Friday, July 27, 2007

Q&A with Roll Bama Roll

I will be cross-posting this entry with my other blog, College Football Authority. I had a recent Q&A with Rico (Qs 1-6) and Todd (Q 7) from Roll Bama Roll, a great Alabama blog from guys who I would never ever consider Bammers. So, that being said, here are their opinions on the questions I asked them:

1. The preseason prognostication for Alabama is all over the board, with Phil Steele being the most optimistic: 2nd in the SEC West. I agree with him in saying the LSU-Alabama winner will win the division. What are the expectations from the Alabama fan base? Do those expectations differ from the consensus of Alabama bloggers?

It's hard to get a read on the consensus of the Alabama fanbase. Many believe Alabama's fans to be incredibly unreasonable and have expectations that are too high too soon. However, there is also a sizeable portion of the fanbase that knows Nick Saban does not walk on water and that he can't merely appear on the sidelines and have everything fixed and perfected in his first season in Tuscaloosa. My personal take (and I've seen this echoed by many others) is that an 8-4 regular season is about what people are expecting this year. Anything less would be a bit of a disappointment, though it is certainly possible. I see Alabama as having two games they should unquestionably win (Western Carolina and Louisiana-Monroe), four that they should win (Houston, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt) and then there are six that could easily go either way (Arkansas, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, Auburn.) While Alabama will unquestionably be the underdog in most (if not all) of those six, they are certainly winnable. If we pick up two of those six, I think that's a realistic expectation for his first season. His unquestionably a better coach and game manager than Mike Shula so I think 8-4 is quite a realistic outlook.

2. What lesser known players are poised to have breakout seasons in 2007? Why?

These kinds of questions are always difficult because it is hard to know how players with little or no game experience will turn out. I think a few young players could step up and shine including Roy Upchurch, Terry Grant and Javier Arenas. They've all show potential in the limited time they've gotten or in scrimmages and they could certainly give us more options on an offense that didn't have a lot of options. There are others, but I don't pretend to be Phil Steele, who I think actually can see into the future.

3. I believe John Parker Wilson has the tools and the weapons around him to challenge for 1st Team All-SEC. What are your thoughts on Wilson and your expectations?

He produced fairly good numbers last year for a sophomore QB that had to run for his life nearly every time the ball was snapped. Assuming he gets better line protection this year I imagine we could really see him turn into a fine QB. One thing he does need to do better is protect the ball. There were times last year where he threw it up for grabs when he should've taken a sack and other times he should've taken a sack and protected the ball but coughed up fumbles trying to produce a miracle. Making smarter decisions in those circumstances comes with experience and he has a full season under his belt so hopefully we'll see improvement in that area. Like I said though, with better line protection and better ball protection I think he can be a real threat given that he has two great targets in DJ Hall and Keith Brown.

4. What kind of environments do you expect for home games against LSU and Tennessee?

I imagine both of those games are going to be completely insane. Tennessee has always been a game that has fired up the crowds at Bryant-Denny, but I imagine given the hope that's in the air with Nick Saban on the sidelines that the passion should be increased many times over. LSU is also a team that people have never had trouble getting fired up for, but given the way Les Miles has been shooting his mouth off I imagine things will be crazy unless they take us out of the game early. I'm just happy I have tickets for both.

5. Are you personally worried about Nick Saban's trend of leaving jobs are 4 years, or less?

Yes and no. Yes due to the fact that it is a trend that can't be ignored and for the fact that he could quit tomorrow and we'd still have to pay him for the full contract. The Alabama Athletic Department definitely got the short end of the stick in the deal. I say no though because Saban's very existence (combined with his handsome salary) has seemed to rub the entire college football world the wrong way. He certainly isn't going back to the NFL and not many other schools could pay him more, much less actually would pay him more. Even if he doesn't win a national championship here and splits in four years, if he wins an SEC Championship or two and leaves us stacked with recruits like he did LSU, I'd be okay with that I think.

6. If Alabama could only win 1 game, and 1 game only, in 2007, who would you like it to be against? Why?

Auburn without a doubt. Losing five in a row to them has been miserable and putting an end to their streak would be both a joy and a relief. I obviously don't fancy losing to LSU or Tennessee, but I could handle those better this year than I could losing to Auburn again. In 2005, I would have answered this question with Tennessee, but now it is all Auburn.

7. What kind of changes will the Tide see on defense in the transition to Kevin Steele in terms of both alignment and theory?

