Alabama Crimson Tide: Doug Nussmeier

The only head-coaching change in the SEC following this past season was at Vanderbilt, where Derek Mason took over for James Franklin.

That's down from four head-coaching changes the previous year. In fact, Mason will be the 38th different head coach to coach in a game for one of the current SEC schools since the start of the 2004 season.

Even in the volatile world of the SEC, that's a ton. But change is a part of this league's fabric. With 11 of the 14 head coaches making $3 million or more per year, there is no such thing as a five-year plan anymore. Some would argue there's not even a four-year plan.

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Jeff Barlis/ESPNFlorida hopes new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will help improve its anemic offense in 2014.
Since the end of last season, we've also seen several changes in the assistant-coaching ranks in the SEC. The five coaching staffs that will return intact next season are Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee.

One assistant, Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, left for a head-coaching gig at Florida Atlantic. His former colleague with the Hogs, Chris Ash, left his post as co-defensive coordinator for the same job at Ohio State.

Georgia's entire defensive staff has a new look, triggered largely by Todd Grantham's move to Louisville as defensive coordinator. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt replaces Grantham along with three other new defensive assistants.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has his fourth different offensive coordinator since coming to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Lane Kiffin, who's no stranger to the SEC after his turbulent 14 months as Tennessee's head coach in 2009, will call the Tide's plays in 2014.

One of the most critical hires was at Florida, where offensive coordinator Kurt Roper comes over from Duke with the mission of resurrecting the Gators' offense.

Here's a rundown of the coaching changes (head coaches and position coaches only; number of new coaches in parentheses):

ALABAMA (2)

Who's in?

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bo Davis, defensive line

Who's out?

Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Rumph, defensive line coach
Greg Brown, secondary

Other moves

  • Kevin Steele moves onto the field as inside linebackers coach and will serve as special assistant to the head coach. He was the Tide's player personnel director last season.
  • Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will coach the secondary after coaching linebackers last season.
ARKANSAS (3)

Who’s in?

Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary
Clay Jennings, secondary
Rory Segrest, defensive line/specialists

Who's out?

Chris Ash, defensive coordinator
Charlie Partridge, defensive line
Taver Johnson, secondary

Other moves

  • Randy Shannon was promoted to senior associate head coach.
FLORIDA (3)

Who’s in?

Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Summers, offensive line
Coleman Hutzler, special teams coordinator

Who’s out?

Brent Pease, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Davis, offensive line
Jeff Choate, special teams/outside linebackers

GEORGIA (4)

Who’s in?

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary
Tracy Rocker, defensive line/weak-side linebackers
Mike Ekeler, inside linebackers/special teams
Kevin Sherrer, strong-side linebackers/nickel backs

Who’s out?

Todd Grantham, defensive coordinator
Chris Wilson, defensive line
Kirk Olivadotti, inside linebackers
Scott Lakatos, secondary

KENTUCKY (1)

Who’s in?

Craig Naivar, special teams/safeties

Who’s out?

Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams/safeties

LSU (2)

Who’s in?

Jeff Grimes, offensive line/running game coordinator
Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams coordinator

Who’s out?

Greg Studrawa, offensive line
Thomas McGaughey, special teams coordinator

MISSISSIPPI STATE (1)

Who’s in?

Brian Johnson, quarterbacks

Who’s out?

Les Koenning, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

TEXAS A&M (1)

Who's in?

Terry Joseph, secondary

Who's out?

Marcel Yates, co-defensive coordinator/secondary

Other moves

  • Jake Spavital will call plays in 2014 as offensive coordinator. He was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season.
  • Clarence McKinney moves back to running backs after calling the plays last season as offensive coordinator.
VANDERBILT (9)

Who’s in?

Derek Mason, head coach
Karl Dorrell, offensive line/quarterbacks
David Kotulski, defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Marc Lubick, receivers
Keven Lightner, offensive line
Gerry Gdowski, tight ends
Brett Maxie, secondary
Kenwick Thompson, outside linebackers
Frank Maile, defensive line

Who’s out?

James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/running backs
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Herb Hand, offensive line
Josh Gattis, receivers
Brent Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Sean Spencer, defensive line
George Barlow, secondary

Early Offer: Trojans get their QB 

January, 27, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Steve Sarkisian and USC landed a major building block for their future this past weekend when a blue-chip 2015 quarterback committed; a longtime Texas commit flipped to rival Texas A&M on Sunday; and a five-star cornerback said he will narrow his list to four schools early this week.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The shakeup on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama will continue as Greg Brown is expected to step down as defensive backs coach to clear the way for Kevin Steele to transition from his role as director of player personnel to an on-field position coaching linebackers, sources told ESPN.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will shift from coaching linebackers to the secondary to make way for Steele's move. Steele, according to ESPN, was offered the Louisville defensive coordinator job but turned it down to remain with Saban in Tuscaloosa.

The latest staff shakeup comes on the heels of Saban hiring Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator and Bo Davis as defensive line coach. Doug Nussmeier left after two seasons to lead Michigan's offense and Chris Rumph left after three seasons to coach Texas' defensive line.

