Alabama Crimson Tide: Tide Countdown

Countdown to kickoff: 1

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
7:30
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From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 1 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

Finally, it its here: College football eve for the Crimson Tide. One day is all that separates us from the start of Alabama's national championship defense, about 24 hours longer until the kickoff against No. 8 Michigan.

Defending the title won't be easy. It's why no one has done it since Nebraska in the mid-1990s. Getting two rings in three seasons was difficult enough. Three in four is next to impossible.

But if Alabama is going to repeat, there's one area that will be most important in accomplishing that: redefining the identity of the Tide.

In 2010, Alabama tried to continue along the same lines as the year before. They had the same running back, the same quarterback and the same wide receiver. All things were normal.

That's why they failed. Things were too status quo. Their identity stayed the same. There wasn't enough hunger and there wasn't enough competition.

(Read full post)

Countdown to kickoff: 2

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
2:00
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 2 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

Alabama sophomore DeAndrew White isn't the only receiver trying to fill the shoes of those that came before him. The wide receiver who wears No. 2 on his jersey played some his freshman year, hauling in 14 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns as a reserve.

Now that four of the top pass-catchers from a season ago are gone, it's up to White and fellow veterans Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell and Christion Jones to keep producing. Freshmen Amari Cooper, Cyrus Jones and Marvin Shinn could play a role as well.

When Alabama released its depth chart on Tuesday it looked like this:
All seven receivers have combined for four career starts, 45 catches and four touchdowns. But what they lack in experience, they make up for in talent.

"It's more spread out than it's ever been here," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "We have a really good group of receivers. All the guys can run. All the guys can make plays. I'm definitely excited to get out there and see what we've got Sept. 1."

Countdown to kickoff: 3

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
6:16
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 3 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

The University of Alabama has a number of versatile players on the defensive side of the ball, but maybe none more so than No. 3 Vinnie Sunseri. The true sophomore, with his size and quickness, is able to roam the secondary and play off the ball or on the line of scrimmage.

Last season, he made a name for himself on special teams, delivering a number of big hits, and later on the defensive side of the ball filling in for an injured secondary. Coaches in the league thought so much of Sunseri that they voted him on the SEC All-Freshman team.

In his second year, things have changed. His father, Sal, left Alabama to become the defensive coordinator at Tennessee, and the sophomore finds himself a more integral part of the defense. Sunseri was named the co-starter at safety with Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix on Tuesday and is expected to continue seeing time at the star cornerback position.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is optimistic Sunseri can help fill the void at safety left when Mark Barron went to the NFL.

"In terms of their intelligence level, ability, and Vinnie has done a great job adjusting to that role," Smart said. "He’s not Mark Barron and he’s not trying to be Mark Barron. He’s trying to be Vinnie, and he does that well. He calls us and makes some plays."

Despite being only a sophomore, cornerback Dee Milliner called Sunseri one of the leaders on defense.

"We always have a standard at Alabama," Sunseri said. "We want to be fast, strong, relentless. Stop the run, play everything right. We're definitely working hard trying to do everything the right way, how coach Saban wants it."

Countdown to kickoff: 4

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
7:07
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 4 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

A couple of days ago on the Countdown, we talked about the impact of true freshman receiver Amari Cooper. Today, we'll take a look at another rookie ready to make his presence known from Day 1, No. 4 T.J. Yeldon.

The running back from Daphne, Ala., burst onto the scene with a strong performance at A-Day, earning the Dixie Howell Award given to the game’s most valuable player for his 180-yard performance. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound tailback has shown he's the full package: a strong runner inside and outside the tackles, a good pass-catcher and just the right mix of speed and size.

