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Will the Alabama Train Keep Chugging Along in 2018?

Anybody feeling Alabama fatigue yet? Yeah, I know, most of you probably got that back in 2011 or so. Well the big news is – try to act surprised – the Crimson Tide just won the national title and this program isn’t going anywhere anytime fast. Coming up in September that dark red team will once again still be feisty, angry, brutal and hyper-talented. In other words, they’ll be Alabama.

 

No, sorry rest of the SEC, Nick Saban isn’t ready to retire yet. And lots of key components will be back in uniform. The O-line will be a grinding machine again. Those big, bruising running backs will be back to punish people. The defense will be ornery. The pass rush will be relentless. The defensive backs will be heat-seekers. And those two quarterbacks will be back as field generals.

 

The confetti is just starting to get cleaned up at Mercedes-Benz Stadium but it’s never too early to take a look at how the Crimson Tide will reload and re-dominate in 2018.

 

Offense

 

Key Returnees:

QB Jalen Hurts, Jr.

QB Tua Tagovailoa, So.

RB Bo Scarbrough, Sr. (could declare for NFL draft)

RB Damien Harris, Sr. (also could leave early)

WR Jerry Jeudy, So.

TE Hale Hentges, Sr.

TE Irv Smith, So.

LT Jonah Williams, Jr.

LG Ross Pierschbacher, Sr. (another potential early departure)

RG Lester Cotton, Sr.

RT Matt Womack, Jr.

 

Key Departures:

C Bradley Bozeman

WR Calvin Ridley (expected to declare for NFL draft)

WR Cam Sims

WR Robert Foster

 

Defense

 

Key Returnees:

DE Isaiah Buggs, Sr.

NG Da’Ron Payne, Sr. (could declare for draft)

DE Raekwon Davis, Jr.

JACK Anfernee Jennings, Jr.

SLB Jamey Mosley, Sr.

MLB Mack Wilson, Jr.

MLB Keith Holcombe, Sr.

WLB Dylan Moses, So.

FS Ronnie Harrison, Sr. (could declare early)

 

Key Departures:

DE Da’Shawn Hand

LB Shawn Dion Hamilton

LB Rashaan Evans

SS Minkah Fitzpatrick (projected top-10 pick in 2018 NFL Draft)

CB Anthony Averett

 

Three Offseason Storylines 1o Watch

 

1. NOW there is a quarterback controversy

You all saw it in the national championship game. Starter Jalen Hurts had the offense spinning its wheels in the muck against a fired-up Junkyard Dog defense, gaining just 106 yards and zero points in the first half. He never saw the field again. In the second half, true frosh Tua Tagovailoa came in and threw his way to a huge rally and to a stunning 26-23 comeback overtime win and put his name in the houndstooth hat history books. The Flingin’ Hawaiian ended up earning the offensive MVP of the game and the admiration of the entire college football community. Now, what does that mean for 2018? Will Tagovailoa suddenly start getting more meaningful snaps? Or will he actually take over the starting position from Mr. Hurts with his adept passing and athletic ability? Man, this is going to be one interesting spring practice for Nick Saban and his offensive staff.

 

2. Can the receiving corps find a “go-to” guy?

Calvin Ridley, please don’t go! The Tide’s stud wideout had 63 catches this season. Besides that, no other wide receiver or tight end had more than 14 catches. If Ridley goes the NFL route (the Bears may be targeting him with the eighth overall pick), he will leave a big hole in the receiving corps. Sophomores Jerry Jeudy (14 catches) and Henry Ruggs (12 catches, six TDs) could be ready to blossom in their second years on the Capstone. Both came to campus with five-star ratings by the recruiting services to begin with. Tight end Irv Smith is going to be a bigger target in his junior year as well. Either way, the Tide will need a receiving corps that can make a quantum leap and be a force for Hurts/Tagovailoa and be a compliment to what should be another good running game.

 

3. Who will be THE linebacker(s)?

One thing about Alabama that is always a hallmark of Saban teams is a mean, nasty, dominating linebacker… or two… or hell, sometimes three. Next year should be no different. The only question is which player, or players, will it be? With all the bumps and bruises the linebacking corps has withstood this year, experience won’t be a problem. It seems like every linebacker on the roster saw playing time. While they’ll lose Rahsaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton to the NFL, there are still a horde of returnees that will be back to platoon on the second line of defense. Junior Anfernee Jennings could be the next Butkus Award candidate as he has shown flashes of brilliance while making 12 starts this year. Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson should be in the mix as both missed some time due to injuries but both came to campus as five-star recruits. Jamey Mosley and Keith Holcombe also come back for another season after making three starts each this year and don’t forget about outside ‘backers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis, who both missed a good portion of the season before returning for the Iron Bowl and contributing big. The depth is there, the only question is, who gets the star power in 2018? My money is on Jennings. 

 

— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.