Brown spent one season with the Tide after two years as Colorado's defensive coordinator. Like Saban, he had a wealth of NFL experience with 15 years coaching in the league.

Steele joined Alabama's support staff in 2013, directing the Tide's recruiting efforts. But Steele made his career as an on-the-field coach, spending time as a defensive coordinator at Clemson and Alabama and three seasons as head coach at Baylor from 1999-2002.

By moving to coach the secondary, where Smart has worked before, Smart will have a chance to work more hands on with a unit that had its struggles in 2013.

Prior to the Sugar Bowl, Smart lamented Alabama's inconsistency at cornerback.

"We are not used to that," he said. "We've kind of always had one key guy with all the first -round, second-round corners we've had, we've always had a staple guy there, then kind of an understudy that was the other one who was an up-and-coming corner. Hasn't been that way this year. It's been frustrating."

Smart will have plenty of young talent to develop, though, as Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith both showed promise in 2013, playing significant snaps as freshman. Alabama also welcomed in five-star cornerback Tony Brown as an early enrollee this month.

ESPN's Chris Low contributed to this report.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Maybe Doug Nussmeier needed to go. Maybe it was the right decision to move on to Michigan -- for both he and Alabama. After all, there were signs that his tenure had grown stale. A poor showing in the Sugar Bowl aroused negative attention to the point that his underuse of certain players and his on again, off again relationship with the running game was unavoidable.

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Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesThe loss of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to Michigan could stunt the growth of young Alabama QBs such as redshirt freshman Alec Morris.
But while Alabama does indeed have an opportunity to start fresh with a new offensive coordinator, that doesn't come without a price. Because for whatever Nussmeier did poorly, he will be missed by at least one group of individuals: the quarterbacks.

AJ McCarron is heading to the NFL. Alabama's cadre of young quarterbacks will miss him plenty. But they'll miss Nussmeier even more. For freshmen such as Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Luke Del Rio and Parker McLeod, he was all they knew. He was the one who met with them every day in the film room and helped them on their mechanics. They listened on headsets as Nussmeier called plays in to the sideline and they got used to his voice on the other side of the phone. He was their guy.

"That'll be a really good competition this spring -- really, really excited about our young players on the roster at that position," Nussmeier told reporters of next season's quarterback battle prior to the Sugar Bowl. "With any young quarterback there's a steep learning curve, and for those guys it's about getting snaps every day and continuing to progress, and I like the development that we've seen in those young players. They need to continue to grow. We need to have a really, really good offseason. But I'm very excited about what that competition is going to hold come spring."

Nussmeier was, and still is, known as a teacher of quarterbacks. He played the position himself, toppling school records at Idaho, but he also helped tutor the likes of Jake Locker, Keith Price and Drew Stanton as an assistant coach. He even worked with Marc Bulger when he was with the St. Louis Rams. And when he got a hold of McCarron at Alabama, the relationship was, by all accounts, a special one. The two spoke very fondly of one another and Nussmeier should deserve a tremendous amount of credit for helping McCarron shed the "game manager" title in favor of "Heisman Trophy contender."

Alabama's current crop of quarterbacks no longer have the benefit of Nussmeier's tutelage. David Cornwell, the No. 2-ranked pocket passer in the ESPN 300, won't have the man who convinced him to come to Tuscaloosa any longer. Cornwell will instead begin his journey with the same clean slate as everyone else wearing crimson and white.

How Alabama's quarterback competition plays out this spring and fall is anyone's guess. Blake Sims could wind up winning the job and the idea of throwing the football could become somewhat less important given his propensity to flee the pocket. But if it's one of the youngsters under center, it will take a strong offensive coordinator to help them grow.

Maybe Nussmeier wasn't the right guy to call plays and lead the offense as a whole. Maybe he wasn't the right guy for Alabama to move forward. But very few ever questioned his ability to mold young quarterbacks. And that, without a doubt, will be missed in the coming months.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Doug Nussmeier brought unprecedented success to the Alabama offense in his two years as coordinator in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide averaged more than 38 points per contest and succeeded in opened up the passing game to include more big plays down field. AJ McCarron evolved from a "game manager" into a Heisman Trophy contender and added another BCS National Championship ring to his already impressive collection.

But the more immediate memory of Nussmeier is not so rosy. The numbers, however impressive they might be, only serve as a faint silver outline of what turned out to be a disappointing ending, as Alabama's offense failed on the national stage against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. It turned out to be the final game of Nussmeier's tenure, as he's agreed to move north and take the same job at Michigan.

In the Sugar Bowl, the flaws of Nussmeier's scheme were put under a heavy spotlight: the protection broke down, McCarron faltered and three turnovers ultimately doomed the Tide. Alabama's most potent weapons -- guys such as O.J. Howard and Derrick Henry -- were underutilized, and a back-and-forth commitment to the running game turned the offense from dangerously dynamic to utterly predictable.