I'm not sure calling this season "a transition to Kevin Steele" is completely accurate. Alabama will be running Saban's system, and Steele was brought in because of his exemplary work with the Florida State linebackers and because Saban's system relies heavily on them. That being said, Steele's hire is a huge boost for both Saban's system and the guys already on the team. The FSU linebackers over the last few years were the heart and soul of that terrific defense, and they played like they would rather tackle than breathe. It's this kind of coaching ability that makes him ideal for a system so dependent on the linebackers. With only three down linemen, it's the role of the "jack" linebacker to both act as a rush end and play in space like a traditional LB. Guys like Keith Saunders and Zeke Knight are perfect for this, since both are physical enough to rush the passer but neither really has the size to play on the line, and both are also fast/athletic enough to play both the run and the pass out in space. I suppose the easiest way to answer your question is to say that Alabama will shift to a 3-4 alignment instead of the typical 4-3, and will be more complex than the simplistic "do one thing and do it better than anyone else" philosophy we saw from Joe Kines the past few seasons. That's not to take away from Kines, of course, considering he produced two of the best defenses in the country and even had a green unit with no depth up front ranked in the top 25 last year in total defense, but his strategies were so dependent on sound, fundamental football that it took players the caliber of DeMeco Ryans, Roman Harper, et al to be dominant in it. Given one more season, he would have certainly had these guys whipped into shape and schooled in the proper techniques to be dominant again but, alas, it was not to be. Enter Saban and Steele, two defensive masterminds who love a good blitz just as much, and probably more, than any other defensive coach in the country. Saban inherits an Alabama team that is very thin in the front seven (we have a converted center starting at NT), but deep, talented, and fast in the secondary. He's said several times that a lot of what we'll see this year will be done out of a nickel package to take advantage of the talent among the DBs. This isn't too far removed from the 3-4 alignment he likes, but using a nickelback as a fourth linebacker will probably pose some problems against the run. I'm not overly familiar with his time at Miami, but what I know from watching the Saban defenses at LSU is that they are both fast and disciplined, and I expect the Alabama defense to be no different. I also expect to see some more complex blitzes from the new schemes. Kines rarely disguised his blitzes but he had coached his players so well that opposing offenses couldn't stop them. With Saban, I imagine we'll see a lot more zone blitzing, and probably far more man coverage than we were used to last season.

So, there you have it. Very eloquent, thought out answers to 7 burning questions about Alabama. I wish I would have included a question about the vibe around the team this summer in the weight room, but I didn't. I'll try to set up a dialogue between myself and RBR as we roll into the 3rd week in October.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Loathed Enemy Coaches: Bottom to Top

Not much to dissect right now on the Tennessee football front, so it's time for ol' faithful - a list! With this list, I'm going to rank the head coaches of Tennessee's 12 opponents this upcoming season. I can and will include any reasoning I can think of. Whether it's our current coach's inability to consistently beat a certain coach, or the hairstyle of the coach - it's all fair game. This should be fun.

12. Steve Roberts - Arkansas State
Poor guy. He coaches at Arkansas State, which is not only in the Sun Belt conference, they are on the lower rung of it. Roberts has a name that comforts me ... Steve Roberts. Nothing to loathe there. A Google search of Steve Roberts links to an artist, a musician, and a journalist. You won't see Steve Roberts the football coach on the first page of links. For that, Steve Roberts, we salute you and your ambiguity as the head coach at Arkansas State.

11. Jeff Bower - Southern Miss
I must say, Jeff Bower could have easily been at #12. He's been an amazing coach at Southern Miss, with 13 straight winning seasons. He played and graduated from Southern Miss, and has been their head coach since 1990. The reason he isn't the least loathed of our enemies is because his team has a slight chance of beating mine, and Mr. Roberts has as much of a chance at beating UT as I have of being invited to the Hamptons. Bower, still, has a place in my heart, in the straight, manly sort of way (not that there's anything wrong with that). I like when coaches stay at their alma mater - it shows a true love for your school and the game. He's also known for consistently creating a disciplined team that fights until the last whistle blows. If your team was a little worse, you'd be #12.

10. Sylvester Croom - Mississippi State
I've heard Sylvester Croom compared to a "big ol' teddy bear" more than I ever wished I would have. He's a cuddly guy with a cuddly mustache and a cuddly name. Sylvester ... like the cat, but a human. It's precious. He's in a no-win situation but carries himself with dignity. I respect that. I also respect that he wore a jersey with the Swiss watch logo on it. Or was it the Red Cross? I don't know, but it was precious, as well. Croom might only have 2 seasons left in Cowbell Station, so he gets our pity love as well. Because he's an SEC coach, we have to loathe him a little more than some of the out of conference guys. Plus, Sylvester is, you know, precious.

