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VOL. 133 | NO. 166 | Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Even with Questions and Injuries, Alabama Has Rich People’s Problems

By Don Wade

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See if any of this sounds like cause for concern: The team has an ongoing quarterback controversy. It lost four defensive leaders to the NFL Draft, injuries have cut into the depth at outside linebacker, the secondary had a lousy scrimmage a couple of days ago, and the leading returning receiver only made 14 catches last season.

It almost sounds like a team headed for, oh, a 5-7 season. Except all of the above is true for defending national champion Alabama.

The quarterback controversy, to view it through the lens of most other coaches in the country, is really a good problem. In sophomore Tua Tagovailoa and junior Jalen Hurts, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has two top-tier quarterbacks.

Alabama running back Damien Harris (34) celebrates as Alabama defeated Georgia in overtime to win the 2018 College Football Championship in Atlanta, Ga. (Associated Press file photo)

The defense lost a lot from the No. 1-rated unit in the country, but Alabama always has the next wave – or two – of future NFL players on that side of the ball ready to step in and man up.

Saban was agitated about the injuries at outside linebacker and the play of the secondary in the most recent scrimmage (more on that in a moment), but there are plenty of observers who still believe this team could run the table – all the way through a second straight national championship and sixth in 10 years.

One reason for that? The losses at Alabama, as few and far between as they are, sting. And players embrace Saban’s mantra that even the biggest of victories is not cause for a long and joyful celebration as much as it is a bridge to the next major triumph.

“The mindset going into this season is we know our success isn’t going to be inherited,” said running back Damien Harris, who returned for his senior year after his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season. “Anything we accomplish as a team is not going to come from the fact that we won a national championship last year.”

Saban could not have said it any better.

So how does Alabama move forward in the style to which it is accustomed?

Regardless of who wins the QB job, he’ll stand behind probably the best offensive line in the SEC. And because Harris has been there so long, there is a synergy between the line and the team’s top back.

“You can just tell what he’s gonna do and he knows where our mind is as well,” said senior offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher. “Same thing playing next to a guy on the offensive line. You don’t even need to make calls sometimes. You hear a play and know exactly what the look is. Just having that trust, it’s really smooth.”

Saban did not choose the word smooth to describe the secondary’s performance in the last scrimmage.

“Gave up a lot of big plays, made a lot of mental errors,” Saban told media afterward. “We need to play better as a group.”

Sophomore outside linebacker Chris Allen, who was expected to be part of the rotation there, injured a knee in the scrimmage and likely is lost for the season. Outside linebacker Terrell Lewis, projected as a potential starter this season, suffered a knee ligament injury over the summer.

So Saban is concerned about depth even if outsiders are not.

“We’re very, very thin,” he said.

One might suspect the same at receiver, given Calvin Ridley and two other starters were lost. But three freshmen received significant reps last season with Jerry Jeudy having the most catches (14 for 264 yards and two TDs) among returning receivers. In camp, freshman Jaylen Waddle has been impressive in the slot with his quickness and ability to change directions.

Alabama opens the season Sept. 1 vs. Louisville in Orlando, Fla. The Crimson Tide start conference play Sept. 15 at Ole Miss, and they avoid Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in the crossover games with the East Division; they play Missouri at home Oct. 13 and at Tennessee the following week. They meet Auburn in the Iron Bowl Nov. 24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Overall, that’s a favorable schedule. Still, Harris says Alabama is in a unique position.

“We know that winning national championship puts a target on your back,” he said. “We know we are going to get everybody’s best game.”

Which in almost all cases, is still not good enough.

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