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AP Photo/Butch DillDoug Nussmeier's offenses produced numbers, but they started to make Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban feel uneasy over time.
However explosive Alabama was on paper, it was never a team built to score quickly. Without a running game, there was no threat of play-action. Without the threat of play-action, nothing worked. When Alabama fell behind to Oklahoma by two scores, the game was all but over. McCarron became human and the offense hit a wall. And in today's version of college football, where high-octane passing offenses dominate the landscape, that style of play is no longer acceptable.

Alabama coach Nick Saban will have to think of that when he hires his next offensive coordinator, the fourth in his time with the Tide. In fact, he's probably already thought plenty about it.

Over the past year, Saban has dropped a number of not-so-subtle hints that change was coming. No-huddle, up-tempo offenses were something he wanted to explore and even implement, he said.

"It's something we're going to look at. I think we'll have to," Saban told ESPN.com in September. "I think we need to play faster and will have to do more of that going forward."

But who will be the man to make those changes? One name being bandied about is Lane Kiffin. Yes, the same Lane Kiffin who unceremoniously bailed on the SEC when he left Tennessee in 2010 and then was unceremoniously dumped by USC in 2013. He's something of a villainized character in college football, and that's an area where Saban can sympathize. Saban's been called a "devil" himself, so a devil-may-care attitude might be fitting.

The connections between Saban and Kiffin are obvious: both coaches share the same agent (Jimmy Sexton) and both coaches have shared the same meeting room in the past few months. Saban invited Kiffin to Tuscaloosa to help evaluate the offense in mid-December, and Saban had only glowing things to say about Kiffin at the time.

"Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him," Saban said. "Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit to get some professional ideas with our guys is a really positive thing."

Whether that mutual respect will lead to a contract is anyone's guess. There are plenty of high-profile offensive coordinators out there who might be interested in moving to a program so stockpiled with talent that blue-chip prospects overflow from the roster.

If the hurry-up is what Saban's after, a guy such as Clemson's Chad Morris would be a home run. If Saban wants to stick to the run, Stanford's Mike Bloomberg would be a big name to go after. If Saban wants to stick to what he knows, current wide receivers coach Billy Napier and former wide receivers coach Mike Groh could be possibilities.

Whoever Saban chooses will have immediately high expectations. It's championship-or-bust at Alabama, and putting up big numbers isn't always enough to make everyone happy. Just ask Doug Nussmeier.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Oregon State coach Mike Riley launched a new Twitter campaign on Tuesday to help the Beavers connect with recruits across the country; LSU’s Frank Wilson didn’t make the first edition of the ESPN recruiting power rankings, but he could be leading the poll by signing day; and a question and answer session on Wednesday helped identify what topics are most important with recruiting fans today.

#SmartRecruitingTool
Oregon State coach Mike Riley has more than 18,900 followers and is great communicating with fans on Twitter. So it was no surprise to see him launch a campaign Tuesday called “Tweet Film Tuesday” where he asked recruits to send him links to their film, and he and his staffers will then select 10 recruits to evaluate each week. With only 140 characters to work with, Riley didn’t explain how he and his assistants would pick the 10 recruits to evaluate, but the idea is ingenious. Not only does it help Riley and the Beaver coaches communicate with prospects in a way they’re already familiar with, it also allows the OSU coaches to find prospects they might not have been familiar with who are truly interested in the program. Also with Riley’s track record of uncovering hidden talent, you can all but guarantee there will be a story a few years down the road where the Beavers found a sleeper through this approach.

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Five things: Alabama-Ole Miss

September, 28, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Get through this next game and regroup. That's the idea for Alabama after a shaky start to the season against Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Colorado State. Should the undefeated Crimson Tide clear the final September hurdle and beat Ole Miss, the month of October will set up nicely with unranked Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee all in a row.

Here's what we'll be watching when the top-ranked Crimson Tide get back to SEC play against the 21st-ranked Rebels.

Think positive: Nick Saban wants everyone to think happy thoughts. Alabama's coach has seen the frustration of the fan base permeate the locker room, and he doesn't like it. "The big thing we need, everyone needs," he said Wednesday, "is a lot of positive energy and to be excited about the challenges this team has." That is, the challenge of living up to its championship expectations. "They need to be supported and everybody doesn't need to sit around and say, 'Ah, what's wrong with these guys?'" Saban added. With that in mind, pay attention to the Crimson Tide’s body language and the attitude. If expectations really are getting to these players and this program, it will inevitably show on the football field.

Shore up the secondary: Nick Perry wasn't the be-all and end-all to the Alabama secondary, but the senior safety was one of the most veteran contributors and a calming force on the back end of the defense. Perry stands to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery, robbing Saban of a piece of the defense he could sorely afford to lose. Thankfully for the coach, though, Deion Belue appears to be ready to go after sitting out last week's game, which gives the Tide back its top on-ball defender. Now Alabama must find some complementary parts. John Fulton, who was manhandled by Mike Evans and Texas A&M a few weeks ago, didn't start until the second half against CSU. He's a question mark. So is Cyrus Jones, who continues to show some growing pains after transitioning from offense this offseason. Saban said a freshman would have started had Belue not been able to go. Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson, the two likeliest rookies to play, learned a lot against CSU, but they're nonetheless shaky with such little experience. They likely will be leaned on regardless, as Ole Miss likes to spread out on offense with Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan on the outside, Laquon Treadwell in the slot, and Evan Engram split out at tight end.