Here's a sampling of what players have said about Yeldon this year:
  • Eddie Lacy on Yeldon's progression: “He did pretty good. He came in and did everything he had to do. He did it very well, too. He took on the role very well.”
  • Kenny Bell on the stable of backs: "We've got a few really good backs. Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon. If they're running the ball good, you just keep feeding the horse until it breaks."
  • AJ McCarron on Yeldon: "He’s a hard runner, very smart running back. The kid can play. But it’s definitely different when the lights turn on and you’re playing LSU or South Carolina, whoever we’ve got. We’re definitely going to get a chance to see him. It’s going to be fun."
  • Barrett Jones on Yeldon: "He’s good. It’s hard to really tell where he stacks up until we get into a game setting, but he’s definitely very, very talented, and we have high hopes for him."

Countdown to kickoff: 5

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
6:00
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 5 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

When Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2007, he changed the game for the Crimson Tide. The malaise around the program was wiped away as a new era at the University of Alabama began.

In five seasons guiding the Crimson Tide, Saban has built one of the most successful football programs in the country.

Here's a review of some of the things he's accomplished in five seasons:
  • One SEC championship
  • Two BCS national championships
  • Won four of five bowl games
  • Won 50 games, lost 12 (five wins vacated in NCAA ruling)
  • Won 29 SEC games, lost eight
  • Averaged more than 30 points per game
  • Surrendered fewer than 14 points per game
  • Four consecutive seasons giving up 200 or fewer points in a season
  • Produced 24 NFL draft picks, 11 coming in the first round
  • Produced 18 first-team All-Americans

Countdown to kickoff: 6

August, 26, 2012
8/26/12
1:54
PM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 6 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

Who is HaHa? Until about a week ago, not many people knew how No. 6 Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix came to be known at HaHa.

"Just my real name Ha’Sean," he explained. "HaHa, my grandmother has been calling me that since I was a little kid, so just been a little kid thing."

But does he like it?

"I love it," he said. "Coach loves it. Everyone loves it, so HaHa, that’s what I go with."

His name might have been a mystery, but his talent has never been. The sophomore enters the 2012 season as a potential starter at safety, along with Vinnie Suneri.

At Alabama's media day, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart sized up the competition at safety.

“Anytime that you’ve got the back end of your defense, those are the areas that the rest of the world sees," Smart said. "You don’t see a guy mess up at front, you won’t see a linebacker mess up sometimes. When that guy on the back end messes up, and I know as I’ve played back there before, everyone knows your number, everyone knows your name. Those are usually the mistakes that cost you games. As far as those two positions, what you’re telling the corner to do, what you’re telling the linebacker to check to, they are very critical to our defense, and I couldn’t be happier with the two kids we’ve got. In terms of their intelligence level, ability, and Vinnie has done a great job adjusting to that role. He’s not Mark Barron and he’s not trying to be Mark Barron. He’s trying to be Vinnie, and he does that well. He calls us and makes some plays. Robert [Lester] is a very solid player for us and gets us lined up and understands this defense, through playing three or four years in this system, and he can help our defense.”

Countdown to kickoff: 7

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
11:50
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From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 7 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

There's a lot of speed on both sides of the ball at the University of Alabama, but there may not be a player on the team faster than No. 7 Kenny Bell. The wide receiver from Rayville, La., can get behind the defense in a hurry.

Last season, Bell had the highest yards per catch average (minimum 10 receptions) on the team at 15 yards a pop. He caught 17 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns in a reserve role.

With the top four pass-catchers gone from a season ago, it's Bell's turn to step up. The junior has had some nagging injuries in the fall but has not missed a single practice as he prepares for what could be a breakout season.

"All the receivers, we're just coming out there to get better," Bell said. "We're just competing with each other, pushing each other to make sure everybody comes out to work hard and show all their ability to play. All the receivers are like brothers to each other, we push each other, we get on each other and make sure everyone is working."

The group is fast, with burners like Christion Jones and DeAndrew White. Newcomer Cyrus Jones has shown good speed as well. Bell said there might be a race in the works to see who on the team is the fastest, but for now he's focused on being known for more than just one area of his game.
"(Speed) is just an aspect I have," Bell said. "I'm very blessed to have speed, but I just don't want to be known as a speed guy. I want to be known as a receiver that's known all the way around, for great leadership, being a hard worker."

