By WILL HIGHTOWER
We sat down in the studio with WJOX’s Jay Barker and Al DelGreco to talk about the upcoming football season. You can hear their show weekday mornings from 6 to 10 a.m.
What do you think about Barrett Trotter being selected as the starter?
It was a logical choice. He had more game experience and seems to know the offense pretty well. And Gus Malzahn has proven that he knows what it takes to be a successful quarterback, so I am ready to back him up with whatever he decides.
A lot of people are looking back at the 2009 Chris Todd season as proof Malzahn can succeed with an unproven quarterback. Do you buy that?
Not only that, but the two quarterback system he ran at Tulsa also put up numbers in the top five of multiple offensive categories. His system works. So I wouldn’t say the quarterback has to manage; he has to execute the game plan and utilize everyone on the field. Of course, the running back plays a big part too and so does the offensive line.
Last year, Michael Dyer had a huge year but was overshadowed by Cam. Will he keep that up, or will defenses focus in on him and stop him?
Well, he will have a different role. He will be more important to the offense. Last year, he was more of a second half guy who came in and just wore down the defenses. This year, he’ll have to go four quarters. So we’ll see if he can handle it. Onterio is certainly a weapon but is built different; he’s not a every-down back. So Dyer will have to step up.
It seemed like last year’s secondary was very soft until the second half of the Alabama game onward. Do you think Ted Roof will finally improve the pass defense?
Last year, the secondary got better as the year went on. The kind of defense Auburn plays is hard because they have to be out on the field a lot as a byproduct of the offense. The defensive line got pressure, which helped the pass defense. The secondary gave up most of the yardage in the first half last year, and I give the coaches credit for halftime adjustments.
The schedule is killer—games at LSU, at Arkansas, at South Carolina, home against Bama—what do you think their final record will be?
I think 8-4. The road games make it very difficult. I believe the losses will come to South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU, and then we will win one and lose one between Clemson and Alabama.
In your opinion, is Chizik an elite coach?
Not yet, but he is on his way. He has obviously done well so far at Auburn. But to get to be in that elite category, he has to do well for nine or 10 years, and I think he would tell you the same thing. But if you look at his record and his recruiting at Auburn, it puts him on that path.
Will Malzahn leave after this year?
I hope not. I think something that people aren’t taking into consideration is how much he wants to be a head coach.He was awfully close to taking the job at Vanderbilt. I don’t know how much he wants it. But I will say there is a good chance he leaves if the opportunity comes up.
Who do you see being a breakout star this year?
Trovon Reed would’ve been last year but had the injury issues. I think he will be a weapon this year. Angelo Blackson on the defensive line. And Corey Lemonier has everyone raving about him.
Will any freshmen be big contributors this year?
I think Reese Dismukes and Christian Westerman have a chance to step up on the offensive line. If any freshmen do contribute, I think it will come mainly from the offensive line. As far as Kiehl Frazier, I think he will be redshirted.
Alabama Crimson Tide
What is your take on the quarterback situation? Who do you think will win out?
Both are good. They seem to be responding well. If I had to predict? It would be A.J. He is the frontrunner and has experience behind Greg the last few years. But Phillip Sims has potential. I think both will end up getting time as the coaches see how they react.
Is Nick Saban the best coach in college football? Do you see him staying at Alabama until retirement?
He is one of the best, if not the best. People have their favorites based on regions. You can’t argue with the recruiting he has done. If he had stayed at LSU, I think he would have won two or three national titles. He is the best in all aspects, athletically and academically. You look at the number of All-Americans, first round draft picks. He is replacing lots of coaches but still succeeding.
I think he will stay at Alabama. I had a conversation with him on the golf course recently, and he said that he thinks everything he can accomplish can happen at Alabama. He came in wanting to get Alabama back to the Bear Bryant and Gene Stallings kind of years and build a dynasty. I think he will win one or two more national titles at Alabama.
Will the defense be as good as advertised?
They will be very good. The defensive line is a big question mark though. The defensive schemes will be a little different as far as some outside linebacker pass rushes. But I think the key is up front. Can the front three get a push? People are comparing them to ’09. They also have the ’61 and ’92 defenses to live up to, which were just phenomenal. Those defenses are all built the same way, with a lot of speed.
Are you worried about the depth situation at running back?
Not really. Trent hasn’t been an every-down back in the past, but he is built like one and could be one this year. Eddie Lacey has the pectoral issue. Blake Sims can do some wildcat formation plays and also be a third down type guy for running routes and screens. I do worry about the drop off after that. Dee Hart would have been huge; I thought he was really going to contribute. And Corey Grant transferred to Auburn, and Demetrius Goode transferred to South Alabama. You got to think those transfer guys are thinking right now, “Maybe I shouldn’t have left.”
Can Marquis Maze fill the gap left by Julio Jones?
He won’t be called to fill those types of shoes. He can be used more, though, and should have been used more in the past. He is a competitor that makes plays.
Who do you think will be a breakout star this year?
DeAndrew White will be a big one. He has been turning heads during practice. Maybe he’ll be the other playmaker. Also, the defensive line junior college guys can cause headaches hopefully and create situations where the secondary doesn’t have to stay on their man every second.
Will any freshmen be big contributors this year?
I think Dee Hart will be. He really did have a great spring practice. But Arie Kouandjio might, although right now he is battling injuries. It is tough to make an immediate impact for a deep and talented team like Alabama, especially for positions that have to learn a lot like the offensive line.
Will this team be able to make it out of the SEC undefeated? What do you think their final record will be?
Undefeated. I think the schedule lines up well, and I think this team is hungry. I think they are thinking back to ’09 and how they got there. Saban saw last year as a building year and expects this one to be good. I think the quarterback play will be good enough to win, and maybe it will be better than expected.
Could you see a one-loss Alabama team in the national championship game?
Yes. There are eight SEC teams ranked in the preseason top 25, so it is a tough road. I think the SEC has enough prestige where that could happen, and it has happened before.