each of these players do best?

Prediction

Alabama v2020 will not feature a Tight End centric attack, though it would be interesting to see that play out in some sort of computer-generated simulation. But do watch for elements of it.

Carl Tucker will remind you of Irv Smith at times, and you will like it.

Jahleel Billingsley will move the chains and watch out if a defense tries to cover him with an undersized safety. A game plan could pivot on that decision.

Cameron Latu will score a goal line touchdown and position himself for a breakout 2021.

Offensive Line

This may prove to be one of the better units on the team and one of the better line’s the Tide has fielded in years. Saban mentioned seven starter quality players which itself masks the rotational depth across the full unit.

Roster / Rotation

Left to Right, the Tide line will feature the following two deep – no name repeats or bracketing:

Alex Leatherwood, Chris Owens

Deonte Brown, Tommy Brown

Landon Dickerson, Darrian Dalcourt

Emil Ekiyor, Pierce Quick

Evan Neal, Kendal Randolph

Alex Leatherwood, Kendal Randolph

Deonte Brown, Pierce Quick

Landon Dickerson, Darrian Dalcourt

Emil Ekiyor, Chris Owens

Evan Neal, Tommy Brown

But don’t tattoo that anywhere just yet. The battle for Center/Right Guard remains active and who steps in second at any position will vary by situation. Recall Saban indicated seven starter quality players not ten, so the real plan does repeat names.

Watch List / Questions

The rotation is the watch item. Namely, who among Darrian, Emil, and Chris is the real back up center? How early in games does this player get reps, allowing Landon to slide over to guard? This is the key question.

Also worth watching is the rest of the line rotation, including getting Evan Neal reps at Left Tackle. This will serve Covid or injury, but mostly previews 2021.

Prediction

Dalcourt is the answer long term at Center but I expect Landon to maintain the position through 2020 where he earns All SEC and 2nd team All-America honors. Note, he’d be 1st team AA at guard.

Leatherwood and Neal are All-America 1st and 2nd team honorees respectively.

Deonte Brown is 2nd team All SEC

Emil plays great and while he may not earn individual honors, he is part of the 2020 Joe Moore award winning offensive line.

Defensive Line

Say what you will, the greatest roster transformation going into 2020 is the defensive front eight and it starts with the developments across the front.

Roster / Rotation

Alabama features a three-man line with lots of rotations. I’ll project a three deep.

La Bryan Ray, Bryon Young, Stephon Wynn

DJ Dale, Tim Smith/Ishmael Sopsher

Justin Eboigbe, Christian Barmore/Phildarian Mathis

Watch List / Questions

Does La Bryan Ray resume his pre-injury trajectory? He certainly has All SEC potential and could crack the 3-deep for AA honors. His return to form can have a dramatic impact on Alabama’s ability to field a top ten defense.

Can Christian Barmore return from injury and build upon his breakout 2019? Some unsubstantiated practice reports suggest potential maturity questions for Barmore. He has also missed time with a minor injury. If he can put these distractions behind him and regain the form that made him a fan favorite in 2019, Alabama will have the makings of a powerful defensive front.

Are the DJ Dale practice reports accurate? Reports are that he’s unblockable at times. If true, offensive lines best pack a lunch when forced to solve for Dale, Barmore, Ray, and linebacker Will Anderson in pass protection.

Predictions

The defensive line is a position where a little depth can go a long way. Saban has long shared his theory that smaller players refuel quickly, but once tanked, but the big boys do not bounce back the same way. As such, I think these players are more likely to hold back or take plays off if they know there is no depth or relief coming from the sidelines. In turn, the presence of depth is motivating and freeing. Depth itself becomes the weapon because the line can sustain itself. For Alabama, this was last true in 2015 and I suspect it will be the case again in 2020.

Linebackers

The position most eager to awake from the nightmare of 2019 is surely the linebacker corps where injury and lack of experience took its toll.

