Early Enrollees Have Opportunity

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has pointed out that he doesn't encourage high school seniors to graduate early in order to get their college careers started, but a handful do it. Junior college transfers, on the other hand, aren't going to miss out on senior proms and the like. If they can get in early, so much the better.

Alabama has eight men who have been announced as early enrolled football prospects. Two junior college signees have already signed scholarship papers, while the six high school graduates will sign with other new Crimson Tide players on or after Feb. 5.

Eight seems like a lot. But consider Tennessee, which lists 34 commitments. The Vols had 14 early enrollees this year.

Obviously, there are benefits to football players who get their careers off to an early start. And it's not just the football part. They have the opportunity to become familiar with The University, to become more involved socially, and they get a head start academically.

The new Tide players also get the advantage of an extra off-season program, the famed Fourth Quarter strength and conditioning work that not only prepares the player physically, but also gives him an idea of the standard he can expect at Alabama under Nick Saban.

It would not be a surprise if the early start didn't give some of the new Tide players a little quicker trip up the depth chart (unless you happen to believe in the Tooth Fairy and that Alabama doesn't have a depth chart).

Some would seem to have a better chance than others of gaining early playing time, perhaps even a starting position..

Several factors go into that early playing time. Obviously, the prospect must have the ability to play at the college level. Generally speaking, Alabama is bringing in high quality athletes. It's not often you hear someone suggest that one of Saban's signees is "a project."

There also must be an immediate need for a new player at a position. Alabama doesn't recruit players just for the upcoming season. There is a plan that should keep the cupboard well stocked year after year. Early defections to the NFL are ordinarily easy to factor in, but sometimes there are glitches. Surely Bama coaches expected to lose safety HaHa Clinton-Dix to this year's pro draft. Just as surely, they didn't expect to lose Vinnie Sunseri this year.

Some future needs can't be anticipated owing to those many, many factors in a sport with 85 scholarshipped athletes and another few dozen important walk-ons. Academics, injury, homesickness, et al can put a hole isn the depth chart.

That said, what might be expected of the eight newcomers.

Alabama lost starting left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio as an early departure to the NFL, but an early enrollee is the nation's number one offensive tackle prospect, Cameron Robinson. Robinson, 6-5, 330, from West Monroe, La., is not going to be without competition at the important left tackle position. Among those he may be battling is Leon Brown, an early enrollee himself last year out of junior college. Brown started at right guard in the Sugar Bowl.

One of the Alabama football problems in 2013 was inconsistency at the cornerback spot opposite senior Deion Belue. Now Belue is gone, and the Tide must have two cornerbacks for 2014. There are a handful of players who have had various degrees of success at cornerback. Joining them this spring is Tony Brown, who is ranked as the number two cornerback prospect in the nation. He's a 6-1, 185-pound speedster from Beaumont, Texas, who is also participating with the track team.

Cornerback is one of those positions – the so-called skill positions – where players can contribute quickly.

Safety, too, is a position of need and a position in which athletic ability enables some to play quickly, although in Alabama's defensive scheme it is more complex than other skill position spots. The losses of both Clinton-Dix and Sunseri has made safety a position of interest, and although there are a number of skilled players who will be working there – Landon Collins, Jarrick Williams, Geno Smith, Nick Perry among them – Laurence Jones is coming in at a good time. "Hootie," as he is better known, is a 6-2, 210-pound four-star who is ranked sixth in the nation at safety. He comes to Alabama from Monroe, La.

One "newcomer" knows the ropes at Alabama. After D.J. Pettway was dismissed from The University about a year ago for his part in Bama players assaulting students, Pettway went to East Mississippi Junior College, where he had a JUCO All-America season. More important, he did the things The University required for him to be re-admitted to Alabama. That cleared the way for Saban to bring the defensive end back on football scholarship. Pettway, a 6-3, 255-pound defensive end will compete with a long list of talented players at the position. Look for pass-rushing skills to be a big factor in playing time.

Historically, wide receiver is a position wide open for freshmen, and Bama has one among the early enrollees, another of the Monroe, La., guys. Cameron Sims is a 6-4, 195-pound four-star who is ranked 17th in the nation at his position. To say that he comes into a position with a great deal of talent is an understatement considering the likes of Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, Chris Black, et al, but Bama uses a lot of wide receivers.

The No. 1 position of interest as Alabama goes to the spring is quarterback. The job is not likely to be settled in the spring – particularly with the rumored transfer of Jacob Coker from Florida State this summer – but one new player is a quarterback, David Cornwell of Norman, Okla. Cornwell, 6-5, 215, is a four-star who is ranked the seventh best quarterback prospect in this recruiting class. In the spring he'll compete with a number of players, but not players with significant experience.

One linebacker is in the mix having enrolled in January. Shaun Hamilton is a 6-1, 222-pound middle linebacker from Montgomery. He's a three-star, ranked 22nd at his position. C.J. Mosley has graduated from an inside linebacker spot, but there are talented players who will be competing.

Joining Pettway from East Mississippi CC is a defensive tackle, Jaran Reed. The 6-4 tackle is a four-star who had originally planned to go to Florida.

Spring practice is expected to begin around March 20, just before spring break, and the 15 practices will conclude with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium April 19.

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