Alabama football: Three key positions where the Tide still needs to improve after its “year of reconstruction”

Imagine a world in which the national finalist and SEC champion with the Heisman Trophy winner earned those accolades in a rebuilding year. Well, that’s exactly what Alabama did in 2021, according to coach Nick Saban.

“Last year we had a kind of rebuilding year,” Saban said on McElroy and Cubelic in the morning on WJOX in Birmingham. “We should have nine starters back on offense, nine on defense but (seven) guys come out early for the draft, so now we’ve got five back on offense and seven back on defense. So that in itself creates some additional questions brands, but it also creates opportunities for other players to shine in the program and contribute in a positive way.”

OK, so the definition of “reconstruction year” is obviously subjective depending on the status of each program. For Alabama and Saban, it’s apparently nothing less than “winning it all.” The program is a perfect example of the old adage that great teams don’t rebuild, they reload.

What exactly needs to be rebuilt in Tuscaloosa for the Preseason No. 1 team in CBS Sports 131? It’s like choosing between $50 steaks or various flavors of ice cream. Everything will be fine even if you make the wrong choice. Let’s play with Saban and take a look at the Crimson Tide’s ongoing construction project as they head into the 2022 season.

The offensive line is problematic

I’m not one to take advantage of spring games too much, but the offensive line wasn’t very good in April. This came just months after the offense finished 13th in the SEC in tackles for loss allowed per game (6.93) and 12th in sacks allowed per game (2.73). This included the Iron Bowl against Auburn in which he allowed seven sacks in the quadruple overtime victory over the Plains.

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Additionally, the lost O-line star left tackle Evan Neal in the NFL Draft. Incompetence up front made Bryce Young’s Heisman Trophy one of the most notable achievements in recent memory. Three players up front with starting feedback, including guard Emil Ekiyor Jr, but Saban wasn’t content with that. He grabbed ex-Vanderbilt star Tyler Steen through the transfer portal in a bid to solidify the unit.

Will it work? That remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the foundation of the rebuilding project begins with the big men at the front.

A new wide receiving body

Just to reiterate, “Alabama’s problems” are different from “real college football’s problems.” Still, the body of wide receivers is a bit unfamiliar.

Young’s top four receiving targets from last year are gone, including first-team All American Jameson Williams and veteran star John Metchie III. To make up for their absence, Saban lured ex-Georgia star Jermaine Burton out of the transfer gate shortly after the domestic title match. He will be joined by Iron Bowl hero Ja’Corey Brooks, power gun JoJo Earle and veteran Traeshon Holden. Together, they’ve had enough success to give Tide fans hope that the future is bright.

Let’s be honest, the likelihood of Alabama receivers stepping up is about as high as the sun rising each morning. But we still need to see it just to be sure.

Small boat

Yes, we have to dig so deep to find problems that we landed on punting.

The Crimson Tide averaged just 38.33 yards per punt last year. It was the last for the SEC and the 124th nationally. Granted, most of those punts didn’t result in big returns, which, really, is the most important aspect of the punt.

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Australian James Burnip is back and “will be counted on” to take at least one small step forward after averaging 39.1 yards per punt last year. In the end, its success or failure probably won’t matter much, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed.

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