Speaking of Double Teams: Amari Cooper

Cooper’s Iconic Catch Against Ole Miss

Yesterday, we discussed the importance of the double-team related to how Alabama has played, and hopefully, will play.  Wide receiver Amari Cooper is one player we’ll be counting on to generate a few of those double-teams.

An article over the weekend on AL.com, also noted as much:

Cooper was humbled on a personal level throughout 2013, as multiple nagging injuries limited his production during the first half of the season and stymied the momentum he’d built as a breakout freshman. He bounced back with a vengeance during the spring and drew the ultimate compliment from Saban, who said Cooper was hard to stop unless he was double-teamed.

Those comments from Nick Saban were made after spring practice:

“The guy’s really an explosive guy,” Saban said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “He’s got great speed, he’s got really good hands, he’s got good size. He can catch the ball vertically down the field. He’s difficult to cover coming out of a break.

“He’s good against press (coverage), so he’s a pretty hard guy to stop unless you put two guys on him.”

 

Cooper eventually rang up a good season statistically for the Tide last season, but for most of the year was missing.  He was early in the season, but still played, though he looked to be in a funk.  His ability to bounce back will be a big factor in deciding how the season goes for the Tide.

At the end of 2012, Cooper was, at least in my opinion, a better receiver than Bama great Julio Jones.  He was explosive, and of course he made some incredible plays, but he also showed fantastic hands.  It’s hard to say anyone is better than Jones was, but Cooper played like it.

I’ve changed my mind a bit since then.  Injuries or not, he wasn’t the same player last year.  Julio played with injuries as well.  You’ll recall one late night in Tuscaloosa when he played against Ole Miss only a few short days after hand surgery.

This is bound to be Cooper’s last season in Tuscaloosa.  Let’s hope he goes out on a high note.

Importance of the Double Team

Yes, the double team

As a high school senior back in the fall of 1985, our football team was playing away from home against a school from Bibb County.  This particular night stands out in my mind for two reasons in particular.

First, as we were taking our pre-game stroll around the field, we noticed a jillion ant hills covering the field of play.  (Well, it wasn’t a jillion, but it was a lot.)  There were so many that our coach told the other team we weren’t playing unless they did something to kill the ants.  They poured gas on several of the hills around the field and we played as scheduled.

We beat this team pretty badly, so the Monday afternoon film session was filled with chuckles as we watched players swatting the ants off of their legs.

The other thing that stands out after all of these years is one of our defensive linemen screaming, “I got the double-team, I got the double-team!” after an apparent stellar play.  As a skill player, his message didn’t resonate much at the time, other than to cause a chuckle at his over exuberance.  But I can tell you now, that getting a double-team in football is a big deal. On both sides of the ball.

Mount Cody

Under Nick Saban, we first saw the importance of the double-team with the emergence of nose tackle Terrence Cody.  Simply put, Mount Cody dominated the offensive linemen  assigned to him to the point that another player was assigned to help (and sometimes even two extra players were assigned).  At this point, obviously, Cody drawing the extra blocker allows the defense to play with an extra man.  That “extra player” could, for example, take the form of allowing a linebacker to play with more freedom (i.e. keeping a lineman off of him) or it could allow an extra player in pass coverage.  Or it could force the offense to keep a tight end or back in to help with pass protection.  I think you get the point.  It’s a big deal.

Having a defensive back that can play man-to-man coverage also provides similar flexibility (especially when coupled with a double-team up front).  A DB that can play man coverage effectively can, at a minimum, be assigned a specific skill player, or best case, eliminate the threat of that player altogether.

Offensively, players that can draw a double-team are especially important.  Julio Jones is a recent player that commanded, for the most part, double-teams from opposing defenses.  When a play can do this, it creates a ripple effect for the O.  It can affect pass blocking schemes, force fewer defenders in the box and help open up the passing attack.  And the particularly sweet thing about Jones drawing double-teams was that he still made plays when being defended this way.

Mr. A’Shawn Robinson

Over the course of Saban’s time at Alabama, we’ve seen several players, offensively and defensively, that were double-team type of players.  Of course there was Cody and Jones, but there have also been guys like Josh Chapman, Jesse Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner.  Even guys like Kareem Jackson become invaluable because they can cover guys one-on-one.  But when we look back at the 2013 team, and this was a very talented team, we don’t see a lot of difference-making double team guys.  There are guys with this type of potential, like A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, but in 2013 not much was on display.

This was especially evident in the defensive backfield.  Yes, the group was young and, yes, it hurt to lose Vinnie Sunseri to an injury, but overall, this group did not have a shutdown corner.  Since Saban’s recruiting pipeline started, there has been a steady stream of cornerbacks, but in 2013, there was a void.

It also didn’t help that the defensive line struggled a bit and also lacked big-time playmakers.  Robinson and Allen will most likely be dominant players (and played well in 2013), but they were young and they weren’t those type players last year.

