TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There are questions aplenty regarding Alabama’s defense. Who will replace C.J. Mosley’s veteran presence? Can the pass rush improve? And what about the inexperience in the secondary?
With that said, here’s a look at the top five offensive players that could give the Crimson Tide fits in 2014:
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss -- Oct. 4
We’ll know just how far Alabama’s young secondary has come when the Crimson Tide travels to Oxford, Miss., to take on Ole Miss. Without an established leader at cornerback -- when’s the last time Alabama had that problem? -- Treadwell could expose Alabama. The 6-foot-2 sophomore is quickly becoming one of the best receivers in the SEC. As a freshman, he worked his way into the starting lineup early and led the Rebels with 72 catches for 608 yards and five touchdowns -- good enough to finish third in receptions per game in the conference. With standout freshman tight end Evan Engram back from injury and veteran Bo Wallace returning to orchestrate the offense at quarterback, it will be hard for any defense to contain Treadwell and Ole Miss.
It’s easy to sleep on Arkansas. Bret Bielema’s rebuilding job in Fayetteville is in its early stages and there aren’t a ton of talented skill players on the roster. But if Brandon Allen can develop into a respectable passer, things could get interesting. Hunter Henry is already one of the best tight ends in the SEC, but Arkansas’ running backs are the real gem. Collins ran for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman last season. Williams, his backup, finished with 900 yards of his own. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, keep an eye on Korliss Marshall, who ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns in Arkansas’ spring game.
Alabama’s secondary might still twitch at the mention of Mike Evans. When he left early for the NFL draft, there were surely a few cornerbacks in Tuscaloosa who breathed a sigh of relief. Well, don’t get too comfortable. Texas A&M’s tandem of freshmen receivers could develop into the a deadly one-two punch. Seals-Jones, who redshirted last season, is the spitting image of Evans at 6-5 and 225 pounds. There’s no one on Alabama’s roster -- or in the SEC, really -- who can match up well with that. And then there’s Noil, the former No. 1-rated athlete in the ESPN 300 who is expected to line up opposite him in the starting lineup. Think Percy Harvin; a fast, elusive home-run threat who can line up at receiver, running back or even quarterback.
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State -- Nov. 15
His name isn’t being thrown around in the Heisman Trophy race for nothing. Prescott doesn’t have a ton of film to his name, but what he has put together is impressive, most notably his 361-yard, 5-touchdown performance against Rice. He has a strong arm, quick feet and a big body. And while there are fair questions to be asked about his accuracy and decision-making, there’s no doubt what kind of leader he is. (Go back and watch the end of the Egg Bowl, and then read about what he went through in the lead up to that game). With a number of intriguing weapons at receiver and running back to work with, he could be handful for any defense.
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn -- Nov. 29
It’s easy to forget that Marshall didn’t have the benefit of spring practice last year. Almost as soon as he transferred from junior college, fall camp began and he was suddenly knee deep in a quarterback competition. He didn’t have a ton of time to learn coach Gus Malzahn’s offense, and it showed in his play, as he grew steadily more confident as a passer as the weeks progressed. With the benefit of a full offseason to prepare this year, we could see Marshall become even more dynamic. Alabama didn’t contain him well in the Iron Bowl, as he ran for nearly as many yards (99) as he threw for (97). If he becomes a bigger threat to pass the football, watch out.