Question: What are your overall thoughts on Alabama considering what they have coming back and what they lost?
Howard: I think Alabama is a good program. They have a lot coming back on offense, obviously. We look for them to be even more prolific on offense. The defense is where they’re going to have to make up some ground because they lost some talent. But when you think about Nick Saban, you think defensive genius and that he’ll figure it out and have those guys ready.
Q: When you watch Amari Cooper, what do you see that makes him so good?
A: Huge, huge fan of Amari Cooper. I actually was able to watch him last year before the season started. I went down to Tuscaloosa and watched them practice when no one knew who he was. People were talking about him, and they knew he had potential and ability, but you never know how a true freshman is going to respond in a game until he’s in that situation. He’s a great talent. He pays attention to detail in route running. You rarely see a true freshman come out and run routes that polished. I’m not sure it’s from his high school coaching or from the coaching in Tuscaloosa, but they do a tremendous job of getting players ready at Alabama. He has very good speed. I don’t know what his 40 time is, but his football speed is exceptional. You can see him hit another gear when he wants to hit it. Whether he runs a 4.4 or a 4.5, in my opinion it’s kind of irrelevant when he gets on the field because he can hit another gear when he needs to. He has a lot of confidence in his hands and he’s a hard worker.
Q: Another young guy who had a breakout year is T.J. Yeldon. He’s going to be the feature back this season. What do you expect from him?
A: I did a little break down of T.J. last year before the SEC Championship Game. Just how strong he is. He has good vision. He doesn’t rush to the hole, which is very rare for a freshman. I don’t think he’s the fastest guy. He won’t blow you away with his 40 time either, but he seems to be fast enough. He’s perfect for Alabama’s offensive system. They want a guy who’s a downhill runner that’s not afraid to hit it between the tackles, but still has the ability to get on the edges and give the defense some problems.
Q: A lot people see Alabama’s schedule as a two-game schedule with Texas A&M and LSU. Is that a fair assessment?
A: Those are the big games, the two everyone wants to focus on and rightfully so. I don’t think they should take Va Tech lightly out the gate. They have a strong quarterback in Logan Thomas. What he needs to is prove to his fan base that he isn’t a one-hit wonder. He had a really good season, led them to the Sugar Bowl two years ago. Then last year, he didn’t have the season everyone thought he would have. First and foremost, they can’t take that team lightly and it’ll show us a lot of what Alabama is made of. I think it’s going to be a good game. It’s funny how people are just overlooking Va Tech and looking to Sept. 14 (when Alabama plays Texas A&M) and not giving Va Tech any respect. I know Nick will have them prepared, but nationally, people aren’t even paying any attention to that game.
Q: Is it realistic to think Alabama can win a third title in a row?
A: I think it’s going to be determined by how well that defense plays. They’re going to have to get good early. They don’t have a lot of time to gel and try to figure things out. Like I said, Va Tech is going to try to come out there and make a point. This is an excellent opportunity for Virginia Tech to make a point. Then, you have to face the only team that beat you and beat you in your backyard last year with Texas A&M. So that’s another challenge. That defense is going to have to get good early. You’re not going to be able to do it with just offense. That’s for sure.