TUSCALOOSA — Alabama’s preseason practice begins Friday and with that in mind, here are five questions the Crimson Tide must answer before the season starts later this month.
5. Who will handle place kicking?
The kicking situation has been a bugaboo topic at Alabama for the better part of Nick Saban’s tenure. That was especially apparent last season when then-freshman Joseph Bulovas and grad senior Austin Jones combined to miss five field goals and nine extra points.
Bulovas is once again in the running to handle kicking duties, but he’s faced strong competition from early enrollee Will Reichard, who was the nation’s No. 1 kicker according to 247Sports.com’s composite ranking. Just based on each’s performance in the A-Day spring game in April, Reichard appears to have overtaken Bulovas.
4. How will Alabama approach Will LB?
Fifth-year senior linebacker Josh McMillon worked almost exclusively with the first-team defense as Alabama’s weakside/Will linebacker beside junior middle linebacker Dylan Moses during spring practice.
Still, the starting spot is hardly set in stone. True freshmen Shane Lee and Christian Harris bring athleticism, size and big-play potential. Also in the running are sophomores in Markail Benton, Ale Kaho and Jaylen Moody.
Alabama could easily make the Will spot a by-committee position, even if McMillon remains the favorite.
“The thing Josh does is he's been in the program for a long time, (so) he understands what he has to do to be successful at the position — he is a thumper, he's very physical,” Saban said at SEC Media Days. “And so, you know, whether he (or) someone else develops from that core group of (younger) linebackers to play with the consistency that we need sort of remains to be seen. And maybe they can play in regular, maybe they can play in nickel, maybe Josh can play in regular, maybe Josh can play in nickel. So it may be a committee of people at that position who fills roles relative to situations.”
3. What is Dickerson's impact?
Although he has yet to actually enroll in classes, redshirt junior offensive lineman Landon Dickerson opted to come to Tuscaloosa as a graduate transfer and is expected to be on campus in time to participate in preseason camp beginning this weekend. The 6-6, 308-pound Dickerson comes with plenty of experience, having started 13 games over first three seasons at Florida State — seven as a true freshman, four in 2017 and two last season — but has seen his career derailed by injuries each year, including missing 10 games last season with a severe ankle injury.
If healthy, Dickerson provides quality depth at all five offensive line spots and could provide an immediate challenge to fellow junior Chris Owens at center senior Matt Womack at right guard and redshirt freshman Emil Ekiyor Jr. at left guard.
2. Which summer enrollees will earn playing time?
Alabama had 12 of its 27-member 2019 signing class arrive on campus at the beginning of May, including five-star running back Trey Sanders and four-star defensive backs Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams. Among the other summer enrollees are 334-pound nose guard Ishmael Sopsher and 244-pound inside linebacker Christian Harris.
All five arrive at positions of great need. Sanders enters as arguably the second-most talented tailback on the roster behind Najee Harris, and could be in the mix for backup reps alongside junior Brian Robinson Jr. Sopsher, a Louisiana product, could work himself into the mix alongside fellow true freshman DJ Dale as the Tide’s first-team nose guard, giving the Tide a 1-2 punch at the position.
Battle, Hellams and Harris will be given every opportunity to impress in August, but it could be difficult to upend seniors Jared Mayden and Josh McMillon, two career backups who worked almost exclusively with the first-team unit at free safety and weakside linebacker during spring.
1. How does the offense evolve?
Steve Sarkisian is Alabama’s fifth offensive coordinator in the past four seasons but the only one to fill that title twice after his one-game stint during the 2016 national championship game, when he replaced Lane Kiffin midway through the playoffs.
Now he is back in Tuscaloosa after two years as the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator. Given his West Coast roots, there’s some thought Sarkisian could implement more quick-strike, play-action passing plays made popular under Kiffin, but Saban has been clear the offense won’t completely abandon the RPO foundation that worked wonders last season.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gave some insight earlier this spring when he explained he’ll have more post-snap read responsibilities.
“You know with Coach Sark, it’s really full-field progression reads,” Tagovailoa said April 1. “Last year, we worked more on RPO, and we had that opportunity to perfect it. Now we’re trying to protect full-progression reads, so reading the entire field this year. I think implementing pure progression reads and RPOs is really going to be big for us this season.”