What will be the key to Alabama football's season in 2021?

What will be the key to Alabama football's season in 2021?

All Things CW: He's Not Just a Bill, O'Brien the Key to Alabama's 2021 Season

How long it takes Alabama's offense to click will likely determine the Crimson Tide's chances of repeating as SEC and NCAA champions
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He got to eat steak after his first A-Day at Alabama. That's never a bad thing for a new Crimson Tide coach, especially one who was the acting head coach for his side. 

That part of his resume was never in doubt. 

When Alabama held its annual exhibition to mark the end of spring practices last month, a lot of things were missing at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was limited to half-capacity, with half of last year's starters no longer on the roster.  

Half of the coaching staff from the 2020 national champions were gone as well, which isn't that unusual for Nick Saban except for whom he hired among the replacements. 

That side that won, albeit 13-10, was led by new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. 

O'Brien is the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots (2011), plus head coach at Penn State (2012-13) and of the Houston Texas (2014-20). It appeared that he not only wanted the job with the Crimson Tide, but lobbied for it. 

His offensive line coach is Doug Marrone, the former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

These are guys who have won prestigious coach of the year honors. O'Brien was the play-caller in Super Bowl XLVI. Marrone guided the Jags to the AFC Championship Game at the end of the 2017 season. 

These aren't run-of-the-mill coaches. 

"I think Bill’s a really, really good coach," Saban said in March. "He’s coached with some really good coaches. He’s had some really good success at what he’s accomplished and what he’s done. 

"I think it’s really difficult when you have somebody come in and try to learn our system, which he has done a really good job of, to try to implement that system and tweak it to where we can fix it and make it better based on the quality control that we did last year."

However, this isn't last year's offense. Alabama has to replace the starting quarterback, running back, two wide receiver, the left tackle, left guard, center and tight end. 

Even under the best of circumstances, with players familiar with all of their coaches, it takes time. 

Yet Bryce Young looked a lot more comfortable running things during A-Day, and Evan Neal has a good chance to be a top pick in next year's NFL Draft. Some of the new young wide receiver have a ton of potential. 

Otherwise, we didn't learn that much about the Alabama offense during A-Day except that it has get much better at getting the play-calls in and executed. 

Fans might have heard Saban yell "Let's go!" more than the word "Who" was used in the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas." Considering that side of the ball has four new coaches, in addition to all the personnel chances, and it's understandable.

Additionally, Saban disclosed on the special edition of the "Hey Coach" radio show this week that 24 players missed A-Day due to coronavirus issues/concerns, although most were only exposed and didn't test positive. 

Still, the key storyline this season is the offense under O'Brien. 

How close it can play at the level of last year's veteran group, which was the best in Crimson Tide history and won everything from the Heisman Trophy to the Joe Moore Award, will determine Alabama's true national championship aspirations.

Perhaps the better question is how long will it take to find similar success?   

"I think it’s going to be interesting to watch Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator, and the changes they’ve made on the staff, bringing in two NFL head coaches to work with their offense," former NFL/collegiate head coach Jim Mora Jr. said. "Those guys are going to have to drop their ego, it’s not always easy to do, and adjust to college football, which they’ve done before.

"I’m really interested to see how that offense clicks ... On the field, I expect to dominate again. They keep reloading."

Remember, they booed Santa Claus

The reaction in Philadelphia to the Eagles taking Landon Dickerson in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft as pretty much been what you'd expect, not the greatest. 

You're talking about the most cynical fans in the NFL to begin with (and that's being kind), who are also boiling over about many of the recent top draft picks have had injury issues like DK Metcalf, Justin Jefferson and Sidney Jones

They just see that Dickerson has had four of his five college seasons ended by an injury. 

They haven't seen him play yet. 

Dickerson is exactly the kind of player they love in Philadelphia. 

“I couldn’t think of a better place to be,” he said. “I’ve heard that the fans, they’re one-of-a-kind, diehard, they’re going to die for their team, and that’s what I’m looking for, because I’m the same way with my team. So I’m just really excited to be surrounded by a fan base that’s all in.”

