Newly minted graduate and recent roommate of Dont’a Hightower, former Alabama defensive lineman and tight end Brandon Lewis elected to forego his fifth year of eligibility. Now free to talk about his experiences, he recently shared an insider’s view into where the team stands post-Spring and post-National Championship.
Not surprisingly, Lewis is high on this year’s Tide.
“I think this is a championship caliber team. No doubt in my mind about it.”
One of the reasons he sees more crystal in Bama’s future is confidence in the offense. He says while new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has put in a few surprises for opposing teams, as a whole the offense remains the same as it was under two-time national champion OC Jim McElwain. The new OC also follows McElwain as the quarterbacks coach. Nussmeier was responsible at Washington for improving Jake Locker in only two years from erratic and interception prone to the eighth player picked in the Draft, and improving Keith Price in his first starting year to grabbing the postseason limelight from number two Draft pick Robert Griffin, III.
According to Lewis, Nussmeier is also improving Alabama quarterbacks winning ways – returning starter A.J. McCarron has thrived this Spring, having “really matured … after working with Coach Nuss.” He thinks “A.J. is the best quarterback we have had since I have been there. You should see more explosive plays downfield this year than in past seasons.” Heady stuff considering McCarron led the SEC last year in completion percentage and spearheaded a BCS-crown winning season.
Lewis goes on to say that even though former number two quarterback Phillip Sims transferred, there should be no concerns about redshirt freshman Phillip Ely (high school heir to Aaron Murray, U.S. Army All-American, early enrollee last year, offered by many schools including LSU, Ole Miss and Vandy) stepping in for an injured McCarron. He acknowledges the newbie signal caller doesn’t have the arm strength of McCarron, but says that should not be a focus.
“I think [Ely] could be successful within the system.”
“[He] is not the kind of quarterback you want to have throwing the ball 40 yards down field, [but] Coach Nuss would just have to change some things around for him.” In other words, similar gameplans utilized for John Parker Wilson (undefeated in the 2008 regular season) and Greg McElroy (as a first-year starter won a national championship in 2009 and came within 3 touchdowns of being undefeated in 2010 despite defensive breakdowns) – both of whom are now on active rosters in the NFL.
Interestingly, in the A-Day game Ely shared snaps with Sims and attempted and completed more passes. Observers chalked that up to Sims’ injured shoulder, but it is possible Ely worked himself into position to seriously challenge for the number two spot. Fox Sports South Steve Eubanks was sufficiently impressed to comment: “The White team scored a field goal after some nifty passing by redshirt freshman Phillip Ely … [a]nd while the depth chart probably didn't change, Ely no doubt earned a second look with his quick release and good decision making.”
It doesn’t take much convincing to believe the Tide’s offensive line will be a strength this season, returning three position starters, replacing Rimington finalist William Vlachos with Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones, and lining up goliath Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle. Brandon Lewis gives it his best effort anyway, heaping praise on left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker. He labels Warmack as one of the two strongest players on the team and an underrated bedrock of the OL.
“People don’t give Warmack enough credit.
He will be a 1st round pick next year.”
Lewis declares Fluker is so tough, nobody wanted to face him in practice. “I have never felt that kind of power and explosion in another human being. Have you ever seen an anthill after it has been stepped on? You know how the ants just scatter everywhere? That is what the DE’s look like when they get called out to go against D.J. They all just scatter, because we all knew what was fixing to happen to us and it was never pleasant.” Experts agree, with many 2013 mock drafts already predicting Fluker as the first SEC player off the board and as high as the top five.
Despite the upbeat outlook on the offensive line, injuries in the running back ranks have many concerned about Bama’s ability to run the ball effectively at least in the early part of the season. The Spring scrimmages and A-Day game didn’t alleviate all of the rumblings, and slated starter Eddie Lacy missed the Spring with a turf toe rehab. However, as a Michigan blogger observed, an arthritic turtle could probably run for 1,000 yards behind the 2012 Alabama offensive line.
We know one thing for sure – T.J. Yeldon is no tortoise. Lewis calls Yeldon “the best freshman football player I have seen” and foresees a big season for the former Mr. Football (he beat out Jameis Winston for the title). He even believes Yeldon could effectively replace Mark Ingram (Heisman winner and 28th pick in the Draft) and Trent Richardson (Doak Walker Award winner and 3rd pick in the Draft) in the wildcat – as a first year player. Any superstitious types might be thinking we’re getting ahead of ourselves praising the new kid on the block … oh wait, Nick Saban agrees. “T.J. did a good job in all the scrimmages. He made the difference for his team. … Jalston [Fowler] can do certain things, Dee Hart can do certain things. T.J. is one of those guys who can do everything."
By the way, Alabama plays a little bit of defense, too. Replacing six NFL-draftees and four signed UDFA’s from a defensive squad that made college football history might seem to be a daunting task, but Lewis blows off any question of a glitch in the Process. The defensive line gets bigger and more athletic every year, he says, and singles out Jesse Williams for high praise. He is slightly heavier and three inches taller than former NT Josh Chapman, and his shifty quickness gives him the ability to shoot the gap and generate more of a pass rush.
“Having Jesse at noseguard is a difference maker.”
Lewis designates linebacker Adrian Hubbard as the key in replacing the mayhem wreaked by Courtney Upshaw on opposing offenses. He also sees the secondary as the strength of the team by at least mid-season. And again, the experts agree on a positive outlook for the “new” faces on the Tide’s defense. NT Jesse Williams, LB C.J. Mosley and S Robert Lester are rated among the nation’s top at their position by NFL analyst Chad Reuter. And the remainder of the defense has players in the top-20 at every position according to NEPatriotsDraft.com.
Most observers are in agreement with Brandon Lewis’ optimism for this team – “I meant what I said … about how good I think this team will be this season. It will be fun to watch.”
P.S. – We know Nick Saban likes a challenge, and Coach Sarah Patterson laid down the gauntlet with her back-to-back national championship seasons with the Alabama women’s gymnastics team. Your move, Coach Saban.