1. Should we even bother with asking about quarterbacks and Alabama at this point? How'd that competition go this spring?
For the third time in a row, and the fourth time since 2011, Alabama enters fall with almost nothing settled under center. David Cornwell has the big arm and looks the part, but, he's not won the team over and doesn't have the mastery of the playbook that others do. Speaking of, Cooper Bateman is probably your early starter: He knows the playbook better, has better ball security, and has a better command of the offense. That said, in his one start versus Ole Miss, the offense just had a different body language than it did with Jake Coker. That was apparent again in the spring.
True Freshman Jalen Hurts is the most exciting player under center since the days of David Palmer: excellent playmaker, wheels to burn, good arm. That said, he's most likely a third option at this point.
That brings us to the guy that will, I believe, eventually win the starting job at some point, brash redshirt freshman Blake Barnett. He's also a dual threat guy, but has a much better arm, better reads and progression. He's also undoubtedly Lane's guy and is probably the best leader of the bunch. That said, he is maddeningly inconsistent and prone to turnovers. Still, I'd be stunned if he doesn't see playing time against USC and isn't the starter by the time the meat of the SEC schedule comes around. Here is a film study of Blake we just published yesterday.
2. Lane Kiffin has shown a tendency to focus on one player and really make him the workhorse of the offense, whether it was Amari Cooper in 2014 or Derrick Henry last year, the gameplans have involved lots of touches for one guy. Any idea who will be this year's focus?
I'm not sandbagging: it really depends on the quarterback. If Alabama runs more spread option looks, then you almost have to pick a running back, particularly the freakish Bo Scarbrough who has Derrick Henry size but is more explosive, faster, and has better hands, which is a terrifying thought. If Alabama sticks with a guy like Cornwell or runs more pro spread with Bateman, then you have to go with Calvin Ridley, already one of the nation's best receivers. Hooray, bubble screens!
3. Any pleasant surprises this spring?
Two, actually. One: The entire recruiting class of 2016 is academically or otherwise eligible and are reporting for Fall camp. As you are very aware, it is almost impossible to keep 25 guys eligible. That is a huge offseason win for Alabama. The second is the emergence of last years No. 1 running back recruit, Damien Harris. So much was expected of him as a freshman, but he simply was not up to SEC snuff. This season, however, he has bulked up, hits the hole more explosively, has shown another gear, and by all accounts looks to be an excellent all-around power back with speed. Add to that the arrival of BJ Emmons, and Alabama has a formidable trio in the backfield. #RTDB
4. Any disappointments or major question marks?
Two words: Cam. Robinson. It's hard to lose a top-5 NFL pick to something as dumb as smoking weed, in a public park, at 3:30 a.m., on the main drag of Monroe, with a stolen handgun. Now, we don't know the facts at all, and this may still be mingy, niggling stuff. There is a lot of smoke that the gun charge may fall off, and the pot was certainly a misdemeanor amount. Encouragingly, the court obviously didn't feel that this was the act of rampaging felons -- their bond was only $750. If it's just weed offenses, you'd guess the SEC standard 2-game kind of suspension would be in the offing. That said, the uncertainty here is the worst.
5. Even with what Bama lost in this past draft, there's a metric ton of talent returning on this team. Is it truly natty or bust in 2016?
I don't think it's national title or bust season for the Tide. I think most intelligent observers recognize the difficulty of the road slate (at Ole Miss, at Arkansas, at LSU, at Tennessee,) the unanswered questions on offense, and uncertainty of Cam Robinson's availability. That said, anything less than 10 or 11 wins, competing for the West, and a New Year's Bowl is unacceptable. The goal is Atlanta, as always. It's accepted wisdom, and an ironclad fact, a 1-loss or undefeated winner of that game is always going to get the nod for the four-team playoff, at least as its committee is presently comprised and as the criteria stand (moving targets though they may be.)