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Friday, June 28, 2013
UA's Nussmeier has work to do in Year 2

By Alex Scarborough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Year 1 couldn't have gone any better for Doug Nussmeier. He left a seven-win Washington program to take the same position as Alabama's offensive coordinator, and only won both the SEC title and a BCS National Championship in his first season. Everything went right and the Crimson Tide improved in points per game, yards per game and passing efficiency.

Doug Nussmeier
OC Doug Nussmeier will face new challenges in his second season at Alabama.
Year 2 in Tuscaloosa may not be quite so easy, though. Alabama's feature tailback, the majority of its offensive line and its three-year starter at tight end are all gone. Nussmeier's goal, however, won't be any different than the day he started the job.

"Every year you go back and you look at where you did well, you look at what you need to improve, and maybe you look at different ideas outside of your program," Nussmeier told reporters prior the national title game. "That was our goal as a staff to sit down and kind of mesh it, put it together, look at some other ideas and then move forward."

How things come together this coming season remains to be seen. In order for Nussmeier to repeat the success of his first season at Alabama, he'll have to clear a few hurdles.

Maintain a sense of balance: It's going to be tempting with a Heisman Trophy hopeful at quarterback, a potential All-American at receiver and a growing number of other offensive weapons to work with for Nussmeier to throw the ball all the time. In most offenses a coordinator would do just that. In the Big 12, AJ McCarron might throw the ball 50 times per game. But at Alabama, things are different. With Nick Saban running the show, balance is of the utmost importance. Nussmeier must get the ball to his tailbacks about 40 times per game to get the roughly 50-50 split Alabama has become known for.

Work in new weapons: It's a good problem to have, possessing too many options. But it's nearly the issue for Nussmeier as he attempts to work in new talents like Chris Black, Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard. Black, with his speed and big-play ability, will demand snaps in a receiving corps that already goes five deep. Henry, a unique talent at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, is too tantalizing to keep off the field even in a backfield that will be just as deep as it is at receiver. And Howard might be the toughest to work in considering the lack of playmakers Alabama has had at tight end in the past. The former No. 2 tight end/H-back prospect in the 2013 class will push to play some at both positions with his ability to catch the football.

Establish the offensive line: Spring camp did a lot to quell concerns over an offensive line replacing three of five starters, but the fact remains that we won't know just how good the line is until it takes the field in a game situation. Right now it appears that Ryan Kelly has locked up the center position and Austin Shepherd and Arie Kouandjio are the clear front-runners at right tackle and left guard, respectively, but that could change in the fall. Establishing who the starting five is early on will be key in getting the necessary chemistry together by the time the season starts. When the line is formed, Nussmeier will have to feel out whether this season's group will be as balanced as it was in the past when he was comfortable calling any play in the book.

Start the quarterback competition early: Saban has talked openly about the need to find McCarron's successor under center, but ultimately it will come down to what Nussmeier sees and hears on the practice field and in quarterback meetings. Alec Morris had a year to learn the reigns in 2012 and will take more on his shoulders this season, and the three true freshmen -- Cooper Bateman, Luke Del Rio and Parker McLeod -- will come along slowly. Should Morris steal the No. 2 spot from incumbent Blake Sims, it could be the boost he needs to win the job in 2014.