Establish the running game: Sixty-six yards isn't going to cut it, not in Alabama's offense, which is still predicated on the ability to run the football. The Crimson Tide mustered just 66 yards rushing against a Colorado State team that came into the game allowing an average of 160 yards on the ground per game. AJ McCarron said earlier this week how this year's team is different, how it might not be a run-first team. Although that appears to be true, Alabama still must have some measure of success running the football. Too much of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's scheme is dependent on working off of play-action. If the Tide offense isn't balanced, it simply won't work. Against an Ole Miss team that gives up just 114.3 yards per game on the ground (29th nationally) and 3.09 yards per carry (21st nationally), it should be even tougher sledding for Alabama. T.J. Yeldon & Co. don't necessarily have to run for last season's average of 227.5 yards per game, but getting over the 100-yard plateau would do wonders for the success and consistency of the offense as a whole.

Win third down: Because of that lackluster running game, third down has become increasingly difficult for Alabama. Second-and-long has led to third-and-long, which has led to a lot of punts. UA ranks 98th nationally and next to last in the SEC by converting one of every three third-down attempts. That number shrinks even further when it's third-and-7 or more to go. Although it's hard for any team to convert on third-and-long, Alabama can do itself some favors and pick up positive yards on first down and stay ahead of the sticks.

Tempo, tempo, tempo: It's the biggest thing that can take defensive players out of their rhythm, according to Saban, who said that communication and a sense of urgency are important against teams such as Ole Miss that like to push the tempo on offense. "When they go speed ball or hurry up and run a play really fast in 8 seconds," Saban said, "you barely have time to get lined up." Basically, it gets a defense out of whack by getting players out of position and making it difficult for the right play to get called in and relayed to everyone on the field. And Ole Miss does as good a job as anyone at creating that confusion with Bo Wallace upping the pace at quarterback whenever possible. He and running back Jeff Scott can go read-option and shake up the defense effectively. Alabama got a good dose of tempo against Texas A&M a few weeks ago, which should prepare the defense for what it will see Saturday, but, until the bullets start flying, it's hard to tell what the response will be.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jim McElwain was searching for the right word to describe it.

"It" being the way the offense is run at the University of Alabama. It was clear in talking with those around the program that the overarching direction of the offense is determined by head coach Nick Saban, whose meticulous, controlling nature has been well documented.

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UA Athletic PhotographyOC Doug Nussmeier has continued to build on Alabama's success on offense. The Crimson Tide's offensive style under Nussmeier has changed very little, if at all, from previous seasons.
But calling the offense Saban's alone was too wide of a stretch for McElwain, who served as his offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and winning two national championships before leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State.

"Back when I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to coach there, we sat down and he kind of gave me kind of a philosophy, if that makes sense, a thought process, or a vision, I guess, maybe," he said on the eve of his team's trip to face the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

"The big thing was to figure out what you had and then put it together based upon what team you have," McElwain said.

Unlike many teams in college football that are strictly ground-and-pound or run-and-gun depending upon who is calling the plays, Alabama's offense has been more adaptive, more fluid based upon the strengths of its roster. There's never been an "Air Raid" type of offense under Saban, and there's never been much of a "three yards and a cloud of dust" attack, either, no matter what the national perception has been in the past.

It's been productive, averaging 30 or more points per game in each of the past five seasons. What Saban insists upon is balance and limiting turnovers, according to McElwain.

Though the coaches running the offense have changed multiple times (seven coaching changes to be exact, including three different coordinators), the offense itself has never shifted dramatically. As Saban said upon hiring current offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, "this is Alabama's offense" and that means a power running game, controlling the clock and passing enough to keep the defense honest.

"Are we wholesale changing our offense and going to a whole new system, a whole new terminology?" Saban asked shortly after Nussmeier was hired. "Everybody in the building's got to learn a whole new system because one guy's changed? We're not doing that."

Nussmeier was only half-kidding when he said he wouldn't do anything new at all from the year before, just "change the order we ran them." But the truth is that from Major Applewhite to Jim McElwain to Doug Nussmeier, the style of the offense has changed very little, if at all. Saban's been the one holdover, a known commodity as a defensive mastermind but an unknown in his ability to form an offensive identity. He just happens to look at it from a different perspective.

"What he does is he has a great knack of looking at film, which is what he does, looking at film of the opponent's defense, and really helping you kind of understand what they're trying to take away based on what they're doing," McElwain said. "Inevitably the pieces he brings in, saying you may want to look at something in this design or something like that, they work."

Under Saban, Alabama has never thrown the ball more than its passed. Sixty-three percent of plays were runs in 2008, and that number barely changed over the years to where last season the Tide ran 63.5 percent of the time. The only time UA ever broke the 250 passing yards per game mark was in 2010 when the Tide started off the season as title favorites only to lose three games and wind up in the Capital One Bowl.

