A player who sees no game action in a season and who has not been redshirted gets that year of eligibility back. It usually happens in the freshman year, but can come later, particularly when injury forces a player to miss a season. Although we sometimes hear (or use) the term “medical redshirt,” the only difference in a player who misses for injury and one who is simply held out of action is that a man can see action in a few games and earn a medical redshirt.
When looking at “newcomers” who might help a team the emphasis naturally is on the 25 or so men signed in the current recruiting year who will have the opportunity for first college game action. But redshirt freshmen also are somewhat new assets for a football team. Those players may have been key members of the scout team in the past, but now have the opportunity to be Saturday heroes.
Looking at the redshirt freshmen on the 2015 Alabama roster, it appears that several will have that ability to contribute this year.
As with true freshmen, there are a couple of requirements. The obvious first is that the player must be capable. Beyond that, there must be a spot available in the position at which he plays. A linebacker, where there are four possible positions in Bama’s defense, would have a mathematically better chance of playing than a quarterback, where only one plays.
Also, relative to both true freshmen and redshirt freshmen, there historically have been positions where natural athletic ability allows early play. They are running back, wide receiver, all defensive players, and kickers. Other positions, notably quarterback and offensive linemen, often take more time in the system.
In alphabetical order, here are 11 redshirt freshmen who will be in the picture for the 2015 Crimson Tide. We’ll guess at five of them we expect to have the best chance to be important in the rotation.
Offensive lineman Joshua Casher, running back-defensive back Ronnie Clark, quarterback David Cornwell, defensive lineman-tight end Johnny Dwight, inside linebacker Keith Holcombe, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, wide receiver Derek Kief, outside linebacker Christian Miller, linebacker Jamey Mosley, offensive lineman Ross Piersbacher, and defensive lineman O.J. Smith.
The five we feel have the best chance at significant playing time this year are:
Ronnie Clark, 6-2, 228, came to Alabama from Calera, where he was an outstanding all-around athlete but considered a linebacker prospect. Bama Coach Nick Saban likes big safeties, and Clark got his first work in the spring at safety. The attrition at running back, however, forced a move of Clark to offense. Saban also likes to use a number of tailbacks, and Clark may get his opportunity.
David Cornwell, 6-5, 221, missed the second half of his senior season at North High in Norman, Okla., with a knee injury. He has now had two springs in the Alabama offensive system with Coach Lane Kiffin and many believe he is among the top two quarterback candidates.
Marlon Humphrey, 6-1, 192, was never expected to be on this list. Almost everyone expected Humphrey, the son of former Bama great Bobby Humphrey, to be an immediate help – perhaps immediate star -- at cornerback. It didn’t happen for the former Hoover star and national track standout. In the spring, however, he got high marks for his performance and is expected to be a force at this position of need.
Derek Kief, 6-4, 198, was turning heads in the spring of 2014 after his outstanding career as a wide receiver at Cincinnati LaSalle. Kief, the kind of tall wide receiver in demand, suffered a knee injury last spring and was redshirted last fall. He is now available to play in one of the three wide receiver positions where there is substantial use of depth.
Ross Piersbacher, 6-4, 298, has had a great reputation as a fierce offensive lineman going back to his prep days in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Since landing at Alabama, he has frequently been mentioned by his teammates – particularly his defensive line teammates – as a great competitor. He finished spring practice as the number one right guard.