When prepping for Alabama, think of the famous "Sock and Buskin" masks in theatre. One is smiling because it's a comedy. The other frowns because it's a tragedy.
Sock: Alabama is losing its NCAA-record quarterback, its Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver, superstar running back, and four offensive linemen.
Buskin: Alabama replenishes that talent every season.
The Crimson Tide are fresh off a national title in which they went 13-0 in an all-SEC season. They trampled opponents underneath the direction of Steve Sarkisian's play-calling, leading the SEC in points per game (48.5) and second in yards per outing (541.6).
Maybe the good news for Texas A&M is that Steve Sarkisian is with Texas over in Austin. Bill O'Brien, the former Houston Texans head coach, will now be tasked to fix a unit that is returning just three full-time starters.
Underneath Mike Elko, the Aggies will return nine starters defensively, hopefully pushing them over the mark into the contention status. A&M is still looking for its first win over the Crimson Tide since 2012 when Johnny Manziel marched in Bryant-Denny Stadium to beat Nick Saban in his own backyards.
Jimbo Fisher has this team ready to contend in Year 4. Remember when he was fired by Florida State? Remember what happened in the fourth season in Tallahassee? A national championship, right?
Make sure to stick with AllAggies.com through our season preview series, where we will analyze every opponent on the Longhorns schedule in 2021.
On Monday, All Aggies began its preview of Alabama with an overview of the program. Today, we now look at the offensive players to watch when the Crimson Tide comes to Kyle Field to face A&M on October 9.
QB Bryce Young
He didn't have to play much last year because of the success of Mac Jones, but keep in mind Young almost won the starting job as a freshman. As the highest recruited quarterback to ever come to Tuscaloosa, expectations are immense for the second-year man.
In seven games of mostly garbage time, Young completed 59.1 percent of his passes (13-of-22) for 151 yards and a touchdown. He never finished with more than 54 passing yards on the day, but he looked like a veteran commanding the offense.
Facing a first-team defense like A&M will be tricky, but Young is getting Heisman looks without real snaps. If he lives up to the hype, A.J. McCarron, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jones could be afterthoughts in the program's history.
RB Brian Robinson Jr.
Najee Harris put up better numbers in scoring than Derrick Henry did on his way to winning the 2015 Heisman. Still, Saban loves to use a two-backfield set to give his stars a break.
Robinson averaged seven yards per carry in 2020, along with 5.3 yards per run. He scored six touchdowns and even finished with four games of 60-plus yards or more.
Yes, taking a majority of reps is different, but Najee Harris has to wait behind Damien Harris, who had to wait behind Derrick Henry, who had to wait behind T.J. Yeldon. You get the idea that it means nothing, right?
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WR John Metchie III
DeVonta Smith is in Philadelphia and Jaylen Waddle will hopefully help Tagovailoa reach his full potential in Miami. The speedy slot target left against Tennessee with a torn ACL, thus ending his time with the program.
The good news for Alabama? It allowed Metchie to prove he's next great wideout. In more ways than one, the Canadian native did that, averaging 16.7 yards per play and scoring six touchdowns.
Each year, there's one Alabama pass-catcher that just misses the mark before breaking out. Smith recorded just 693 yards before posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Jerry Jeudy had a mere 264 yards in 2017 before scoring 24 touchdowns in his final two years.
Metchie, who is a physical receiver and will knock out cornerbacks, is next in line to shine.
TE Jahleel Billingsley
Jalen Wydermyer is going to be the top tight end in the SEC for the start of the season. That doesn't mean he'll finish as it if Billingsley can live up to expectations.
As the No. 2 option behind Miller Forestall, it took little time for the Chicago native to become Jones' favorite check-down player. He averaged 15.9 yards per play and was a key target once inside the 20.
Young needs a go-to weapon in the red zone. The 6-4 tight end should be an option and could develop into a first-round target by December.
OT Evan Neal
He's yet to play a snap on the left side, but NFL evaluators already agree that Neal is the top left tackle prospect for the 2022 class. Starting at the right tackle spot on a national championship team, the 6-7 former five-star has massive size, but incredible agility for a man that size.
In pass sets, once he locks on, the defender is usually out of the play. Neal can close defenders on down-blocks in the run game and is a good enough finisher to pile drive defenders into the ground.
DeMarvin Leal, Michael Clemson, Fadil Diggs? It doesn't really matter. Things are going to get crazy in pass protection set for any of the pass-rushers trying to close the left side.
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