There's the idea that Alabama's offense has opened up dramatically and become more explosive in recent seasons, but the numbers show that to be untrue. Instead, it's been same old, same old, as the offense actually had fewer plays of at least 20 yards per game last season than it did the year before (5.43 to 5.46). Points per game went up, but only slightly (38.7 from 34.8 the year before).

"They made the transition very smooth," former UA center Barrett Jones recalled, saying later that it was hard to see McElwain leave going into his senior season. "They did a really good job of letting Coach Nuss bring in some new ideas, but not changing too much because, honestly, it wasn't really broken. We kept a lot of our same verbiage, our same calls, same principals, and just added a few new things, a few wrinkles. … You hardly had to learn any new stuff."

Said McElwain: "I can see the plays and probably what they were called within the system. I think the system is sound fundamentally. I think you pick your places to take your shots. The thing I see is maybe more explosive playmakers on the outside from a collective group than there were before.

"Yet you always have that dynamic that if you're going to load the box, you're going to have guys out there that will make it hurt. And then if you cover those guys, you've got those runners in the backfield with a dominant offensive line, which really helps. I mean, pick your poison."

It's the same offense McElwain would like to run at Colorado State, though he admittedly doesn't quite have the parts to do it. He had to laugh at the talent Saban's assembled through back-to-back top-ranked recruiting classes, saying, "If you've got any [running backs] you want to send our way, I'll take them."

McElwain would love to use Saban's blueprint at CSU, but at the same time, he knows that won't be easy, saying, "The one thing I know is that I can't be him -- no one can."

The continuity Saban's been able to establish at Alabama has been second to none, never missing a beat when coaches leave or star players are drafted into the NFL. The production on offense has remained as steady as the tide. McElwain credited that to his unwavering vision, which extends to both sides of the football.

There's a plan in Saban's mind, and it's never changed in seven years at Alabama.

"To me, he's the whole package," McElwain said. "He's hired great coaches who understand what he wants and then go out and execute it."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Amari Cooper is nonchalant about most things. Still just a fresh-faced sophomore, it's hard to tell whether the enormity of his young career, the one that took off like a rocket last season and ended with consensus All-American honors, has sunk in. Has he felt the impact he's had the Tide? Or the SEC?

Alabama hasn't had a playmaker at wide receiver like him since Julio Jones. He's not as physically intimidating or as wildly popular, but his impact is approaching that of Jones. Cooper set nearly every rookie receiving record at Alabama last season, passing his dreadlocked predecessor and others in the process. And he did all that without starting a game until Week 6.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper, Damian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsThe go-ahead score against Georgia in the SEC title game, was one of many big plays for Amari Cooper during his 11-score freshman season at Alabama.
"My life hasn't changed," Cooper told reporters on Wednesday night, less than 72 hours removed from the season opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Last December he was there and he was anything but understated when he spiked his foot into the ground to help sell a play-action pass in the fourth quarter. Georgia's Damian Swann nearly fell down when Cooper broke left, and 45 yards later Cooper was in the end zone with the game-winning score to give the Tide the SEC Championship. "On the football field I just try to get better every day, so not much changed there either."

At the end of his signature play in the Georgia Dome, Cooper didn't even break his stride to celebrate. He put one hand up and barely recognized the crowd on his jog back to the sidelines. Meanwhile, quarterback AJ McCarron pumped his fist and waved his arms like a wild man all the way to the back of the end zone.

Nothing seems too big for Cooper; no moment, no situation. Whether it's a defense trying to beat him up in man coverage -- "They're saying their guys is better than you" -- or the pressure of living up to the past -- "I don't feel like I did a whole lot last year" -- there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of stress on his shoulders.

His only expectation: "To have a better year than last year."

"Now I'll be starting the first game this year," he continued. "I didn't start the first game last year. We'll see if I have a better year than last year."

Make no mistake, though, Cooper is confident in his abilities. During his first time speaking with the media in Tuscaloosa this spring, he slipped up and said he only had two years left in school, meaning he intends to enter the NFL draft as an underclassman. The sports information director on hand quickly corrected him and Cooper added "at least" a second too late.

"He can be as great as he wants to be," former UA cornerback Dee Milliner said last October, before the rest of the world had caught on to Alabama's rookie phenom. "He can be one of the greatest receivers we’ve had at Alabama. He does a lot of things you really don’t see freshmen do with his speed, his hands, and his quickness that he got. He can be one of the great receivers in years to come."

Doug Nussmeier didn't hesitate to call Cooper one of the game’s best earlier this month. It wasn't just his 59 receptions, 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns that impressed the second-year offensive coordinator. Instead it was Cooper's savvy.

"Amari, and what he did, from where he started to his progression through the season, we felt that towards the end of the season, he was playing as good as anybody in the country at that position," Nussmeier said. "He continues to develop … he's still learning. He's really starting to focus on the little things that are going to take his game to the next level."

