It's crunch time with the class of 2014, with national signing day three weeks away, so let's run down some Alabama recruiting thoughts for each day remaining in the busy cycle.
1. How will the offensive line group be remembered?
Some have already called the group, which currently includes five-stars Cameron Robinson and Dominick Jackson along with the nation's top center J.C. Hassenauer among others, the best of the Nick Saban era and maybe the best in the recruiting services era. While the group of six is on paper right in that mix, how will it close out? Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect, is already enrolled in classes, but all the others are summer enrollees. That includes Jackson, the College of San Mateo (Calif.) standout that was upgraded to five-stars because of his film from the fall. One source tells BamaMag that he's a "long shot" to make it into the class academically. What would the five-man group be considered without Jackson? Would there be a late addition to the group like Derrick Kelly or Jordan Sims?
2. How important is Bo Scarbrough to the class?
Scarbrough is the longest standing commitment on the list for Alabama, becoming a verbal pledge in September of 2012, but several other schools have gone all out to sway the jumbo athlete. Ole Miss seems to be the top threat to Alabama right now, thought the Tuscaloosa native still calls his commitment to the Crimson Tide "95 percent." Once thought of as a second-tier guy because there was no defined position for him and he lacked the explosion he once had because of an ACL tear two years ago, one of the country's best is back to being the old Bo, with added versatility and refined pass-catching skills along with his old burst and power at 6-foot-2, 234 pounds. With the staff missing on five-star running backs Leonard Fournette and Racean Thomas, Scarbrough may one day be looked at as the most important skill prospect brought in this cycle. Scout also just made him a five-star.
3. Don't sleep on OJ or JD
With noted defensive line commitments from junior college All-American D.J. Pettway, fellow JC elite Jarran Reed, late-rising defensive tackle Josh Frazier and five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, the initial pair of defensive line commitments each had solid senior campaigns. Johnny Dwight is the more athletic of the two and is most likely destined to play the same 5-technique that Pettway has and will. He saw action as an offensive tackle, tight end, defensive end and defensive tackle this fall, and held his own at each. O.J. Smith impressed above his three-star rating at the Under Armour All-America practices, getting the better of fellow Crimson Tide commitments Ross Pierschbacher and Joshua Casher with power and better quickness than expected. Yes, there are academic concerns with both commitments, but each can hold his own on the field despite not getting the same amount of headlines as others.
4. The importance of snagging Tony Brown cannot be stressed enough
Of course, any time the No. 2 prospect at a priority position like cornerback ends up at your school, it's a big deal, but it's especially big at this time for Saban and company. Not only can Brown do it all, including excel on the track, but he brings an element of stability to the class on the island. Not to mention, he is not doing the same for LSU, a school many in the industry thought he would end up at.
Brown can excel at cornerback or safety.
5. Speaking of Brown, he and Humphrey in the same class would be unfair
Brown is taking classes at Alabama, nursing his shoulder injury, while Marlon Humphrey is three weeks from unveiling his school of choice. With Jeremy Pruitt leaving Florida State for Georgia, the odds seem to be in Alabama's favor as much as they ever were in landing the top uncommitted defensive back in the South. Pairing he and Brown, the only high school hurdler to beat Humphrey on the track, would immediately boost the secondary for 2014 and potentially sky-rocket the status of the otherwise lukewarm Alabama track and field program. If Humphrey inks Crimson, it will be the first time Saban inked a pair of five-star cornerbacks in his Alabama tenure.
6. When will David Cornwell be ready?
The four-star quarterback is already taking classes in Tuscaloosa, but his knee injury is not yet healed, though he reports that he'll be ready for spring football. Already throwing and running to a point, how far along will he be when it's time to compete for the starting gig to replace A.J. McCarron? His hat will be thrown in the race with Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and possibly others, especially with Luke Del Rio announcing he's leaving the team Wednesday.
7. A lot of true freshmen could get their chance in 2014
We know about the quarterback battle, but there's position battles all long the offensive line, in the secondary, along the defensive line and at linebacker to consider as well. The only deep positions on the field with returning starters are running back and tight end. Incoming players like Robinson, Cornwell, Hand, Brown and others have a real chance to see significant playing time sooner than later.
8. Will a free safety emerge in the class?
Chris Williams is the only free safety pledge on paper for 2014, but Ronnie Clark and Laurence Jones will also begin their Tide careers in the defensive backfield. Williams projects best of the three in a traditional center field role, but he, too, is not completely in the clear academically. If he cannot get in, there could be a real lack of free safety types in the class for Alabama barring a late development. Clark and Jones are both pushing 220 pounds and don't have the "freak" speed at that size like Landon Collins did at that stage of the development.
9. This weekend will be a very interesting one
Not only will more than a dozen commitments be on campus, including important "soft verbals" like Christian Miller and Scarbrough, but elite targets Rashaan Evans and Matthew Elam will be as well. The group of 15-or so will all be together during a non-football weekend, something that hasn't happened just yet. That way the coaching staff has maximum time to spend with the group. Not to mention, the eight early enrollees are already on campus, so there will be more than 20 class of 2014 Alabama commitments around the top targets and fringe pledges.
