Leading up to the first ever College Football Playoff, The Players’ Tribune reached out to current NFL players from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon to preview their alma mater’s roster and provide a prediction for the game on New Year’s Day.
Alabama Offensive Preview
By Eddie Lacy, 2009-2012
Blake Sims has been through a lot since he’s been at Alabama, so it’s nice to see him lead this team to success. He was originally recruited as an athlete, so he’s shifted around between running back, quarterback, and wide out since he’s been on campus. That can often cause a lot of players to struggle, but the fact that he bounced back and took hold of the quarterback position says a lot about him as a player. But beyond that, he’s a really cool, down to earth guy — no cockiness or attitude — and that’s what I like the most about him. Whatever the coaches want him to do, whatever position they need him to play, he is willing to go out there and do it with no questions asked.
As far as running backs, I can’t speak much on Derrick Henry personally — he came in after I left — but I did play with T.J. Yeldon. T.J. is a quiet guy, but on the field he’s ferocious. He’s so quick and makes really good reads. That’s a very important skill because Bama runs a lot of plays where the back is required to read defensive ends. Once you get to a certain step you have to make a split-second decision of when to make a cut and get up field. Once T.J. makes his cut, he goes from 0-to-60 in no time and is really difficult to bring down because of his burst and physicality.
Another guy who gets a lot of attention is Amari Cooper. His demeanor is similar to Blake in that he’s a quiet leader who lets his play on the field do the talking. But he listens to the coaches, and when guys see that from someone as dominant as Amari, it rubs off. He’s a flat-out playmaker.
When Bama plays against Ohio State, I don’t expect to see any special game plan. What makes us different from a lot of schools is simply our desire to win. We understand that the team we’re playing against knows that we’re only going to run seven plays, but it’s on them to stop those plays. But even if they can stop us in the first half, can they still stop us in the second half? Since I got there in 2009, not many teams have been able to.
I’m expecting us to have a very physical game. Ohio State played very tough football against Wisconsin, but we’re a team that can give it right back to them. I’m expecting this to come down to who wants it more — and nobody wants it more than us. The Tide rolls by two touchdowns in New Orleans.
Alabama Defensive Preview
By Vinnie Sunseri, 2011-2013
Alabama’s defensive line is, as you would expect, very athletic and very strong. The guy to watch out for is big #86 A’Shawn Robinson. Very physical, strong guy who’s only a true sophomore but has been one heck of a player. He lives behind the opponent’s line of scrimmage. I would compare his play to a guy like Ndamukong Suh because he’s so strong and has a knack for making his presence felt with big plays.
Jarran Reed is another guy to look out for on the D-line. He transferred in from a Juco and took no time to adjust. He’s another strong guy that excels as one of those run stoppers that Alabama really counts on.
This is Alabama, so you know the linebacker play is going to be stellar. In particular Trey Depriest is a playmaker. Alabama usually relies on one player to serve as a leader for the defense. Last year it was C.J. Mosely, the year before that it was Donte Hightower and before that it was Rolando McClain. The person in the middle of the Alabama defense is usually a guy who can flat-out play the game of football, and this year that guy is Trey. I remember during my junior season we were playing again Ole Miss, and Trey had one hit — I forget who it was on — but I’m telling you, he picked the guy up and put him on his head. I didn’t know if that guy was going to get up. I was just as taken aback watching it on the field as every fan at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
I’m really happy about how the Alabama secondary has performed this year. These guys are really good friends of mine and I’m happy about who’s been able to step up. Eddie Jackson is one of those big, long corners that Coach Saban loves. He’s sort of in the same mold as Dre Kirkpatrick. He loves to bump and run, but can also play off in man coverage.
There’s also Nick Perry, who’s one of my really good friends, and I’m so proud of him. He didn’t get a lot of chances until this year, but he’s made the most of his opportunity and has performed really well, grabbing interceptions in big-time games.
It’s difficult to highlight individual players in Alabama’s secondary because we aren’t a unit that cares about individual accolades. On a wider level, this team truly understands that if one of us plays well but the team doesn’t win, that person isn’t going to get much credit. But everyone knows if the team plays well as a whole, the press and the accolades will come.
Urban Meyer is a mad scientist on the offensive side of the ball, but if anyone can plan for him, it’s Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.
Against Ohio State we have to be ready to defend Coach Meyer’s zone-read. And the only way to stop a zone-read is by playing precise fundamental football, which has always been what Coach Saban stresses. If you’re going to succeed in this defense you have to execute what Coach Saban and Kirby Smart have planned for you, because that’s how our defense has been successful. If we all do what we’re assigned to do, then we will control the outcome of the game. But if individual players get overeager and attempt to play outside of the system, that’s usually when bad things happen.
I envision this game getting off to a fast start. I imagine Coach Meyer will have the first 15 or so plays scheduled, and his team will have practiced those plays a lot leading up to this game. They’ll try to get a tempo going like Oklahoma did last year when we played against them. I could see them trying to hit a couple of deep balls early on to establish a legitimate passing threat. But after an initial onslaught, I think Bama will settle in and get the running game going. And when the run is established, Ohio State will have a tough time accounting for both Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White. By the end of the game I think we’re going to begin to pull away — I expect Alabama to advance to the national championship by a final score of 31-20.
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