Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
Saturday marks the return of Alabama football. With new faces expected to play at the Star and Jack linebacker positions, fans should watch for these five intriguing positions against Missouri.
To reach a hard decision on this, let’s create a definition for “intriguing” that can be applied to the potential candidates. For me, intrigue is focused on what we know about the particular position. Who is playing there? Is that position a need for the Crimson Tide? How does the positional matchup favor Alabama?
The intrigue is built around one general question: Can this particular position live up to the hype created around it during the offseason?
#5: Wide Receiver
This position for Alabama last season was arguably the team’s strongest. With players like Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, the wide receivers helped Alabama’s passing game become one of the best in 2019. Now that Jeudy and Ruggs III have made their transition to the NFL, how will this group of receivers fare against all SEC competition? The team’s leading receiver, Devonta Smith, is returning for his senior season. Opposite of him on the outside is sophomore John Metchie III. Metchie had a pretty quiet 2019 season, recording four catches for just 23 yards. Over the course of fall camp, Metchie has made some good improvements. According to head coach Nick Saban, the team has a lot of confidence in his play. Junior Jaylen Waddle will start in the slot receiver spot, with redshirt sophomore Slade Bolden as the second string. These receivers will be tested from the start as Missouri had one of the best pass defenses in college football in 2019. Missouri allowed just 179.3 yards a game, which was the second best mark in the SEC last season. The return of senior safeties Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillepsie will make catching balls downfield extremely difficult. This game will be a good gauge as to where the passing game for Alabama is this season.
#4: Defensive End
With redshirt sophomore Christian Barmore still dealing with a knee injury, fans should be interested in seeing how players like redshirt junior LaBryan Ray and sophomore Justin Eboigbe step up to the plate. Barmore was an impactful player as he recorded 26 tackles, with six of them being for a loss, and 2 sacks. Currently, Eboigbe is first in the depth chart alongside Ray for the defensive end position. When discussing the defensive ends at a press conference after practice, Saban said that Eboigbe had been the most consistent player at that position. Fans should watch for the progress and consistency on Eboigbe’s part. As far as Ray, he is returning from a foot injury. Initially expected to be an impact player, Ray injured his foot early in the season against South Carolina. With his return, Alabama gains back some experience on defense, something that was missing for Alabama last season. Ray also adds some much needed athleticism to the defensive front. With Barmore potentially not starting, Alabama could use a boost to the pass rush. Ray has been a consistent pass rusher and, with a Missouri offensive line that lost some starters to the NFL, seeing if Ray can get to the quarterback or disrupt the passing game should be more than enough to keep fans on the edges of their seats.
The offensive line boasts the most depth and versatility among players. The center position is a prime example. Redshirt senior Landon Dickerson is listed first in the depth chart, but he shares an “or” status with fellow redshirt senior Chris Owens. A focus point of the offseason was creating depth among the offensive line. Dickerson has shown promise at center, according to Saban. Missouri has multiple seniors, including defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside, returning to the defensive front. Whiteside was very good at getting to the quarterback last season so Dickerson, should he play, will try to keep redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones from getting hit. Sophomore Darrian Dalcourt, who spent a decent amount of time playing center during fall camp, is listed third on the depth chart. Fans should be on the lookout for who gets the start and how that player handles the talent and experience Missouri has at defensive tackle.
#2: Star Defensive Back
The secondary was an area of inconsistency for Alabama last season. With the loss of four starters, Alabama has to contend with a lack of depth and some inexperience. This Saturday, two freshmen are listed on the chart to play this crucial position for the defense. Malachi Moore shares an “or” status with Brian Branch to play Star. These players will suit up for their first ever game playing for the University, so fans should watch to see if Moore and Branch handle their first game with poise and calm.
As far as what to expect on the field from them, Coach Saban stated in a press conference after Alabama’s first scrimmage that both players showed potential to play winning football at this position. Fans should also be intrigued by how defensive coordinator Pete Golding will use these player’s strengths in order for them to be successful at his position.
#1: Jack (Outside) Linebacker
Freshman Will Anderson Jr. is listed as the starter on Saturday, with fellow freshman Drew Sanders listed as the second string. Anderson received the starting nod after first camp. From early on at camp, Saban stated that there could be the possibility of multiple players being able to play outside linebacker. He also mentioned that Anderson and Sanders showed promise at camp, while still learning how the team wanted them to play the position. These two are in a group of linebackers with some experience and talent. Fans should keep an eye out on how Anderson will play against Missouri’s rushing offense but also how both players can contribute to the pass rush. Fans should also take note of how Anderson keeps his nerves in check and plays within himself since this is his first game at the collegiate level.
Honorable Mention: Quarterback
Redshirt junior Mac Jones was named starting quarterback for Alabama this Saturday to little or no surprise from anyone. This position did not make the list, but fans will still be eager to get a look at Jones’ performance. With the departure of Tua Tagovailoa, fans will finally get to see how Mac will play with full control of the offensive reins. Coaches have noted his moxie and his experience being a key factor in how he will fare this season.
Follow Ashlee Woods on Twitter for live updates during Saturday’s match-up.