10. The following weekend will be all about targets
Marlon Humphrey, Bryson Allen-Williams. Malachi Dupre will be on campus officially in-between, after an official to in-state LSU. Allen-Williams is committed to South Carolina, but has always liked Alabama and his lead recruiter Kirby Smart. His versatility has shot him up boards as a senior, and Alabama would like to bring him in after the loss of Zach Whitley at the position. Humphrey will be in town the weekend after his Florida State official visit, and the weekend will be centered around the five-star legacy.
11. Who will be the surprise?
Saban always pegs a surprise late in the game, and Florida offensive linemen Derrick Kelly, a former Kentucky commitment, seems to be the top candidate for the class of 2014. He's from the same state as last cycle's surprise, Eddie Jackson, who ended up playing a big role as a true frosh. Kelly could be a late add along the offensive line, and is a much more likely option than Damien Mama or Ole Miss commitment Roderick Taylor.
12. What about wide receiver?
Alabama has long wanted another offensive athlete, most likely at wide receiver, but options like five-stars Davion Hall and Juju Smith are not likely options any longer. The aforementioned Dupre will host Saban at his home this week and then take a trip to Tuscaloosa on the 20th, but can ‘Bama swing yet another elite away from LSU? The only other name to know right now could still be one of the original names, Ermon Lane. The five-star Floridian is back on the market and has just one official visit planned for the final three weeks, the 31st to perceived favorite Florida State. If UA can get him on campus in the next few weeks, don't rule out a Saban surprise. But that's a big if.
Jacob Coker will be free to transfer the school of his choice soon.
13. Jacob Coker
The Florida State backup quarterback is still unable to enroll at Alabama, or any school of his choice, until the summer at the earliest. This is according to BamaMag sources in Florida, as close to the former Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul's star as it gets. He replaced McCarron in high school, will he also replace him in college? The odds remain in Alabama's favor, especially in reading between the lines with the timing of Del Rio's departure. The walk-on was the trendy pick to take the lead in the race this spring.
14. Holcombe's versatility
Can Keith Holcombe play inside linebacker? It's possible, he's as versatile as it gets and has the frame to add weight to his current listing at 213 pounds. He is best in open space and in rushing the passer off the edge, but he flashes the ability to take on blocks inside and make tackles among the trench talents. He may never be asked to move inside upon arriving at Alabama, but he has the ability to do so if needed. That's a big asset with Whitley taking classes at UCLA.
15. Cameron Sims' rise
Remember the buzz Raheem Falkins created after enrolling early last spring? Expect similar from Sims, also from Louisiana, who is also already on campus and ready to work. It doesn't mean he'll be a starter or play-maker for the Crimson Tide in 2014, but the early enrollee will flash plenty in spring practices, as he continues to fill out his frame and work on his strength and explosion, the only real knock against the four-star. Sims can flat-out go up and get the ball and he had the best hands among the slew of five-stars at the Under Armour All-America practices two weeks ago.
16. Anymore from Cali?
Alabama signed a Californian in 2013 (Cole Mazza) and has five-star Dom Jackson on the commitment list this season, but will anyone join him? Michiah Quick has Alabama in his final six, and five-stars Juju Smith and Damien Mama also have the Crimson Tide in their final groups. Each of the aforementioned prospects has already taken his official visit to Tuscaloosa, as well.
17. The Kiffin Effect
You knew this one was coming, but the much talked-about coach is now on Alabama's staff, with a very defined role as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. There's no need to dig up his USC statistics in the same position from the mid-2000's, all remember Reggie Bush and company tearing up college football. With a leader like Saban making the calls as the head man, with Kiffin designated to call plays, mentor QBs and continue his role as a great closer in recruiting, it's tough to see a downside to Doug Nussmeier's replacement.
18. Coaches reuniting
Bo Davis is back with Saban, Kevin Steele will soon (likely) be back on the field coaching linebackers, Kirby Smart is staying put and will (likely) move to coaching defensive backs in addition to his defensive coordinator role. It's like old, well recently old, times in Tuscaloosa. Not bad when national title rings are a common thread among the group, can't imagine that hurting recruiting much, either.
19. Interior OL talent
We noted how the offensive line class is headlined by Robinson, Jackson and Hassenauer, but the two not-so talked about prospects that remain as three-stars in the group are potential forces to be wrecking with. Joshua Casher held his own with a very stout base at the UA All-America week, including pancaking the nation's only five-star defensive tackle Andrew Brown. Montel McBride had a similar showing at Semper Fi week, making the top performers list on routine.
20. Shoutout to Ronnie Clark
This is another commitment that doesn't get talked about nearly enough. All he did was play quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker and safety -- as well as kick returner – for one of the top Class 4A schools in Alabama. He won 4A Back of the Year by the ASWA on Wednesday for his senior campaign. He finished second to Racean Thomas for "Mr. Football" in Alabama.
21. A peek at 2015
Alabama has five commitments in the junior class, each at least four stars or better and each among the top 10 at their respective positions on Scout.com. All five, headlined by five-star quarterback Ricky Town, are also members of the current class of 2015 Scout 300.