Imagine a world in which the national runner-up and SEC champion with the Heisman Trophy winner achieved those accolades in a rebuilding year. Well, that's exactly what Alabama did in 2021, according to coach Nick Saban.
"Last year, we had kind of a 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 go out early for the draft, so now we have five back on offense and seven back on defense. So that in and of itself creates a few more question marks, but it also creates opportunities for other players to be able to shine in the program and contribute in a positive way."
OK, so the definition of "rebuilding year" is obviously subjective based on the status of each program. For Alabama and Saban, it is 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? This is like choosing between $50 steaks or various ice cream flavors. You're going to just fine even if you make the wrong choice. Let's play along with Saban and examine 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 too much out of spring games, but the offensive line didn't look great in April. That came just a few 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). That included the Iron Bowl against Auburn in which it allowed seven sacks in the quadruple-overtime win on the Plains.
What's more, the O-line lost star left tackle Evan Neal to the NFL Draft. The ineptitude up front made Bryce Young's Heisman Trophy win one of the most remarkable accomplishments in recent memory. Three players up front with starting experience return, including guard Emil Ekiyor Jr, but Saban wasn't content with that. He nabbed ex-Vanderbilt star Tyler Steen through the transfer portal in an attempt to solidify the unit.
Will it work? That remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that the foundation of the rebuilding project begins with the big men up front.
A new-look wide receiving corps
Just to reiterate, "Alabama problems" are different than "actual college football problems." Still, the wide receiver corps is a bit of an unknown.
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 portal shortly after the national title game. He'll be joined by Iron Bowl hero Ja'Corey Brooks, electric weapon JoJo Earle and veteran Traeshon Holden. Together, they have had enough success to give Tide fans hope that the future is bright.
Let's be honest, the likelihood of Alabama's receivers stepping up is about as high as the sun rising every morning. But we still need to see it just to be sure.
Yes, we have to dig so deep to find problems that we've landed on punting.
The Crimson Tide averaged just 38.33 yards per punt last year. That was last in the SEC and 124th nationally. Granted, most of those punts didn't result in big returns which, in reality, is the most important aspect of punting.
Australian James Burnip is back, and the sophomore will be "counted on" to take at least a small step forward after averaging 39.1 yards per punt last year. In the end, his success or failure probably won't matter much, but it's still something that needs to be addressed.