Which Newcomers Might Help Tide?
Alabama Coach Nick Saban just keeps filling the cupboard, almost to busting it sometimes seems. Good football players have always gravitated to the Crimson Tide, but in recent years they have come in unprecedented numbers. The good news is that Bama continues to have good teams because of the influx of talent. Also good news is that ordinarily Bama is not desperately counting on these new stars.
It's no secret that Saban and his staff are great recruiters. And why wouldn't a top player want to play for Saban, almost unanimously considered the best coach in college football? He has more top NFL draft picks than anyone. He wins more championships than anyone.
Moreover, prospects recognize The University of Alabama as the perfect environment. First of all, Bama has gone to extremes to make sure that players in all sports have the tools necessary – an academic center with qualified tutors and an administrative staff that keeps up with their progress – to earn a degree. Tide football players perform in one of the nation's most beautiful stadiums before appreciative crowds of over 100,000 every time they kick it off in Bryant-Denny. Bama is a favorite of national television networks. Practice facilities, including the extraordinary weight room, are unsurpassed.
But, but, but.... Why would these new players want to get into such a competitive situation? The answer to that would be because Nick Saban wants competitors.
So who are the newcomers from Alabama's 2013 signing class most likely to make an impact on this year's Crimson Tide as Bama goes for its third consecutive national championship and fourth in five years?
It's possible there won't be many. On the other hand, Saban has never been reluctant to play a freshman who showed that he was able to help the team.
First of all, a freshman must be good enough to help the team. Even if he is, though, it is possible that Alabama would have so many players at the position that it behooves him and the program for him to wait his turn as a redshirt.
For instance, Saban has not played a true freshman at quarterback. That means that it's not likely for Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod, or walk-on Luke Del Rio to see the field in 2013, even though all three went through spring practice.
(By the way, we almost certainly can cross off one newcomer as a contributor. Scout.com's John Garcia, Jr., confirmed that junior college transfer tackle Leon Brown, who also went through spring practice, has been dismissed from the team.)
Also difficult to project into 2013 playing time are two players who have not yet gained academic eligibility, and thus are missing valuable off-season workouts with their teammates in Tuscaloosa. Defensive lineman Darius Paige and defensive back Jonathan Cook may be eligible in August, but they almost certainly will be behind the competition.
Offensive linemen are frequently redshirted. Brandon Hill, though, is not an ordinary freshman in that he finished high school in the 2011 season, went to prep school and played in 2012, and took part in Alabama's spring work. The other offensive lineman in the group of newcomers is Grant Hill.
The positions where freshmen can often see the earliest playing time include a couple where there is a lot of competition. Raheem Falkins joined the Tide in the spring and was impressive as a wide receiver, and one of the Tide's top prospects, Robert Foster, has just earned eligibility. Anthony Averett and Ardarius Stewart are also possible wide receivers. But think about the men the Tide returns for those positions: Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, Chris Black, Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White.
There is also tough competition at tailback, where Alabama has been leading the nation in recruiting and development in recent years. The last three starters (Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Trant Richardson, Eddie Lacy) have been high NFL draftees. But depending on how returning players are used, their may be three or four veterans, including Freshman All-America T.J. Yeldon grown up to sophomore. The Tide signed four of the nation's best tailbacks: Derrick Henry,Tyren Jones, Alvin Kamara, and Altee Tenpenny. Henry had the advantage of being with Bama in the spring, the disadvantage of suffering a broken leg in spring drills.
Defensive back is an area that could use some help from the freshman class, and there are a couple in Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson who may work into the lineup at safety or cornerback; or more likely, nickel or dime positions.
All starting linebackers return (considering All-America C.J. Mosley, who split time with Nico Johnson, as a returning starter), but men like Reuben Foster – the nation's number one prosoect at inside linebacker and Tim Williams could fit into the Bama scheme. Jonathan Allen could be a linebacker or a defensive lineman. And don't forget another linebacker signee. Walker Jones didn't have the star ranking as the others, but he comes from the Rex Jones line of Barrett and Harrison.
Speaking of Harrison Jones at H-back/tight end, Alabama signed the nation's top prospect at tight end, too, in O.J. Howard, and Howard was a participant in spring drills. The Tide is replacing starters at both tight end (Michael Williams) and H-back (Kelly Johnson), although many consider Jalston Fowler (coming back from injury) to be the leader at H-back.
Alabama also added the nation's number one defensive line prospect in A'Shawn Robinson. There are some key men who departed Bama's defensive line (Jesse Williams, Damion Square, Quinton Dial) and Robinson and Dee Liner and possibly Allen will be in the mix with the big men.
Saban had an unusual selection in last year's recruiting class in taking snapper Cole Mazza. There was no evidence of poor snapping by M.K. Taylor in the A-Day Game, but the fact that Saban added Mazza – the nation's number one long snapper prospect, by the way – makes it possible that Mazza will be in the mix.
So there are plenty of possibilities. Tomorrow we'll discuss those newcomers we think are most likely to be important to 2013 Alabama football success.
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