Alabama opens it season Saturday, squaring off against Virginia Tech in Atlanta's Georgia Dome at 4:30 p.m.
The preseason may be over, but there are still plenty of questions surrounding the Tide’s quest for a third straight national championship. Here are five:
1. What will the starting offensive line look like?
As of Saturday’s practice, the first group of offensive lineman from left to right is Cyrus Kouandjio, Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Anthony Steen and Austin Shepherd. This is how the group began preseason practice before a brief switch with Arie and Shepherd changing positions. Tide coach Nick Saban questioned the unit's run blocking after the first scrimmage and its pass protection following the second scrimmage. This continues to be the biggest question mark surrounding the Tide. With Virginia Tech and Texas A&M in the first three weeks of the season, the offensive line will have to get good early if the Tide hopes to be successful.
2. Where is the offensive line depth?
An even bigger question may be which players will back up the five starters. Kellen Williams projects to be Alabama’s sixth offensive lineman, as he can play multiple positions. The rest of Alabama’s reserve offensive lineman are unproven. Also, if AJ McCarron is the Tide’s most important player, Cyrus Kouandjio is 1A. Alabama doesn’t have a player who could replace him at left tackle.
3. Who will the second and third running back be?
T.J. Yeldon is locked in as the No. 1 guy. Unless the Tide wants to give him a similar workload of Trent Richardson’s 2011 year, he’ll need a backup or two. Dee Hart takes snaps as the No. 2 back with Kenyan Drake behind him. Then there’s Jalston Fowler, who practices exclusively with the tight ends and H-backs during the media viewing periods at practice. Along with those four, are four freshmen: Derrick Henry, Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara. One or two of the freshmen are likely to redshirt. Saban has praised Henry and Tenpenny for their play in scrimmages. One thing is certain, Yeldon will have a lot of talented players vying to be his backup.
4. Has the pass rush improved?
The lack of a consistent pass rush hurt Alabama in 2012. The best way to help a young secondary is to pressure the quarterback. Outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard is the star of this group, after leading the Tide last year with seven sacks. He is the team’s most talented pass rusher and could be a nightmare for opposing offenses if he performs to his potential. Ed Stinson, Denzel Devall, Xzavier Dickson, Jeoffrey Pagan and some supremely talented freshmen will also be looking to bolster the Tide’s pass rush this season.
5. Which freshmen will play early?
Offensively, it’s possible Henry, Tenpenny, receiver Raheem Falkins and tight end O.J. Howard could see playing time. Defensively, linemen A’Shawn Robinson, Dee Liner and Jonathan Allen; linebacker Reuben Foster; and defensive backs Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson are a few who could make it on the field in 2013. It’s not uncommon for true freshmen to make splashes under Saban. Last season, Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Geno Smith were a few who grabbed headlines.