Countdown to kickoff: 8

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
6:00
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 8 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

From the day Julio Jones stepped on campus and pulled a crimson No. 8 jersey over his 6-foot-4 frame, coaches and fans knew it wouldn't take long. The former No. 1 wide receiver from Foley, Ala., was an instant impact to an offense looking for a go-to target on offense.

In his first career game against Clemson he hauled in four catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. He would go on to set Alabama freshman records for receptions (58), receiving yards (924) and receiving touchdowns (4). He passed Ozzie Newsome for the receiving yards record (374) and A.C. Carter for receptions and touchdowns.

Jones would go on to break even more records in his three seasons at Alabama.

His 78 receptions and 1,133 in 2010 are school records for a single season. The future first-round pick finished in the top five of career touchdowns, receptions and yards in a career.

In his second season with the Atlanta Falcons, Jones is lighting up camp.

Watch: NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas is predicting a successful sophomore year for Julio Jones.

Countdown to kickoff: 9

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
8:00
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 9 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

Not since Julio Jones has a true freshman wide receiver been talked about as much as No. 9 Amari Cooper. The former Miami Northwestern standout enrolled at Alabama in February and made an impression on the coaching staff right away.

The top-10 receiver coming out of high school has played at a high level consistently all spring, according to coach Nick Saban, and figures to play a role near the top of the wide receiver rotation as soon as Week 1 against Michigan.

Here's what some players and coaches have had to say about the 6-foot-1, 198-pound receiver:

Wide receiver Kenny Bell: "He's coming out there working hard every day, pushing every receiver on the [field]. All the older guys, making everyone know he's there, he's present. He comes out and works hard every day. He's a quick learner and he's just coming out and playing ball."

"From my coming in as a freshman, I think the toughest situation is, just because you had all the hype in high school you still have to come to college and be able to learn. You can't just live off the high school hype. You've got to come in and learn to be the great player you can be. Coach Saban is going to push you hard, the receiving corps is going to push you hard. You've got other players just as good as you, so you've got to push yourself hard."

Quarterback AJ McCarron: "I think Amari Cooper and Chris Black have shown good ability. Any time you have freshmen, it's just a matter if those guys are going to be able to play with the consistency, persevere, continue to improve, not get frustrated, not be up and down because they don't have the maturity to sustain things. I think that will be key to how those guys will develop but I do think both those guys can make a contribution next year."

Coach Nick Saban: "Amari Cooper has done a really good job, there are a lot of guys out there doing a really good job every day showing consistency and performance, which I think is really important to being successful. Hopefully, we'll get more and more guys that are able to do that as they gain more knowledge and experience of what's expected of them."

Countdown to kickoff: 10

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
6:21
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 10 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

There's been a lot said about the 2010 Crimson Tide football team, the one that came in as the preseason No. 1 and failed to defend the title. It's been the hot topic of the summer, and much has been said about how this year's team hoped to avoid the same fate.

Here's a selection of the best quotes from players and coaches about not letting 2010 happen again:

Cornerback Dee Milliner: “Yeah, we know that it’s going to be like the 2010 season, that once again we’re going to be the young secondary. We have a lot of experience in the front seven. They say we’re going to be a weak point, but we’re going to try to be prepared for that and turn it around.”

Linebacker Nico Johnson: "It plays a lot because of the older guys who were here, we understand how everything went. We didn’t get off to a good start that summer, everything was different. We tried not to go back to that. Try to relax and have fun with everything we’re doing, and work hard. That 2010 was pretty much a letdown year, but there were a lot of things that we didn’t’ do right. We want to correct all those things now and keep moving forward."

