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August 18, 2012

HURT: Tide working on depth issue

The longest two weeks of any college football fan's life have arrived, more than enough time for every concern, doubt and worry to blossom. For the University of Alabama, a second scrimmage that brought mixed reviews from Nick Saban only emphasized that feeling.

If you merely looked at the Associated Press poll released Saturday morning, things could (almost) not be better. The Crimson Tide came in at No. 2, and if that's where UA ends up in the final BCS poll, a long journey, there is no doubt Alabama would welcome a Miami meeting with Lane Kiffin's USC Trojans in January.

But there are no guarantees. The margin for the best teams is slim. So when Nick Saban comes out of a scrimmage talking about the drop from first-team quarterback AJ McCarron to his inexperienced backups, fans gulp. When Eddie Lacy, who missed all of the spring with turf toe, can't take reps at running back due to other leg and ankle injuries, there is a vague nervousness despite a good statistical performance from T.J. Yeldon. When wide receiver Amari Cooper, recipient of much preseason mention, stands on the scrimmage sidelines in a boot, people fret.

In the first three weeks of the season, Alabama faces two top 10 teams and, probably, two of the top four returning quarterbacks in the country. Firepower will be necessary. Alabama has talent on offense - especially on the all-star offensive line - but depth is another matter.

For the moment, there is no reason to panic. McCarron has been solid in the first two scrimmages, and he is protected by the best line in college football. Lacy, according to Saban, is day-to-day, but that doesn't mean unavailable. Cooper is in approximately the same shape. And depth is being developed. The only way to do that, until the season starts, is to go out in the rain and the elements and get reps for younger players.

"We have a lot of work to do to develop depth," Saban said. "I think some of them realize what it takes, and I think with every opportunity they get, more and more of them realize what it is going to take to be successful."

The problem, of course, is the early schedule is unforgiving. Anyone concerned about Alabama's No. 2 ranking has to worry only until Sept. 16, because if the Crimson Tide gets past No. 8 Michigan and No. 10 Arkansas, it will be ranked No. 1. Players will grow up in those games, significantly. But they have to grow up before those games as well.

At this point, though, depth is a concern. And while Nick Saban can joke at his postscrimmage press conference that he "didn't see anybody trip over a raindrop," you can rest assured that, for the next two weeks, plenty of Crimson Tide fans will be worried about just that sort of thing.



Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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