Key returning starters: WR Calvin Ridley, WR ArDarius Stewart, TE O.J. Howard, OT Cam Robinson
For the third consecutive year, Alabama will build an offense around a first-year starting quarterback. And for the first time since the Crimson Tide started winning big in 2008, they don’t return either of their top two rushers from last season.
Key returning starters: DE Jonathan Allen, LB Tim Williams, LB Reuben Foster, CB Minkah Fitzpatrick
Don’t be fooled by the short list of returning starters on defense. Linebackers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson and nose guard Da’Ron Payne played plenty as part of a ridiculously deep front seven rotation during Alabama’s national title run. With Jonathan Allen, Williams and Anderson, this may be the Tide’s best group of pass rushers in the Saban era.
Leader in rushing: Bo Scarbrough. The jumbo (6' 2", 230 pounds) back probably won’t gain as many yards as 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry because he’ll be splitting carries with Damien Harris.
Leader in receiving: Calvin Ridley. The sophomore led Alabama last year with 89 catches for 1,045 yards.
Leader in sacks: Tim Williams. After racking up 10.5 sacks a limited role in 2015, the pass-rushing linebacker will play an expanded role this fall.
Leader in interceptions: Eddie Jackson. A former cornerback, Williams's superior speed helped him grab six interceptions last year.
Opposing coach's take
“[Offensive coordinator] Lane Kiffin brings some flavor. He changes it up. It makes it hard to focus on one thing. You used to just worry about stopping the run. Now they spread you out. They’ll use jet motions and sweeps. And they can still line up and run between the tackles. They’re going to miss Ryan Kelly tremendously at center. He was the quarterback of their line. They always have backs. They’ll do what they do on the ground. But with [sophomore receiver] Calvin Ridley and [senior tight end] O.J. Howard, they may go deep more and be more creative with formations.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt learned from Nick Saban when he was at Alabama earlier, so the defense shouldn’t look much different without Kirby Smart [now the coach at Georgia]. When you turn on the tape, you see the speed and athleticism—it looks like an all-star team. Another thing that makes it difficult is the depth they have. They’re able to roll a lot more guys in and keep the fatigue factor from taking over. They make you earn every yard on the ground, and they make you earn every yard through the air. As a play-caller, they make you feel like you’ve got to be absolutely perfect.
[Senior outside linebacker] Tim Williams has a great combination of speed and power. He’s what everybody’s looking for as a pass rusher. Even though he only played about 30 snaps a game last year, we made a tape of him for our offensive line to study. [Cornerback] Minkah Fitzpatrick was great as a freshman. He’s only going to get better.”
Biggest question mark
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has had to groom a new QB in all three of his seasons in Tuscaloosa. During camp he’ll have to pick among junior Cooper Bateman (who started in Alabama’s only loss last year), sophomore David Cornwell, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and freshman Jalen Hurts. Whoever gets the job, expect the Tide to run at a faster tempo that more resembles the ’14 offense piloted by Blake Sims.
6: Interceptions last year for senior safety Eddie Jackson, tied for first in the conference.
76: Combined career carries among the Tide’s five returning backs. Expect sophomores Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris to emerge.
83.3%: Rate at which opponents scored upon reaching the red zone last year, 62nd in the FBS.
8: Consecutive 10-win seasons for the Crimson Tide, the longest current streak in the FBS.
2: Consecutive Bama losses to Ole Miss, one of only two teams to hand coach Nick Saban back-to-back defeats.
USC (in Arlington, Texas)
at Ole Miss