Guard Chance Warmack: "Sometimes coach reminds us why we had the season we had in 2010. But it’s always important to never look back, but always look forward. You understand the mistakes you made in the past, but it’s always good to know that you can learn from those mistakes. Not really based off of what you’ve done in the past that caused you to fail or to be short handed, but what you can learn to improve to be better in the future. So we look at those things in 2010 and we try to act on those things now so we don’t make the same mistakes."

Quarterback AJ McCarron: "I think it fell back on the leaders back then. Coach will tell you. We didn't have a lot of leadership. We had a lot of great players coming back, but I think the team kind of felt like everybody went their own personal way, tried to look out for (themselves) following the '09 season and help their draft status personally. What a lot of guys lose is, when they're going through that process, is that if the team wins, a lot more guys get drafted. You get drafted off the success of the team, not just personal success. It's hard to do that. A lot of guys know that. We've got a lot of older guys on here, we've got a lot of younger guys. It's going to be a good mix-up. Young guys just have to come and be ready to learn. You've got to have young guys who want to listen and want to learn. We do. Hopefully we've got the ingredients for a great season. We just have to put everything together and get everybody going."

Coach Nick Saban: "I think everything was different. We lost a whole lot of good players from the 2009 team. I think in some ways, especially to start, when you lose nine starters _ your punter, your kicker, your long-sanpper, maybe four or five starters on offense. We lost like 15 starters from the 2009 and we had like 26 seniors on that team."

Countdown to kickoff: 11

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
7:00
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 11 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

Coach Nick Saban has made on thing clear this offseason: Alabama will be more explosive on offense. The sixth-year coach watched last season as the Crimson Tide struggled to manufacture big plays, and wants better results in 2012.

Alabama averaged 11.8 yards per catch in 2011-12. While averaging a first down every completion isn't bad, it isn't explosive. It isn't the vertical threat Saban wants from AJ McCarron and company.

"I think there are more things that can go wrong when you throw the ball," Saban said. "But there are also more things that can go right in terms of making explosive plays. Making people defend the horizontal and vertical depth of the field by attacking the middle of the field and making people defend it. Spreading people out, putting good skill players in space with the ball. I think if there is one thing we want to improve on, it's make more explosiveplays.

"I don't really care how we make them."

Individually, McCarron averaged 8.0 yards per attempts -- good enough for 24th in the country. Florida's John Brantley and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson ranked ahead of McCarron.

Countdown to kickoff: 12

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
9:01
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 12 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

AJ McCarron didn't enter the 2011-12 season with high expectations. In fact, many wondered whether he would hold the starting job from start to finish. With the Crimson Tide's stellar defense, it was McCarron's job not to simply not mess things up.

By the end of the season, he was doing more than that. Against LSU, he led the offense to the school's 14th national championship, controlling the game from start to finish.

At the end of it all, McCarron turned in the school's 12th 2,000-yard passing season. He threw for 2,634 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. He became only the third sophomore to throw for more than 2,000 yards at Alabama.

Here's the full list of 2,000-yard seasons:
  1. Scott Hunter, 1969 (Jr.): 2,236 yards
  2. Mike Shula, 1985 (Jr.): 2,131 yards
  3. Gary Hollingsworth, 1989 (Jr.): 2,593 yards
  4. Freddie Kitchens, 1996 (Jr.): 2,189 yards
  5. Brodie Croyle, 2003 (Soph.): 2,303 yards
  6. Brodie Croyle, 2005 (Sr.): 2,499 yards
  7. John Parker Wilson, 2006 (Soph.): 2,707 yards
  8. John Parker Wilson, 2007 (Jr.): 2,846 yards
  9. John Parker Wilson, 2008 (Sr.): 2,273 yards
  10. Greg McElroy, 2009 (Jr.): 2,507 yards
  11. Greg McElroy, 2010 (Sr.): 2,987 yards
  12. AJ McCarron, 2011 (Soph.): 2,634 yards

Countdown to kickoff: 13

August, 19, 2012
8/19/12
7:30
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 13 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

From the moment the Alabama coaching staff laid eyes on defensive back Deion Belue, they liked what they saw. The Tuscumbia, Ala., native signed with the Crimson Tide in 2010, but couldn't make it to campus that year. Like so many others, he took the junior college route to Tuscsaloosa.