9. Rich Brooks - Kentucky
When I started to write this entry, I thought my dislike for Rich Brooks would come easy, but it hasn't. He looks like a nice enough guy. He ruffled some feathers in Lexington when he somewhat insulted Jared Lorenzen, Derek Abney, and pre-Brooks Kentucky football. So, for that, Rich Brooks, I like you. Anybody, regardless of allegiance, who pisses off our mentally challenged foes up north, is good in my book. The reason, though, I don't like you, Richard, is because in 2003, you tried to move Jared Lorenzen to wide receiver. The 6'4", 285 pound quarterback ... at wide receiver. Lorenzen was unsackable! Defensive ends would bounce off of him like the recipient of a trampoline super jump. Plus, now that the Wildcats have won a bowl game, the entire fanbase has lost it's collective mind. Thus, I lay blame on you, Head Coach of Kentucky, Rich Brooks. I hope you enjoy missing a bowl.

8. Bobby Johnson - Vanderbilt
I guess this is where I begin to fully loathe the coaches I reference. It's a little unfair for Bobby because I get sick and tired of the false assertions that Bobby Johnson is somehow better than his predecessors at Vanderbilt. Of course, Bobby isn't the one saying that junk, but I loathe him for it. He's actually worse than Woody Widenhofer, but that's another story in itself. Plus, his team luckboxed a victory over the worst UT team in 20 years in 2005. Their fans still talk about it, even after the 4 touchdown loss this past November. And what's with this picture? All I see is a face! No hair, no shirt, but I'm sure they're there. I just see a face!

7. Rickey Bustle - Louisiana at Lafayette
Yeah, I said it. I don't like you Rickey Bustle, and nobody else should either. Sure, you have a wife and kid, and you've done great things for your Ragin Cajuns. Ken Lay did good things for Enron at one point, too. First of all, you were Mike Vick's college quarterback coach. That alone should make you an accessory to the two felony charges Mr. Mexico is facing. Second, you coached Jim Druckenmiller. Jim freaking Druckenmiller. Druckenmiller was a back-up ... IN THE ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE. I didn't even know they had back-ups in that league. Third, your cabeza is too big for your body. Petty? Sure I am. But it's like a watermelon atop a tennis ball - it shouldn't be able to happen. Next, that gap. David Letterman feels sorry for you. Lastly, you remind me of Greg Popovich, and I don't like him either. Burnt!

I would just like to say that I am only poking fun.

Expect the 2nd half of this ridiculous idea on Monday.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

New Layout

I'm an absolute HTML newbie, so I didn't quite change everything I wanted to ... yet. I would love feedback on the layout, even negative feedback as long as it's the truth. Tons of postings scheduled for the upcoming work week. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Are Things Heating Up?

This work week has been filled with stories from Volquest, GoVolsXtra, etc. It's the first week this offseason where I finally "feel it." Maybe it's because I'm taking a more analytical approach to the stories I read, but it seems like our Vols are in the right mindset to win the division.

Chris Low at Volquest talked with Steve Caldwell, who in turn, talked about his defensive ends. I can't find the link from spring, but I remember Fulmer and Co. talking about how Xavier Mitchell had the best spring from a DE ever. Now, this, about Antonio Reynolds: "'When he came back from spring break, he was a different player,' Caldwell said. 'I don't know what it was. Not that I coached him any different or did anything different, but when he came back after spring break, he looked the best he's looked since he's been here.'" Caldwell said similar things about Robert Ayers, and said Wes Brown played well in the spring.

Our defense produced only 17 sacks last season, the lowest of the Fulmer era. Demonte Bolden and J.T. Mapu will not only need to play strong as run-stopping studs in the middle, but they need to have the one-gap skills to open up the outside for our ends. All of this, in turn, will make it easier on a secondary that will most likely see meaningful snaps from 3 newcomers.

Speaking of Mapu, Dave Hooker over at GoVolsXtra has a nice piece on the Samoan. Mapu said about himself this spring and summer: "Got a little lighter and a whole lot stronger. Got a little quickness back." We all remember that Mapu started 12 games in 2003 before he left Knoxville on his mission trip. He arrived last season over 300 pounds and out of shape. Now, he's stronger, faster, and a senior.

