Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon (4) breaks free for a big first down run against Auburn during the second half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo)
Moving forward for the Alabama football team may be difficult, at least for the coming season.
The AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley era have come to an end.
New leaders and play-makers must emerge. It’s an annual process, but a bigger one for Alabama this offseason.
Five starting seniors left the team. Offensive guard Anthony Steen, defensive lineman Ed Stinson and cornerback Deion Belue join McCarron and Mosley.
Five key juniors didn’t see any need to stick around for a rebuilding year. Starters left in safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and safety Vinnie Sunseri.
“I’m sure when all the guys were leaving when we were young, everybody said the same thing,” McCarron said. “They doubted it and we came along. Somebody will show up. It’s just got to be a little sooner than later.”
The need for leaders to emerge will be needed during offseason training and spring practice to make sure each player gets the most out of themselves.
Competitions will be at all the positions and are going to be heated. If it’s not, coach Nick Saban will look for players who will take football seriously.
McCarron said after the Sugar Bowl that there were too many selfish players who didn’t buy in enough to Saban’s process of development.
“You know, we have a formula that we try to follow here, and I think it’s important that the players know that it’s a formula that will help us be successful,” Saban said. “I think when you have the kind of success that we have had here in the past, it doesn’t happen by accident. I think it takes a lot of hard work, and I think a lot of people have to buy in to doing things at a very high standard.”
How the season slipped away may be the the greatest lesson learned by the players.
The Crimson Tide was expected to play for a third straight national title, but lost to Auburn to fall into the Sugar Bowl for a losing game against Oklahoma.
Saban said there were quality practices leading up to the bowl game, but the players acted more relaxed than usual. They played well at times against the Sooners, but they admitted they didn’t do enough.
The motivation was missing for many.
“I think that sometimes — I think one of our players said it best: our victory is what defeated us,” Saban said. “When you win, sometimes you start to lose focus on the things that are important to being successful. The process of things that you do to pay attention to detail, play with discipline, do the little things correctly, all of a sudden don’t seem as important and you don’t practice as well, you don’t prepare as well, you don’t pay attention to these things, and all of a sudden it starts to show up in your play.”
The biggest question people ask headed into next season will be who is the quarterback. Junior Blake Sims was the backup all year, but will the dual-threat quarterback jumped over by one of the younger, prototypical pocket passers Saban usually prefers.
And how with the addition of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin change the team’s dynamic?
Whoever the quarterback will be, the offensive line must be rebuilt again with Steen and Kouandjio gone.
All the backlogged talent at running back and receiver won’t shine without blocking and a quarterback to distribute the ball.
The defense could be in worse shape. The secondary has young talent on the roster that earned plenty of playing time.
However, they need to make vast improvement.
The defensive line lost two impact players, but there are two freshmen who made a difference already in A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen.
Mosley’s production and leadership will be difficult to replace. He said Trey DePriest will be the next person who will lead the team.
DePriest, a junior inside linebacker, already said he’s coming back for next season to prove he can be the next Mosley.
“It’s big shoes to fill, but I haven’t thought about it too much, but it’s been on my mind,” DePriest said.
The entire returning roster and incoming recruits have big shoes to fill. The Crimson Tide may have lost out on its goal this year, but its still fighting to maintain its standard of excellence.
In recent years, that’s three national titles in the last five years. And as this season’s team found, that’s hard to live up to.
Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith (21) and defensive back Jabriel Washington (23) stop Chattanooga running back Kendrix Huitt during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. (AP Photo)