The extra seasoning at Northeast Mississippi Community College seems to have paid off.

From the minute the 5-foot-11, 179-pound cornerback enrolled in February, coach Nick Saban has spoken highly of him. Through the spring and into the fall, Belue has made his mark and appears ready to step into a starting role for the Crimson Tide.

"We thought Deion was a really good player in high school," Saban said in early April. "Obviously, had to go to junior college. He certainly has matured in terms of his junior college experience. He has done a nice job of developing this spring. He’s a really good man-to-man cover guy. At times, gets a little bit unsure of himself in terms of what he’s supposed to do. But I think he’s definitely going to be a player that contributes and has the potential to be a starter on our team next year."

With the exit of Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie, it's up to Belue and others to step into the secondary and keep up what defensive coordinator Kirby Smart referred to as the "Alabama standard."

"Any time you come into camp after losing basically two cores who were both drafted and Phelon Jones, who was a good player for us, three guys we lost there, you've got to find new guys," Smart said. "For us, we've got great wideouts, we've got good wideouts to compete with every day and challenge those guys. We want Deion Belue to keep progressing. Jabriel, Bradley Sylve both keep progressing. Geno Smith, one of our new guys, is going to be able to help us. Travell Dixon has done a good job. We have the bodies there, we have the body types we want, we just have to give those guys some experience. Thank goodness with the way we practice and this camp we have, they'll have plenty of opportunities to play some ball and do some things we've got to do."

Countdown to kickoff: 14

August, 18, 2012
8/18/12
8:00
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 14 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

Year after year under coach Nick Saban, the University of Alabama celebrates on Feb. 2. National signing day has become a holiday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., since 2008. The Crimson Tide have finished with a top-3 recruiting class every year since Saban arrived.

Over the years, Alabama has landed top-flight recruits like Julio Jones, Trent Richardson and Dre Kirkpatrick. UA has also hit on some lesser known quantities in Dont'a Hightower and Chance Warmack.

Consistently, the Tide have pulled in the country's best talent, and this year appears to be no different. Still six months removed from signing day, Alabama already has 14 four-star athletes committed with quite a few more still considering.

Since 2010, Alabama has made hay with four- and five-star recruits. Here's a complete breakdown, as ranked by ESPN:
  • Five-star: 3
  • Four-star: 42
  • Three-star: 27
  • Unranked (JUCO): 8

Countdown to kickoff: 15

August, 17, 2012
8/17/12
8:47
AM ET
From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 15 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

The University of Alabama and successful running backs have become synonymous in recent years. The last two starting tailbacks have played their way to New York City for the final Heisman Trophy voting. Mark Ingram became the first Alabama player to ever win college football's most prestigious award, and Trent Richardson was beat out by a pair of high-profile quarterbacks: Robert Grifffin III and Andrew Luck. But Alabama's success in developing quality running backs goes further back than Richardson and Ingram. It stretches beyond Shaun Alexander's run as well. A total of 15 times Alabama has had running backs reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season.

In 2012, it's junior Eddie Lacy's turn to carry the torch, though a 1,000-yard season may be in doubt. Given the loaded backfield -- Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart, T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake -- and health concerns, there's a sentiment that Lacy won't get as many carries as most feature backs.

For Lacy, the number of carries doesn't matter, though. Neither did Alabama's history of producing tailbacks. Coach Nick Saban's no-nonsense attitude was enough to lure one of the top prospects in Louisiana to Tuscaloosa.

"My mom liked Coach Saban right off the bat," Lacy said. " I mean, he's very strict. So when she found that out, it was Alabama from there."

(Read full post)

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