In the same article from Hooker, Jon Hefney had some things to say about two newcomers - Eric Berry and C.J. Fleming. Hefney about Berry: "I think he’s going to be good but we’ve got to put on the pads. He told me he was a safety. Well, we know he can hit then." Hefney about Fleming: "I think he’ll be the sleeper. I think he’ll be like Inky." Coming from a senior, I like what I hear. Hooker also has an article about Jarod Parrish, who has apparently taken the apple of Phil's eye. Hooker is a machine, as he also covers Brad Cottam and expectations from Cutcliffe and Matt Luke.

Drew Edwards has a good article about the 3 running backs over at GVX, again.He also penned an article on Erik Ainge and his increased strength. "He’s at 225 pounds now, and UT strength coach Johnny Long raved about his work ethic this summer."

Finally, Austin Price at Volquest has an excellent read on Johnny Long, UT's strength and conditioning coach. This article, plus a lot of other reports around the pay sites, continue to talk about the incredible work ethic throughout the program this summer. We haven't heard this kind of stuff in a long time. Maybe I'm naive, but it makes me have even higher hopes for 2007.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Vol Blogs Tuesday and Starters Note

First, I have updated the current starting lineup graphic here. Fall practice will bring about plenty of changes, so check it weekly if you like it.

Second, Rocky Top Talk posted the #3 signee from our recruiting class, Brent Vinson. This is, in my opinion, the best RTT prospect report yet. Vinson has been wowing people in campus this summer, from all reports. He already has the physical tools, and is apparently picking up the mental aspect of the game.

Third, Fulmer's Belly continues to fake us out by posting every 5 days or so. He's going to the Cal game, I'm going to the Cal game. Hopefully Joel from RTT is going. Beers for both if they go.

Fourth, I just realized there are only 3 UT year-round blogs.

(ugh, longer than I had hoped - wishing I hadn't said "First" up top) I've got a special e-mail interview/Q&A with Chris from Smart Football about the pros and cons of the no huddle, as well as other facets about the approach. His blog is incredible if you like the deep Xs and Os of college (and pro) football. Look for that soon.

Sixth, and finally, I have set up a Q&A with Nico at Roll Bama Roll (one of the good Alabama fans out there) about their expectations for 2007. I'll probably cross-post that at College Football Authority. Keep an eye for that, as well.

Alright, keep visiting, as I have some super secretive plans that could take this blog to a better level.

Monday, July 16, 2007

We're Getting Closer

Now that I have my Cal tickets, it's time to ramp up the insults (playfully, of course) directed towards the Bears. I downloaded the picture editing software The Gimp a few weeks ago and I'm obsessed. So, today's Cal Bears Mockery Entry is dedicated another ROFLCat type picture.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reminder for Cal Tickets

Vol fans: As of right now, the Cal ticket office is selling general admission and other reserved seating tickets on their website. Tomorrow you can order by phone. I bought mine today. Here is the link.

We sold out our 7,500 allotment to the donors, which is great! If we have get 5,000-7,500 MORE people into Memorial Stadium, we'll take up almost 25% of the venue! $44 for a general admission seat, and I advise that all of us arrive early and get to the Blue Zone, to make sure we sit near Section PP, the visitors' section. Check it out on this seating chart.

Our presence matters! Remember Miami, 2003? We brought soomething like 25,000 UT fans and ended Miami's home winning streak. BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE NOW, HURRY!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Current Starting Lineup

NOTE: You can click on the image to enlarge it. I can barely read it without enlarging it, and I have eyes like a hawk.

July 11th: I thought this might be a cool little diddy for the blog. I'll add a link to it on the side with updates every time we change our starting 22. Right now, you won't see the new freshmen or JUCOs in the lineup, because they haven't been named starters. Ryan Karl could be replaced on this, but I decided not to. Maybe the graphic is awful - if it is, tell me.

July 17th:
Inserted Anthony Parker at starting guard, due to Brent Hubbs saying he locked a spot down. The other guard spot is between Foster, McClendon, and Richard - so I put Foster. Moved Young back to LT and Scott to RT. Scott had a good spring by all accounts, but it seems Young is still the LT for now. OLB Ryan Karl has a back injury, but there hasn't been word on how serious it really is, yet. Once we know, we'll change the graphic. We'll see a ton of changes to this once the players start fall practice on August 3rd. The two corners, two receivers, running back, strong safety, and guard spots could all have different starters before September 1st in Berkeley.