Up and down the roster there's respect for Cooper, who added 7 pounds and cut his 40-yard dash time from 4.4 seconds to 4.3 this offseason. Fellow wideout Kenny Bell marveled at Cooper's growth, saying he could be even more explosive this year. Junior tight end Brian Vogler said he "really loves the game," praising his hard work and dedication.

John Fulton has had to go up against Cooper countless times during practice. The senior cornerback said that some of the stuff Cooper does, Fulton has "no idea where he learned it from, but he's absolutely amazing."

"He has this thing he does off the line," Fulton said. "I'm kind of catching onto it now, but he's going to develop something else to mess with my head. He'll take two steps outside, shake inside, shake outside and then shake back inside for a slant and its under .5 seconds. It's so fast, you can't time it. It's crazy."

Defenders around the SEC understand. Coaches do too. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer took a second to connect Cooper with the game film during a conference call on Monday, but when he did he compared him to a two-time, first-team All-American receiver in his conference.

"I know who he is," Beamer said. "In our league he reminds you of Sammie Watkins there at Clemson. A guy that's just athletic, can go. They've got a good group of wide receivers, but certainly Cooper is a guy who is hard … It's hard to cover that guy."
YeldonRandy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsSophomores T.J. Yeldon (pictured) and Kenyan Drake are established Alabama tailbacks, but the Crimson Tide are hoping that their four incoming freshman can provide immediate depth.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban is no stranger to managing a crowded backfield. Since he took over as head coach at Alabama in 2007, he's featured two lead tailbacks and a supporting cast of one or more every season. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy were the players fans across the country knew best, but they wouldn't have been as explosive as they were without help from the bench.

T.J. Yeldon understands that. The soft-spoken sophomore backed up Lacy in 2012 and was able to make a name for himself in the process, becoming the first UA tailback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his freshman season. All told the former four-star prospect from South Alabama ran for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on 12.5 carries per game.

"He's bright. He learns well. He understands the offense. He's a good blocker. He's a complete player. He's a really good receiver, and he's a good runner," Saban said of his Pre-Season All-SEC back. "And he understands what he's doing, and he's played enough that his knowledge and experience certainly helps him with the rest of the players."

Yeldon and his presumptive backup, Kenyan Drake, are givens, but the rest of the backfield is where things get sticky. Where will the rest of the Tide's cast of characters fit in?

In addition to veterans Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, Alabama signed four tailbacks in the 2013 class. Each rookie brings something different to the table: Derrick Henry is a physical freak at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, Altee Tenpenny is a bruiser with good lower body strength, Alvin Kamara is a scat-back type with good catching ability and Tyren Jones is a somewhere in the middle, a power back with good shiftiness and explosion. And according to those inside the program, all four not only are on track to play early, but are expected to do so this season.

Saban hinted as much at his signing day press conference when he scoffed at the notion of a "stacked" running back corps. He said then that good depth at the position meant five really good players, with three playing a lot. With Fowler practicing at H-back and Hart a question mark given his health concerns, the numbers add up.

On Tuesday, Saban updated the situation at tailback and praised his freshmen in the process.

"I think all the running backs are really good, the freshmen, and I think they'll all be able to contribute," he said. "Some of the guys who are showing a little bit more maturity and learning and being able to sustain performance, which I think is going to help their development and it's going to help them be able to contribute and play.

"Derrick Henry being here in the spring obviously helps his (chances). Altee Tenpenny seems like he's a guy that seems to get it and is pretty well-rounded and has been able to grasp things and sort of learn quickly. But the other guys have done a good job as well."

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said less than two weeks earlier that the most important thing for the young backs such as Tenpenny and Henry is to get the system down pat. Then and only then can they move on to the idea of playing time.

"So that's the biggest thing is to teach them once again the big picture -- how you get lined up, what kind of stance, what kind of footwork. Everybody focuses on the running back position about what the player does with the ball in their hands. There's so much more to it," he said. "You start talking about protection-type things. What we see from our defense every day, the complexity of blitzes and those type of things, it's very important that those guys grow in that area.

"[The coaches are] very, very pleased with the depth that we have there, really good players. Jalston Fowler, you know he missed most of last season. Dee Hart coming back off of injury. Kenyan Drake returning. And then we talked about Derrick and the young guys that are coming in. So we've got a lot of depth there."

Yeldon told reporters on Tuesday that the young backs have been leaning on him for advice while they learn the ropes during fall camp. Funny because it was only a year ago that he was doing the same thing, splitting carries as he studied under Lacy. Now it's Yeldon leading the charge as he wonders who will split carries with him as the team's feature back.

But who looks best so far? Yeldon can't tell.

"Every guy is different," he said. "They have different running abilities. All of them are looking pretty good."

SEC lunchtime links

August, 5, 2013
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A little lunchtime reading from around the SEC:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Ask coaches around college football and they'll tell you how underrated Alabama's offense has been. One SEC defensive coordinator told me this summer that AJ McCarron still doesn't get enough credit for what he's accomplished as a passer. He said the word "steady" comes to mind when he looks at the tape, but that it shouldn't fool you into thinking the Tide's offense lacks punch: McCarron and Co. were consistently successful at getting the better of defenses in 2012.

