Alabama – 2018 SEC Preview
Alabama enters the 2018 season coming off its fifth National Championship in nine years under head coach Nick Saban and the 17th in school history. The Crimson Tide will once again be in the thick of the National Championship discussion.
This season, Alabama welcomes five new assistant coaches and breaks in two new coordinators. Mike Locksley has been promoted from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator, and Tosh Lupoi takes over at defensive coordinator, replacing Jeremy Pruitt who left to be the head coach at Tennessee. Pete Golding (ILB), Karl Scott (secondary), Josh Gattis (wide receivers), Jeff Banks (special teams/tight ends), Craig Kuligowski (defensive line) and Dan Enos (quarterbacks) are the other new additions to the staff.
The 2018 offense could be the most explosive during the Nick Saban era. Returning junior quarterback Jalen Hurts will battle sophomore Tua Tagovailoa for the starting quarterback position, while redshirt freshman Mac Jones will provide quality depth.
Tagovailoa is expected to win the job, and he will have a deep and talented stable of wide receivers to whom he can throw. Sophomore DeVonta Smith, who was the hero of the National Championship game, joins fellow sophomores Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, along with true freshman Jaylen Waddle, to give the Crimson Tide the deepest and most-talented wide receiver corps in school history. Tight ends Irv Smith, Miller Forristall and Hale Hentges will also figure prominently in the Alabama passing attack.
Offensive coordinator Locksley is expected to use spread concepts to get the talented wide receivers open in space to take advantage of Tagovailoa’s talented arm, but the bread and butter of the Alabama offense will once again be a power running game with arguably the deepest and most talented backfield in college football—running behind what should be the best offensive line at the capstone since the 2012 season.
The decision by Damien Harris to return for his senior season gives the Richmond, KY native a puncher’s chance to become the all-time leading rusher in Alabama history. Harris needs 1,398 yards to surpass Derrick Henry’s school record. Sophomore sensations Najee Harris and Brian Robinson will also get their fare share of carries, and Joshua Jacobs will once again provide Locksley with a Swiss army knife skill-set out of the backfield.
Offensive line Coach Brent Key, an elite recruiter, has assembled an embarrassment of riches to man the trenches in Tuscaloosa. Junior left tackle Jonah Williams, who has first team All-American talent, will be anchor of the line. Senior Ross Pierschbacher moves from left guard to center this season, with Tuscaloosa native Lester Cotton expected to take over at left guard. Sophomore Jedrick Wills Jr. from Lexington, KY is expected to be the right guard, and junior Matt Womack will battle sophomore Alex Leatherwood in August for the right tackle position.
Crimson Tide Defense
The foundation of any Alabama team will always be the defense, and first-year defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi will ask new defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski (arguably the nation’s finest defensive line coach) to maximize a talented and deep group headed by Mississippi native Raekwon Davis—who has first team All-American written all over him. The junior from Meridian, MS is expected to once again be a disruptive force up front for the Tide.
Isaiah Buggs returns for his senior season, and, along with sophomore Quinnen Williams, joins Davis, giving Lupoi three players who can play either the zero technique or the 5 technique. Sophomore LaByron Ray, senior Johnny Dwight and redshirt freshman Phidarian Mathis will provide quality depth. Junior college transfer Tevita Musika impressed this summer, since arriving in May, and will be expected to provide depth at nose guard. True freshmen Christian Barmore and Stephon Wynn Jr. will also get a chance to contribute.
The outside linebacking group lost junior Terrell Lewis in mid-July when he suffered a torn ACL in a conditioning drill. Lewis is expected to miss the season. Anfernee Jennings returns from a knee injury sustained in the Clemson playoff game to anchor the Jack linebacker position.
Christian Miller returns for his senior season and will figure prominently in pass rush situations. Sophomore Chris Allen will be expected to pick up majority of the snaps replacing the injured Terrell Lewis. True freshman phenom Eyabi Anoma has drawn early comparisons to former Alabama great Derrick Thomas. Anoma will be called upon to play with his hand in the dirt and utilize his lightening-quick first step in passing situations while he continues to gain the weight necessary to become an every down player. Jamey Mosley and Jarez Parks will also be asked to provide depth.
Alabama’s quest for an 18th National Championship may well rest on the health of the inside linebackers and the play of a very young but talented secondary. Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses give Alabama two of the finest inside linebackers, not only in the SEC, but the nation. However, the depth behind them is razor thin. Wilson will call the defense, and the talented linebacker from Montgomery, AL who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, may very well lead the Tide in interceptions this season.
The depth problem inside wasn’t helped by the dismissal this summer of redshirt freshman VanDarius Cowan for violation of team rules and by the departure of rising senior Keith Holcomb, who has decided to forgo his final year of football to focus on baseball. Redshirt freshman Markail Benton had a very promising spring and will be called on to rotate with Mack Wilson in passing situations. True freshman Jaylen Moody flashed this summer in conditioning and has shown a rare maturity for his age. The South Carolina native may be able to provide much-needed depth inside along with returning junior Joshua McMillon.
First-year secondary coach Karl Scott inherits a very talented but extremely young secondary. Scott will rely heavily on junior college transfer and former LSU cornerback Savion Smith who will be the boundary corner. Coming out of spring practice, Trevon Diggs had a leg up at the field corner position, and Shyheim Carter and Jared Mayden will figure into the mix for the nickel and dime positions.
True freshmen Patrick Surtain Jr. and Josh Jobe are extremely talented additions to the secondary, and the staff feels like it’s only a question of when and not if both will figure prominently in the secondary this fall. One safety position will be anchored by Deionte Thompson who excelled in the college football playoff games against Clemson and Georgia when finally given the opportunity to start. Xavier McKinney, Daniel Wright and Kyriq McDonald will battle for the other safety position.
Alabama special teams will be greatly impacted by the loss of punter J.K. Scott to graduation. Scott was a four-year weapon for the Tide with the ability to flip the field in critical situations. Scott will be replaced by freshman punter Skyler DeLong.
Place-kicking has long been a source of concern for Alabama fans, and in 2018 the Tide will rely on redshirt freshman Joseph Bulovas who had a strong spring and Temple grad transfer Austin Jones to replace the departed former Ole Miss Rebel Andy Pappanastos. Alabama welcomes new special teams (and TE) coach Jeff Banks who is considered one of the finest special teams coaches in the country. Coach Saban will ask Coach Banks to make this an area of strength in 2018.
In summary, if Alabama can stay healthy at the inside linebacker position and the defensive line can, as expected, give the talented young secondary time to get their legs under them, then an explosive offense should be able take advantage of a very favorable 2018 schedule to propel Alabama to its 27th Southeastern Conference Championship and fifth straight appearance in the college football playoffs.
Kevin Hagan has been an Alabama fan since 1978. Kevin provides the Alabama weekly content on The Bill King Show every Wednesday morning and is the host of the Kevin Hagan Show podcast. You can follow Kevin at @LexKyTide or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.