Some players play bigger roles than others. Some will be critical to Alabama's success. And others could be the difference in success and failures at their positions or for the team as a whole. Here are the 10 players that will be most important to the Crimson Tide's success in 2014.
10. Wide receiver Christion Jones: Jones will be a critical part of the passing game, but with Alabama’s depth at receiver, Jones’ greater value to the Crimson Tide will come on special teams. In 2013, he scored three total touchdowns on punt and kick returns, including two in the season opener against Virginia Tech. Alabama hasn’t had a dynamic return man since Javier Arenas, but Jones gives it the edge it needs to make a difference in the return game.
9. Tackle/guard Dominick Jackson: While the offensive line seems set at some positions, it still appears to lack any athleticism or tenacity at guard. Enter Jackson, who, as an incoming JUCO lineman could step in immediately and be the missing piece to take the unit from good to great. During the spring, the Crimson Tide shuffled around at right guard, which could be a good landing spot for the physical Jackson.
8. Defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson: Everything on defense starts at the line of scrimmage, and as a true freshman, Robinson showed he could be a difference maker in that regard. He’ll likely play end in base and slide inside in Nickel and Dime looks, but will be a disruptive force for the Crimson Tide wherever he plays.
7. Running back T.J. Yeldon: With all of the hype around rising sophomore Derrick Henry after his Sugar Bowl performance, some people have seemed to overlook the returning No. 1 back who has gone for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. Yeldon is still the top option and a steady, workhorse back. With all of the talk of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin bringing more emphasis to the passing game, it all starts running the ball, where Yeldon will still be the center of attention.
6. Quarterback Blake Sims: Whether he wins the job or not, Sims will play a big role in the development of the passing game. If he gets the job, it’s obvious how important his role will be. But if not, Sims will be an experienced guy with knowledge of the offense who can help mentor a new starter and get him up to speed.
5. Safety Landon Collins: Collins played like an All-American on the back end for the second half of the 2013 season, when he was forced into action after a suspension and injury. He returns as the guy in a mostly fresh-faced secondary. Collins will be tasked with getting everyone on the same page with the defensive backs, and his playmaking abilities could be difference makers in big games.
4. Wide receiver Amari Cooper: Every good passing game needs a star to build around, and that’s exactly what Alabama has in Cooper. While he was hampered by injury for much of 2013, he showed at the end that he’s still the same dynamic playmaker he was as a freshman when he’s healthy. In an offense that will seemingly try to put the ball in his hands as much as possible, Cooper will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays when Alabama needs them.
3. Linebacker Trey DePriest: DePriest will be the man for Alabama in the middle of its defense in 2014, with C.J. Mosley gone to the NFL. He’ll be in charge of making all of the checks and calls, and making sure that the Crimson Tide defense doesn’t take a step back after losing its heart and soul in Mosley. The talent is there, to be sure, so it’ll be up to DePriest to get everyone on the field on the same page, especially when the tempo picks up.
2. Kicker Adam Griffith: You don’t have to tell Alabama fans how important a kicker is. The Crimson Tide lost two massive games in the last three years because of an inadequate kicking game and seemingly can’t get the position figured out. Griffith is the guy coming back as a redshirt sophomore, and while it’s hard to pin the Kick Six on him, he didn’t give fans much reason for hope, missing two easy kicks at A-Day. He could be the difference in a game or two in 2014.
1. Quarterback Jacob Coker: While no one will declare the quarterback competition over any time soon, Coker wasn’t brought in to ride the bench. The Florida State transfer is being counted on to step in for AJ McCarron and lead an extremely talented offense around him to new heights under Kiffin. There are still some questions with Sims’ accuracy, and Alabama could be in trouble in the national championship picture if Coker can’t handle the job. No pressure, kid.
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