Mix a defensive line and secondary like Alabama’s from 2013 and that spells problems in the hurry up no huddle environment of today’s brand of football.  Will this change in 2014?

Offensively, Amari Cooper has the potential to cause defensive plans to adjust to account for him, but that didn’t happen last year.  He was hurt at times and looked to be sulking at others.  Whatever the reasons, his sophomore campaign looked like a shadow of his freshman season.  Our other best receiving weapon, O.J. Howard, showed signs of brilliance, but wasn’t quite up to the blocking challenges he faced.  This problem couldn’t be overlooked because of the struggles of the offensive line.  In other words, the five OL needed help from a blocking tight end.  And because Howard struggled with blocking assignments, a weapon had to be taken off of the field at times.  (I’ll also admit that maybe Howard wasn’t properly utilized when he was in the game.)

All of this meant that our offense didn’t or couldn’t play up to it’s potential.

To be clear, I’m not blaming all of 2013’s troubles on double-teams or the lack thereof.  But I do think it was a big factor.  The team was star-studded and deep with talent, but there were key positions where we just didn’t get the dominating play we needed for both the defense and offense to be successful.

O.J. Howard on the move

Will that change in 2014?  Well, we certainly hope so and there is reason to be optimistic – on both sides of the ball.  Cooper and Howard have a chance to be difference makers, defense adjusters.  Newcomers Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey have loads of potential at corner, but can it’s asking a lot to expect them to dominate as freshmen.  Hopefully, improved defensive line play will make all of our lives more enjoyable.

Also, keep in mind that I’m not saying we don’t have talented players.  We certainly do.  And we have them all over the place.  Every position group has some of the most sought after players in the land.  I’m specifically looking for those special players – players that can cause game plans to be adjusted, players that have to be accounted for every down, players that allow us to do other, more dynamic things because of their presence.  I think we have them on the roster.  We’ll just have to wait and see if they show up this fall.

 

 

 

Mississippi State will play in Mobile

If find this hard to believe:

MOBILE, Alabama – As the start of fall practice draws closer for South Alabama’s sixth season of football, the interest in the Jaguars’ home opener continues to increase. The Jags, who are off the first week of the season (Aug. 30 weekend) and open the season on Sat., Sept. 6 at Kent State, will play SEC West Division member Mississippi State at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in a 3 p.m. CDT game that will also be broadcast on ESPNews.

That’s right.  State will play an away game against South Alabama.

Some will try to spin this as a way to develop recruiting in the fertile Mobile area, but this is some way to do it.

On the other hand, the Dogs’ other out-of-conference home games include Southern Miss, UAB and UT-Martin.  Maybe they were too embarrassed to add the Jags to that slate.

In reality, I guess this speaks to the difficulty of scheduling that fourth OOC game, even if you are an SEC member.

 

Bama Fandom: Where it Started for Me

I’ve always been an Alabama football fan.  Always.  I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t.

That’s primarily because of the influence of my dad and my maternal grandfather.  Neither were college educated – i.e. neither went to school at Alabama, but both were Bama fans and their influence in all areas of my life – especially this one – is obvious.  They didn’t spend fall Saturdays hauling their families to Tuscaloosa for games and they didn’t spend their time bashing Bear and making excuses whenever things went wrong.  They were simply Alabama fans, rain or shine.  And as an Alabama fan born in the late 1960s and raised in the 1970s, there were a lot of sunny days.

Back in those days, games on television were rare.  Fans tuned in listen to John Forney call the action and, occasionally, we were treated to a Saturday afternoon ABC game.  Sundays brought a review of all the previous days college football action via Bill Fleming’s highlight show and, of course, a review of Bama football on the Bear Bryant show.  I also spent quite a few lazy fall Sundays studying the sports section of The Birmingham News and reliving all of the action via write-ups and box scores.

But there was one evening when my Alabama fandom took root and sprouted on its own, separate from my dad’s and granddad’s.  That night was December 20, 1976, the evening Alabama played UCLA in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee.

What was different about that night?  Why was that the beginning for me?  Well, this game was my first solo game.  It was the first game where I marked the calendar, eliminated every other distraction, guarded the one and only television in the house, popped a huge bowl of popcorn and then watched the game from beginning to end – all by myself.  I was then able to give my dad a first hand account of what happened when he arrived home from work late that night.

From that point forward, for the most part, I have a recollection of most of the football games Alabama has played.  That’s not to say I remember every detail, but I have tracked things rather closely.

That was actually a pretty good time to ascend to a full-fledged Tide fan.  The 1976 season had not been a particularly good one for Alabama – at least by Bama standards, and the ’76 Liberty Bowl launched another fantastic run by the program.

The game is also known as the coming out party for Tide linebacker Barry Krauss.  Here are a couple of links to his interception return for a touchdown and the game highlights…