For me, the biggest and most pressing were on the defensive side of the ball. Saban's preference for a 3-4 defensive scheme is a relatively simple one, but certain personnel are necessary to run it — specifically, someone has to man the center spot, keep the interior linemen off the linebackers and allow them to fly around and make plays. It's no coincidence, for example, that Ray Lewis won his only Super Bowl championship with Tony Siragusa playing the nose position.
Alabama didn't have that person in 2007. The nose position was manned by a hodge-podge of different guys, and the defensive numbers showed it (Alabama's '07 defense was one of the worst Nick Saban ever coached, at any of his coaching stops).
Here's what I wrote, for example, after Auburn whipped Alabama all over Pat Dye Field for a 17-10 victory:
No scheme Saban or Kevin Steele could design ... could keep Auburn from pounding them up front with that big offensive line. And by the way, that's the same thing Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and even Mississippi State were able to do consistently to Alabama this season. Whether it's offseason training, recruiting or a mere attitude adjustment, Alabama has got to get better up front defensively. If you can't stop the run in this league, you shouldn't be able to win consistently.
There was a lot of hope coming into 2008, for a number of reasons. But the question of how to fix that problem on defense hadn't been fully addressed.
The answer to the question, it turns out, was Terrence Cody.
From the moment he set foot on campus, Terrence Cody has been a star at Alabama. And a starter. I remember the first time I wrote about him in August of that year — I didn't want to jinx it, but I recognized it almost immediately: here was a guy, I thought, who could make this defense really work.
He's done that, and then some. Stats can't truly quantify what Cody means to this defense. Without him, Rolando McClain wouldn't be an All-American candidate. Without him, backs like Charles Scott and Monterio Hardesty might have torn us to shreds.
The story of his weight, obviously, is a well-documented one: the coaching staff told him to drop 50 pounds (from 400!) before they'd allow him to play. And he's done that.
We've talked a lot on this blog about the survivors of this decade: last year's senior class, for example, who endured three years of losing and misery before finally getting their turn at a championship (that came up just short).
Terrence Cody hasn't endured any of that at Alabama. Since he's been here, he's been a part of a team that has won 24 games out of a possible 26. Of a team that's going to Atlanta Saturday for the second time in as many years. Of a team that's been ranked in the top-5 in the country since early October. Of last year.
That's who Terrence Cody is. He's a winner. He's a beast. He's one of the faces of this program, and this program is among the nation's best.
He should be remembered for that. And he should always be remembered for this.
This Saturday's game will be a slugfest. There's no doubt about it. And winning the game — that 25th win of 27 games — will require an effort so massive, I'm not sure even Cody can manage it.
But regardless of the outcome, Alabama fans should stand and applaud this man. He represents everything we love about Alabama football.