23 for '23: What is Alabama's biggest strength heading into the season?
When it comes to projecting Alabama’s success this fall, it’s anyone’s guess. There’s still plenty to figure out before the Crimson Tide opens its season against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 2 inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. To help pass the time until then, TideIllustrated’s Tony Tsoukalas and James Benedetto will delve into 23 questions concerning the 2023 season.
Today, we continue the series by predicting what Alabama’s biggest strength will be this fall.
Alabama has changed the outlook of its team multiple times due to the ever-changing landscape of college football. When Nick Saban first arrived in Tuscaloosa, his teams were known for unstoppable ground attacks and bruising defenses. In recent seasons, the Crimson Tide has adapted to college football’s spread-out systems, leaning on elite quarterback play and athleticism across the field.
Alabama is prepared to evolve once again after losing former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and several of its key defensive stars. With the fall season less than 100 days away, here’s a look at which position group could be the team’s strongest when it takes the field in September.
Regardless of who wins the quarterback battle, it’s unlikely the new passer will come anywhere near to matching Young's production. Alabama returns one of the deepest backfields in the nation. However, the same could have been said of the unit over the past few years.
If you’re searching for a reason to get excited about this season's Crimson Tide, look no further than the big uglies up front. Not only will Alabama’s offensive line be its biggest strength, it will also be one of its most improved areas from last year.
Alabama ranked tied for 45th in the nation last season, allowing 1.69 sacks per game. The Tide’s line also struggled to provide a push in short-yardage situations, failing to pick up crucial third- and fourth-down conversions. While Alabama has to replace three members of last year’s starting unit, it’s hard to imagine this year’s front won’t fare much better this fall.
Alabama's offensive line unit features the top offensive tackle from each of the past three recruiting classes in junior J.C. Latham, redshirt freshman Elijah Pritchett and true freshman Kadyn Proctor. Latham and Pritchett started at right and left tackle, respectively for the first-team offense this spring, while Proctor showed plenty of promise working with the second unit at left tackle. It’s possible all three could find their way into the starting front this fall, but that’s just the beginning of the Tide’s luxuries on the line.
Alabama also brings back its two starting centers in Seth McLaughlin and Darrian Dalcourt as well as Tyler Booker, who spent extensive time at both guard spots last season despite starting just one game. McLaughlin is projected to lock down the center role with Booker pegged to land one of the guard spots this fall. From there, Dalcourt will likely compete with Terrence Ferguson and either Proctor or Pritchett for the other guard opening.
Whichever way Alabama’s front five lines up, it should be one of the most formidable in the nation.
Alabama’s outside linebacker unit will be its strongest position group when it faces Middle Tennessee. That's saying a lot considering the Crimson Tide will have to replace star pass rusher Will Anderson Jr., who was selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Texans in this year's NFL Draft.
It’s not easy to replace a player who ranked second on Alabama's career sacks list with 34.5, but the Crimson Tide has a good chance to do so this season.
Alabama returns two parts of the cheetah package in Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell while also bringing back former five-star outside linebacker Jeremiah Alexander, who helped lead Thompson High School to three straight state titles during his prep career.
The five-star trio will be joined by two more elite talents next month as freshmen Keon Keeley and Yhonzae Pierre join the team. Keeley is rated as the No. 5 overall player in this year's class, while Pierre comes in at No. 31 overall.
As Alabama continues to reload at outside linebacker, expect the unit to lead the defense once again next season.