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Simply put, Kiffin’s offense is a hit at ‘Bama

There is a ton of optimism floating out of Tuscaloosa these days concerning the celebrity marriage of Alabama head coach Nick Saban with his new offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin.

When pragmatic Saban announced the hiring of the volatile former USC head coach early in this offseason, skeptics wondered if Kiffin could handle a role outside the limelight in a major program (Saban generally mutes his assistants).

More than that, how would Kiffin’s universally known splashy offense play within the confines of Saban’s conservative philosophies?

If this week’s scrimmage is any indication, both sides have made suitable compromises.

The offense on display at Bryant-Denny Stadium this week was hailed by its players for its simplicity. Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper was the most outspoken following the scrimmage which, according to the Alabama media relations crew, amounted to 10 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

“Some coaches and quarterbacks overanalyze things at times,” Cooper said at the media availability following the scrimmage. “Sometimes it can be pitch and catch, let the playmakers make plays.”

Cooper described what made Kiffin’s offense so easy for him to grasp:

“Coach Kiffin calls plays based on matchups and what he sees,” he said. “It’s a simple offense. If he sees they are in man-to-man coverage and I have a hitch route, it converts if he’s close to me, we are going to throw a little fade route and make something out of it.”

Now a big reason why Kiffin is going the easy listening route instead of his typical heavy metal approach has to do with Alabama’s unsettled quarterback situation. For now, senior Blake Sims is taking the first-team snaps. Indications are the team will be nowhere close to naming a starter for some time and, even then, that starter might be sharing duties.

The 2014 Alabama offense is a far cry from the most talented crew Kiffin has coached – that honor goes to the 2005 USC machine that he oversaw as an offensive coordinator – but the Tide has a strong group of receivers and a running attack spearheaded by T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

Two critical challenges for Kiffin, beyond settling on a quarterback, will be firming up the offensive line and growing the 6-6, 240-pound O.J. Howard into the type of tight end threat he had on his best USC teams.

While the offense is simple for now, expect that to change as the season approaches and don’t be surprised if Alabama adds new wrinkles each week. That’s part-and-parcel with Kiffin’s approach.

But for now, consider Kiffin a winner in the battle to win hearts and minds in the ‘Bama locker room. Despite the controversies that have surrounded him, Kiffin always has been considered a player-friendly coach.

Asked at the NFL combine about his former coach, USC defensive lineman George Uko said he expected Kiffin to excel as a coordinator, sans the pressures of being the top man.

“I definitely think he was better in just his cylinder. Just let him work on the offense where he can really just work instead of handling discipline and worrying about the defense,” Uko said. “He had too much to worry about, too much on his plate. … That’s what really caused him to fail versus him as just an offensive coordinator. He’s an offensive guru. The things he sees on the field, some other coaches don’t.”

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