Alabama has made good use of freshmen over the years, and the first-year players are now considered indispensable; or, at least, the use of a few of them. We have come a long way from the warning of legendary Tennessee Coach Robert Neyland who proclaimed that a team would lose one game for every SOPHOMORE who started.
Coach Nick Saban may have the occasional Cam Robinson, who was a Freshman All-America last year, but most true freshmen on varsity duty are back-up players or cut their teeth on special teams. About half the first year players can be expected to play each season.A recent phenomenon has been a handful of freshmen who manage to finish their high school work and enter college in January, thus getting a head start with spring practice and the playbook. That gives a clue as to whether those men might also get a head start in playing time. Last spring, Bama had seven true freshmen participating in spring practice. They are quarterback Blake Barnett, safety Ronnie Harrison, defensive back-wide receiver Deionte Thompson, running backs Bo Scarbrough and DeSherrius Flowers, and offensive linemen Brandon Kennedy and Dallas Warmack. Scarbrough suffered a knee injury in the spring, but Saban is hopeful he will be able to return for the season at a position that needs depth. Flowers will not be a part of the team for undisclosed reasons regarding his admission to The University. Thompson began his work at safety, but moved to wide receiver late in spring practice. Barnett is the newest in a crowded quarterback field. Kennedy and Warmack are competing at a position that usually (Cam Robinson notwithstanding) takes some seasoning. Thus, as we look at five true freshmen to watch, it would seem that Harrison might be most likely to emerge from this field of early enrollees. Complicating a projection as to which freshmen might participate is Crimson Tide recruiting under Saban being at such a high level. Those who believe “stars don’t matter” aren’t paying attention. Teams like Alabama that finish at or near the top in recruiting rankings each year are also the teams that are most likely to be vying for championships. As has been pointed out, a freshman is more likely to participate in the first year of college if he is performing at a high level; but he also has to be at a position of need. The class may have a very good punter, but he’s not likely to beat out JK Scott – who was All-America for Bama in 2014, his freshman year. Here are five true freshmen (perhaps more) we expect to play key roles for Alabama in 2015: Ronnie Harrison, 6-3, 218, meets the criteria of being a very fine player and also participating at a position of need. Alabama has lost two safeties to the NFL draft in each of the past two seasons, three of the four juniors. Harrison got high marks as he began his Bama career in the spring. Bo Scarbrough, 6-2, 240, was very impressive in the limited work sports reporters get to see of practice. You get your sources where you can, and one of mine is the owner of a local shoe repair business, who is quite connected to the athletics community in Tuscaloosa. He, like Saban, expects Scarbrough to be rehabilitated from his knee injury and a key performer at tailback. Damien Harris, 5-11, 205, didn’t get the spring opportunity that Scarbrough did, but he also didn’t suffer a knee injury. Moreover, he was participating last fall while Scarbrough was sitting out and waiting to enter The University in January. Harris was participating quite well, too, at Madison Southern in Berea, Ky., where he was a prep All-America tailback. He would seem to have the ability and he is at a position of need. An offensive position of need is wide receiver, where three starters (including All-America Amari Cooper) finished their Tide careers. Calvin Ridley, 6-1, 185, was the nation’s fourth-ranked receiver prospect at Monarch High in Coconut Creek, Fla., last year, including earning MVP at “The Opening.” He was able to play only three games as a senior because of an age restriction, but that won’t hinder him in college. And just as a precaution, in the event the freshman of note at wide receiver is not Ridley, Alabama has at least one reasonable alternative in Daylon Charlot, 6-0, 190, from Patterson, La. If Tide fans (and, perhaps, coaches) were polled on the defensive position of greatest concern for 2015 it would likely be cornerback, even though Cyrus Jones returns as a senior three-year starter at one of the spots. Bama would also seem to have good candidates for the other cornerback position in the likes of senior Bradley Sylve, sophomore Tony Brown, and redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey. Still, Kendall Sheffield, 6-0, 185, is a five-star cornerback coming to Alabama from Fort Bend Marshall High in Missouri City, Texas, with very high credentials. Another position with a great alternate choice, the Tide freshman class includes Minkah Fitzpatrick, 6-1, 195, a prep All-America who was the number one player in New Jersey after playing at St. Peter’s Prep in Old Bridge. Frankly, it appears this is a class that could produce quite a few more than Five Freshmen To Watch.