And because Alabama Coach Nick Saban has had the foresight to stack exceptional recruiting classes on top of one another, there are outstanding candidates at those positions still in competition. It is interesting to contemplate on which newcomers – freshmen and redshirt freshmen – might earn jobs. But many first team spots are expected to go to men who were back-ups last year.
It is expected that some player who has been on the squad will have a breakout season. For a year-and-a-half, Landon Collins was primarily a special teams player, backing up HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri at safety. After a full year as a starter in which he led Bama in tackles last year, he was a high NFL draft choice (first player in the second round).
Obviously, the “Breakout Player of the Year,” or whatever, can’t be predicted with certainty. One can suspect that O.J. Howard might have a big season as the likely No. 1 tight end after two years as a role player. Safety Geno Smith is a top candidate at safety, where both Collins and Nick Perry from 2014 have moved on.It’s not fair to expect anyone to completely fill the shoes of departed Biletnikoff Award winner Amari Cooper at wide receiver, but quality candidates have to emerge. Can senior Dominick Jackson get the job done at the right tackle spot vacated by Austin Shepherd? And so it goes. Although Reggie Ragland is a pre-season All-America candidate at one of Bama’s inside linebacker spots, Trey DePriest is gone from middle linebacker. It is a position where there must be a solid replacement. Two men with some experience were top candidates in the spring. Shaun Dion Hamilton and Reuben Foster are both in the 6-1, 240-pound range preferred for the position. And both also were reported to have had very good practices in the spring. Because Hamilton is a sophomore and Foster a junior, look for Foster to be a break-out player for the Tide. Also, it’s hard to forget some of the hits he has delivered as a member of Alabama special teams. LSU’s Leonard Fournette, for instance, may remember the Foster tackle following Bama’s tying touchdown before the Tide defeated the Tigers in overtime. Of course, if Foster is going to be a breakout player he has to keep from breaking himself. Those hard hits have been effective against opponents, but at a cost of putting Foster on occasional injury lists, notably with stingers – injuries to the neck area. Both he and his coaches have said he is making progress to keep good head position when making tackles, which should alleviate the problem. Foster came out of Auburn High School as the nation’s number two player. He has played in 21 games in two seasons, including starting at mike linebacker in last year’s season-opening win against West Virginia and having a career-best seven tackles. He has been in on 34 tackles, 15 solo stops. If Foster is Alabama’s breakout player in 2015, it won’t be a surprise. It will be a reminder.