Georgia State football faces three FCS programs, two BCS heavy weights (including the defending BCS champion) and a full slate of Sun Belt opponents. In the third installment of our on going series, we're checking in on the defending BCS Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. We caught up with Chris Walsh of BamaOnline.com to get some insight on the Alabama program exiting Spring, how the young but talented secondary will pace the Tide this Fall and the best places to visit in Tuscaloosa.
PantherTalk.com: Nick Saban came out recently talking about a 9 game SEC schedule and giving the fans more bang for their buck. Are fans in step with that line of thinking and how do they view games with teams like Georgia State?
Chris Walsh: Most Alabama fans would fall in line if Saban suggested just about anything since the Crimson Tide has won three national titles with him as coach, but there doesn't appear to be a strong sentiment either way. Saban's thinking is that every player should get a chance to face every other SEC team at least once during his four-year career, only it's pretty clear that he's in the minority when it comes to league coaches who generally believe that the schedule is tough enough and that they need wins to ensure bowl appearances. Saban goes out of his way to schedule a tough non-conference opponent (this year it's Virginia Tech), but fans still remember what happened in 2010 when Alabama's last seven opponents were all able to schedule byes the week before facing the Crimson Tide and derailed title bid that season. Thus, the mixed feelings.
PantherTalk.com: Offensively, AJ McCarron returns looking to make history as a potential three time BCS champ. The backfield seems loaded again. What are Tide fans concerned with entering summer on that side of the ball?
CW: Heading into spring the big concern offensively was the offensive line as Alabama had to replace first-round draft picks Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker and Rimington Award winner Barrett Jones at center. When Jones missed almost all the bowl practices with a foot injury Ryan Kelly got a head start on replacing him by taking most of the snaps with the first unit. The other spots solidified when Arie Kounadjio, brother of left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, stepped up and showed he's recovered from having surgeries on both knees two years ago to win the left guard spot. As a result, the top concern went from the line to depth, particularly at quarterback and center.
PantherTalk.com: Defensively, Alabama looks very young and talented. Do you see this unit taking any steps back this Fall?
CW: It'll all depend on the secondary, where the Tide has to replace first-round draft pick Dee Milliner at cornerback. It's s such a concern that wide receiver Cyrus Jones switched positions to provide some depth and Christion Jones took reps at both spots in case of an emergency. Deion Belue returns as the right cornerback, but John Fulton missed the spring after having a procedure to fix a turf-toe injury and Geno Smith took over as the slot defender late last season. Meanwhile, at safety the Crimson Tide is loaded. The defensive line will have a pair of new starters, but that unit appears to be mostly reloaded and there are more options.
PantherTalk.com: What young players do you see stepping forward this Fall that the average fan may not know or ever heard from?
CW: Among the early enrollees there was quite a buzz about Derrick Henry before he sustained an ankle injury near the end of spring. Considered by many to be the best player in high school last year (out of Yulee, Fla), he may be the biggest running back Alabama's ever had and he took a lot of reps in the scrimmages prior to A-Day. The other guy who really stood out was five-star tight end O.J. Howard, who has a ways to go with his blocking but will get playing time this season and could be an immediate receiving threat. The thing that should really scare opponents is that last year's national champions only had nine seniors, including long-snapper Carson Tinker who landed a late scholarship when the Crimson Tide had an extra one.
PantherTalk.com: We ask every road team for must see places/bars/restaurants. Obviously, Dreamland is a staple but where are a few places that Panther fans must visit?
CW:If you're going to head to Dreamland, make sure it's the original one south of town (5535 15th Ave. S), where the menu is very limited (basically it's ribs, ribs and ribs). For breakfast the Waysider (1512 Greensboro Ave), which was a favorite of Paul W. "Bear" Bryant and specializes in Southern staples. Across the street from the stadium is Rama Jama's (1000 Bryant Drive), which does breakfast all day and has a really good messy burger. The owner Gary also looks like he could be Nick Saban's brother despite usually having a smile on his face. Other options away from the stadium includes Wings U in Midtown Village, which is owned by former player Bob Baumhower. Finally, for dinner, if you want something a little more upscale try Chuck's Fish (508 Greensboro) or Epiphany across the street. As for bars the area known as "The Strip" is the pregame spot, but is taken over by students after games. The most popular place will be Innisfree, but if you're looking for something a little less collegiate try Alcove International Tavern on 22nd Avenue between 7th and 8th Street downtown.
Special Thanks to Chris Walsh of BamaOnline.com for joining us today!