Dickerson made the comment on the 94 WIP Morning Show, and stumped the hosts a little bit after being asked how frustrating his injuries have been.

“It’s not necessarily frustrating,” Dickerson said. “Injuries are a learning experience really in my opinion. I don’t ever sit back and think, ‘I could have done this differently.’ They’re in the past and you can’t change that. My mindset is let’s learn from it and move on and see what we can do different next time.

“For me, it kind of sounds bad, but I’ve been thankful for them because these injuries have taught me a lot about who I am as a player mentally, and physically what I need to do to take care of my body and go about it so I can take care of myself and act like a professional when it comes to football.”

Meanwhile, general manager Howie Roseman said that Dickerson's physical style of play and mentality reminded him of Jon Runyan.

A lot of you probably don't remember Runyan, but he played with a mean streak a mile wide. When he was the lead blocker on screen passes he absolutely terrified opponents because he would try to completely run them over.  

Runyan started 190 consecutive regular season games, became an All-Pro and after his playing days concluded a Congressman.  

Fletch Won

If you haven't seen the video of Alabama long-snapper Thomas Fletcher's reaction to finding out that he had been drafted, check it out (and note that there's some language in it). 

He was on the phone with another team that was trying to get him to commit to signing a free-agent deal once the draft ended when the Panthers called. Once he figured out that he had been drafted, there were, in his words, "a lot of yelling and a lot of screaming."

BamaCentral has been speculating for months that Fletcher just might get drafted. 

"I honestly, there are so many unknowns in this business that I couldn't have guessed it from the beginning because the vast majority of people in my position – you've got to think, there's only 32 teams in the league and there are only 32 long snappers. It's not a position where you bring in multiple people every year or do anything like that," he said. "So going into the draft, I was kind of prepared that I wasn't going to be drafted. I was prepared that I was going to have to make the decision in free agency. If I made a decision in free agency it might have been – I shouldn't say might have been – I wanted to go to Carolina so bad. I've got to tell you right now. I got to spend a week at the Senior Bowl with the Panthers staff and just fell in love with it. Fell in love with the culture. Fell in love with everything that they stand for as an organization. I spent a short period of time on a trip to the city of Charlotte and it is absolutely beautiful. The people there are amazing. 

"Yeah, I'm just excited right now. I couldn't even tell you what I was feeling beforehand because the emotions afterwards were so overwhelming."

Some Final Draft Items

• The two high schools that had the most drafted players this season with six, both had an Alabama player. Cornerback Patrick Surtain II went to American Heritage in Plantation, Fla., along with Tyson Campbell (Jacksonville/2); Anthony Schwartz (Cleveland/3); Marco Wilson (Arizona/4); Tedarrell Slaton (Green Bay/5); Khalil Herbert (Chicago/6). Fletcher attended IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., along with Andre Cisco, Kellen Mond, Robert Hainsey, Tre’ McKitty and Joshua Kaindoh. Of course, Surtain was the first player from his high school selected, in the first round, while Fletcher was the last from his, in the sixth round. Incidentally, no other high school had more than two former players selected. 

• It was a down year for in-state talent as only seven players from Alabama were drafted, 30 fewer than Florida (37). Texas (33) and Georgia (20) were second and third. The state with the most selections per capita was Louisiana. With 13 players picked it had one per 358,289 people.

• Players from those same four states made up nearly half of the Crimson Tide roster on the 2020 national championship team, including 41 scholarship players and five walk-ons. There were 15 scholarship players from Florida, nine from Louisiana and Texas, and eight from Georgia. 

• Only one of the seven players originally from the state of Alabama played for the Crimson Tide, Deonte Brown. The other six went to Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Michigan. 

Did You Notice? 

• College Football Coaches Sport Varied Reactions to Proposed Fall Camp Changes

• NFL Draft 2021 Grades: Analyzing Every Team's Picks

• Men's College Basketball Season in Review: SEC

Christopher Walsh's nots column All Things CW appears regularly on BamaCentral+

He got to eat steak after his first A-Day at Alabama. That's never a bad thing for a new Crimson Tide coach, especially one who was the acting head coach for his side. 

That part of his resume was never in doubt. 

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