While Nick Saban's defense has gotten the bulk of credit in the past -- and rightly so, considering it has finished in the top five nationally in points allowed every year since 2008 -- it shouldn't go unnoticed what he's quietly constructed on the other side of the ball thanks to back-to-back No. 1 recruiting classes and a change in philosophy. He's claimed all along that he was willing to throw more and that he wanted more big plays, but for the longest time his offense has been characterized as conservative, leaning on the defense and running game while asking its quarterbacks to simply manage the proceedings.

But when Saban hired Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator following the 2011 season, everything changed.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/David J. PhillipAJ McCarron will have a deep and talented wide receiver corps to throw to this fall.
Having arguably the best offensive line in the country and a stable NFL-caliber tailbacks gave the Tide balance -- the difference in rushing and passing yards a razor thin 2.1 percent compared to, say, Oregon which had a differential of 17.3 percent. That opened things up for the passing game, as McCarron finished No. 1 nationally in passing efficiency and fell 67 yards shy of becoming the school's first 3,000-yard passer. There's no telling how many more yards he would have thrown for had Alabama not jumped out to so many big leads, pulling ahead by two touchdowns or more by halftime in 10 games.

With a fresh slate, a veteran quarterback and the deepest group of receivers in recent memory, Alabama's offense has a chance to do even more in 2013. It could, much to the chagrin of opposing coaches, become one of the most explosive attacks in the country.

"Very, very excited for Year 2," Nussmeier said on Sunday. "We've got a long way to go, but I'm really impressed by the job that [strength coach Scott Cochran] and his guys have done in the weight room preparing these guys coming into camp. The focus, the improvements that we've made over the summer are there. Really looking forward to progressing each day as we look forward to playing a very, very good Virginia Tech game in the opener."

Nussmeier kept to the cliches in what will be his only time speaking with the media this season, stressing the need to maintain balance and stick to the program's core philosophies. But it's difficult to imagine him not giving into his roots as a record-setting college quarterback given what he'll have to work with this season. McCarron is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender under center and an already talented receiving corps welcomes back former starters DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell after missing time last season with injuries. Former top-25 prospect Chris Black has shed his redshirt and is eager to prove himself, as are true freshmen Raheem Falkins and Robert Foster.

"The receiver group has progressed very, very well from where we were at this point last year," Nussmeier explained. "We have a couple of new players, a lot of returning guys, a lot of guys who've played a lot of games."

The headliner of the group, Amari Cooper, set nearly every rookie receiving record Alabama had in 2012, passing Julio Jones on his way to double-digit touchdowns and 1,000 yards. And like the former SEC Freshman of the Year and first-round draft pick, Cooper should only improve with age. As Nussmeier pointed out, Cooper took time to develop into a go-to target last season, starting his first career game in Week 6.

"Towards the end of the season, he was playing as good as anybody in the country at that position," Nussmeier said. "He continues to develop, and I can talk about the little intricacies, he's still learning. He's really starting to focus on the little things that are going to take his game to the next level."

Christion Jones agreed with his coordinator, calling Cooper an impact player since the first time he set foot on the field in Tuscaloosa.

Jones was one of two receivers to start 10 games last season, frustrating defenses with his ability to run after the catch, averaging 13.6 yards every time he touched the ball. Despite that, he said he and Cooper are fighting for reps.

"At Alabama, everything we do is competitive," he said. "You have to bring your 'A' game to practice, not just the game."

Bell is one such player pushing for a return to the starting lineup. His 25.4 yards per catch in 2012 was the best in the country among receivers with at least 15 receptions. Now that his broken leg is healed, he's the type of home run threat McCarron can turn to when a big play is needed.

But it's not just Bell who will keep defensive coordinator's up at night. The speedy senior agreed: the offense's potential is sky high.

"Especially since we have the people we have," he said. "We have a great quarterback, a great running back, great receiver, a great offensive line. I think we can be one of the most stellar offenses in the country."

Early preview: Balance key to UA, LSU

July, 18, 2013
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Editor's note: This week, GeauxTigerNation and TideNation will examine all aspects of the LSU-Alabama rivalry during the Nick Saban-Les Miles era. Today we turn to this season's game and what each team must do to come out victorious.

It's never too early to look forward to a good old-fashioned rivalry game. So with more than 100 days remaining between now and the Alabama-LSU regular-season matchup in Tuscaloosa, Ala., we asked TideNation writer Alex Scarborough and GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney to break down three keys for each school to come out on top.

A lot can happen between now and Nov. 9, but its safe to say the plans laid out by each writer will be as true today as they are four months from now when Nick Saban and Les Miles meet at midfield in Bryant-Denny Stadium to renew a rivalry that's been boiling intensely in recent years.