Roster / Rotation

Alabama features four linebackers in its regular package so we’ll report a three deep in kind. However, note that rarely does Alabama play its regular package instead operating out of what we call a base nickel, which removes a linebacker from the field.

Christopher Allen, Ben Davis, King Mwitkuta

Dylan Moses, Shane Lee/Jaylen Moody

Christian Harris, Joshua McMillon, Ale Kaho/Demouy Kennedy

Will Anderson, Drew Sanders

Watch List / Questions

The single most impactful question is one barely being reported. How is Dylan Moses’ knee going to hold up? Reports are he looks good in camp and Saban recently commented on watching Moses work though his injury but will he be able to sustain for the season? Or better, how will he sustain? Will he practice less, or rotate out more frequently? Is there a snap count? These are interesting questions to track.

Is Will Anderson the next Derrick Thomas?

Prediction

Christian Harris leads the Alabama defense in tackles. As mentioned in a recent podcast, lining up next to Dylan is effectively a cheat code for Harris. Expect him to explode this season.

Let us all agree Ben Davis is a feel-good story and we want him to succeed, but reality is he’ll lose grip on his starting position by midseason, likely to Will Anderson.

While, Christopher Allen has a stronger hold on his position compared to Davis, King Mwitkuta is coming.

If Anderson is the next Thomas, he wins two Nattys while wearing Crimson

Secondary

My calculator quit as I was trying to add up all the defensive backs Alabama has lost over the last three seasons. Such is the turnover in the Tide secondary. Yet here again, a young but talented squad is starting to emerge, thanks to Saban’s relentless recruiting.

Roster / Rotation

Alabama plays lots of nickel and dime (5 and 6 DBs), in the secondary so we’ll go two deep on the dime. That is 12 players or 3x a traditional 4 DB set.

CB – Patrick Surtain, Jalyn Amour-Davis

CB – Josh Jobe, Marcus Banks

SS – Jordon Battle, Kristian Story

FS – Daniel Wright, Brandon Turnage

Star – Malachi Moore, Brian Branch

Money – Demarco Hellams, Eddie Smith

(Ronald Williams injury, not listed)

Watch List / Questions

As stated, listing two-deep at six positions is not the same as the rotations we’ll see in a true nickel so, along with the youth, it’ll take some time to flush out the true rotation. I find this much more challenging to track on TV (damn Covid), so it’ll be a work in progress.

Never judge a secondary, especially a rebuilt one, on the first week of the season. Be a smarter fan than that. Instead you should expect a blown assignment and perhaps even wish for it in a game that otherwise is not a threat to the record.

Prediction

The key to Alabama’s defensive success lies in the back end. Don’t be surprised to see a steady rotation of players at corner, star, and money if production is not up to par. The staff knows getting the back end right is the limiting factor for the defense.

Jobe is going to be solid, if not spectacular at the corner spot. Of course, solid corners in the SEC are hard to find and often drafted so take it in stride.

Jordan Battle is the next star safety at Alabama, get used to his name.

Brian Branch and Malichi Moore are not waiting their turn. One will start and the other will rotate heavily. Both will make plays in special teams.

Special Teams

Kicking is question we all have. I predict a recovered Will Riechard is the answer to many Bama prayers.

Ty Perine looks more linebacker than punter, but I expect him to win and hold the starting job, but it’ll be bumpy early.

Jeff Banks must believe Covid Christmas miracles come early because NCAA eligibility rules open a treasure trove of additional talent that he might otherwise not be able to pick from. This season he can exercise all the youngsters and customize his teams more than usual.

Overall, I’m glad to see football return and not just because I enjoy the game. I believe there is enough returning talent for this team to make a run at another championship. I predict this team makes short work of the conference schedule – making it look almost easy – in route to being a top seed in the playoffs. All SEC and All America teams will be littered with Alabama talent.

2020 is a springboard season for Alabama. I predict a 2of3 or 3 of 5 type championship run is just about to start.

Let’s Roll.

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