Mailbag: Alabama football fans ask where's the swag, who's in portal, and more | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

We last dug into the mailbag following Alabama's loss to Tennessee, and the Crimson Tide's defense came under heavy fire in the wake of a 52-49 loss. Since then, Alabama has fallen out of the SEC race with a subsequent loss to LSU. Fans are none too pleased that the team is in the unusual position of entering next week's Iron Bowl without a championship to play for, but Saturday's win over Ole Miss offered some positive signs. Some see problems, others progress. Onto your thoughts! ...

It seems Alabama has lost their swag/juice/fire whatever you want to call it. Watching other teams play seem like they are just having more fun and playing faster.  What in your opinion could be done to get that back. - Taylor from Huntsville.

Taylor: From my perspective, the missing fire has mostly been embodied by slow starts. Alabama has been tied or behind at the end of the first quarter in four of its last five games, and when a team doesn't come out of the gate with the juice you speak of, it can be hard to generate it mid-game.

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Does the defense need a schematic overhaul? Are modern offenses too much for the current system? Or are the shortfalls more of a Jimmy’s and Joe’s problem? - Michael from Bay Minette, AL

Michael: The scheme has kept pace with the offensive times. Alternating between nickel and dime looks to match up with three or four wide receivers is the order of the day for defensive coordinators everywhere, and Alabama is no different in that regard. As for Jimmys and Joes, there's not a Daron Payne-type dominator at defensive tackle, and there's not a Reuben Foster-type dominator at inside linebacker. There's a lot of talent, but it's not been a defense that can consistently overwhelm offenses at the line of scrimmage.

How does the staff handle transfer portal scouting? Seems like we'll be in the market for several positions going into next year, so how do they manage that versus high school recruiting? - Alex in Florence.

Alex: Former Alabama assistant coach Sal Sunseri, now a part of the Crimson Tide's support staff, keeps an eye on portal activity. I don't think we'll ever see Nick Saban lean on the portal for a high volume of players like some schools have. He recruits well enough that he won't have as many portal needs, for one thing, and for another, high school signees get more exposure to everything from the playbook to the offseason workout program, whereas that familiarity has to be microwaved for portal entries.

I felt like the second half on Saturday was a huge positive.  It has been a long time since this team has played a regular season game that didn't have national title implications as we know and to see this team adjust and fight.  To see Bryce and Saban huddle up the offense and even the O-Line finish plays. Do you see this setting the tone for the last few games and offseason? - Travis from San Bruno, CA

Travis: The Iron Bowl will tell a lot about how much this team is invested in its own improvement. Regardless of the Tigers' struggles this year, they'll attack Alabama with the force of a team that could put an entirely different spin on its offseason if it can beat an archrival.

I find the prevalence of facemasking more and more upsetting. Dallas Turner should have been benched or sent to the showers for what he did to the Ole Miss quarterback. So should the player (editor's note: also Turner) who sat on his back and bounced his head on the turf twice in succession without getting caught. It seems they have decided it is only a violation if you get caught. - Mary from Northport

Mary: Turner caught a 15-yard penalty for the former, and deserved another 15-yarder for the latter. The difference? There's zero chance a facemask foul so blatant that a ball carrier's helmet comes off will ever be missed by an official. An extra shove after a play is over? Different story. Officials focus on the next play after the whistle just like players, which opens the door for cheap shots to often not be seen. That doesn't make what Turner did right, but it's why players get away with things like that regularly.

Let’s say Alabama wins the remaining games on its schedule, including the bowl game. Do you feel like wholesale staff changes are still possible?  - Rusty from Huntsville

Rusty: I don't think the outcome of Alabama's remaining games will impact the future of the assistant coaches one way or the other.

We just went through a four-game stretch where three of the four were on the road against top 11 teams and could have won all of them if we cleaned a few things up. I think the “Alabama is on the way down” talk is way overblown. This win was very satisfying in that the boys did not quit and beat a very good team on the road. − Cody from Newman, GA

Cody: It was a tough stretch of the season for sure, but as easily as Alabama could've beaten Tennessee and LSU, it could've lost to Texas and Texas A&M. It's a good team, not a great one. But to your point, one season doesn't necessarily point the needle for the next.

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Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.