How LSU wins in 2013

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Derick E. HingleAlabama's defense has to find a way to put pressure on Zach Mettenberger in its matchup with LSU on Nov. 9.
1. Offensive balance: On a spreadsheet, LSU did not have a team that should have been able to beat Alabama in 2012. The Tigers were too one-dimensional on offense without a consistent passing game and, if the 2011 meetings showed anything, Nick Saban-coached teams will eat one-dimensional offenses for lunch. But for one night in Tiger Stadium, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was brilliant, throwing for a season's-best 298 yards to bring balance to the usual productive running game, led by Jeremy Hill, and the Tigers nearly pulled off an upset, losing 21-17. This year, Mettenberger will have to be as good -- probably better -- and LSU will need its usual running threat, whether it's Hill or somebody elese. Of course, that is the whole reason why LSU has a new offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron.

2. Pressure points: Alabama has some work to do on its offensive line, and LSU has some holes to fill on its defensive line. This should not be a huge issue for the Tigers' run defense -- defensive coordinator John Chavis is a master of scheming extra men in the box to negate the run -- but if a now well-seasoned A.J. McCarron has time to sit back and go through his progressions in the passing game, even "DBU" won't be able to cover. Don't believe it? Look at the winning drive last season. Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson should be a pass-rushing force this season. But if the Tigers enter the LSU game still waiting for one of the young ends to emerge as a consistent sack threat, they could be in for a world of hurt.

3. Kicking it around: The last time the Tigers beat Alabama, Drew Alleman gave LSU all of its points with three field goals. Under Les Miles, LSU always seems to enjoy a special teams edge. That's especially important against this team because it will take a mighty effort to just be close to the Tide, based on what they have coming back with offensive skill players and defensive talent. That might be a problem for LSU, which is breaking in a new starting punter in Jamie Keehn and is entering August camp still searching for Alleman's replacement at kicker.

How Alabama wins in 2013

1. Pressure Mettenberger: It's odd that the silver lining in Mettenberger's otherwise lackluster 2012 campaign was a defeat, but such was the case for the rising senior quarterback who threw for a season-high 298 yards against Alabama in early November. Give him credit for making all the throws, but a fair share of the blame lies with the Tide defense, which had three sacks and no quarterback hurries in Baton Rouge. Allowing a big, strong-armed quarterback such as Mettenberger to set his feet like that was just asking for trouble. Combined with a season-low two pass breakups, it's a wonder he didn't throw for more than one touchdown. For Alabama to survive LSU in Tuscaloosa this season, the defense can't afford Mettenberger another career-making day where he has the time to sit back and pick the secondary apart.

2. Stay with the running game: There were times last season when the Alabama offense got too far ahead of its skis and lost balance -- twice to be exact. The LSU game was the first such instance when offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called more passes than runs, and the lack of continuity showed in the second half, when McCarron and Co. went three-and-out on four of six drives. Alabama, of course, survived that bit of unbalance, but the next week it did not as the Tide threw the ball more than it ran and lost in heartbreaking fashion to Texas A&M. While the temptation to pass will be even greater with McCarron a year wiser and with more weapons at wide receiver, the fact remains that the Alabama offense is based on running the football and controlling the line of scrimmage. Handing the ball off to T.J. Yeldon and the rest of the stable of running backs might not be sexy, but it gets the job done.

3. Stay special: A bad kicking game doomed Alabama the last time LSU came to Tuscaloosa as the Tide missed four-of-six field goal attempts in its only loss of the 2011 season. And while Cade Foster appears to have gotten over the hiccup of that game, he comes into the 2013 season with even greater expectations now that short-range specialist Jeremy Shelley is gone. Making the most of every opportunity will be important for whoever handles field goals for the Tide this go-around, whether it's Foster or redshirt freshman Adam Griffith, who could take over for Shelley as the short- to intermediate-range kicker. Getting the ball through the uprights won't be the only thing that's important, though. The Tide must do well in coverage and take care of the ball in the return game, as five of the past seven meetings between the schools have been decided by a touchdown or less.
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.

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
UA Athletic PhotographyOC 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.


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Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at quarterback Alec Morris.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When spring practice begins next Saturday and six scholarship quarterbacks trot out to the center of the football field, the competition will officially begin. Only starting quarterback AJ McCarron knows where he'll be Week 1 of the season against Virginia Tech. The rest of the depth chart is a mystery.

Alec Morris
Jeff Andrews/ESPNDallas.com Alec Morris might be the favorite to take over for AJ McCarron as Alabama's quarterback in 2014.
Phillip Ely and Blake Sims backed up McCarron during the 2012-13 season, but whatever returns they delivered were mixed at best. Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier seemed reluctant to turn to the pair. When Alabama led Notre Dame by four touchdowns in the national championship game and the outcome was a virtual lock, McCarron stayed under center rather than yield to his backups and avoid injury.

Ely, a traditional drop-back passer in his second season at Alabama, attempted just four passes in three games. Sims, a threat almost primarily as a runner in the read-option game, threw only 10 times. Experienced, the two are not. And there were many opportunities for them to come on late in games. Alabama averaged a 23.3-point lead after halftime in its 13 victories. The average score by the fourth quarter was Alabama 30, Opponent 7.

On signing day, Saban made it clear the battle to become Alabama's next quarterback after McCarron leaves is already underway. Seniority is no matter, he said. The best indication of who it might be will come this season, when a backup is named.

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