Stuart McNair

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has history of playing freshmen

More than a dozen freshmen are seeing action for Alabama this year

At some point, the issue has to be dead. It has been established that one of the recruiting tactics used by those competing with Alabama for players is the show-them-the-roster trick. The Crimson Tide, so goes the message from opponents, is that it will be hard to get immediate playing time as a freshman under Coach Nick Saban because the succession of outstanding recruiting classes has stacked the Bama roster.

Saban has successfully rebutted the tactic in several ways.

One is explaining to the prospects is that they will be better players for having been at Alabama. A question he asks these outstanding players is, “Are you a better player as a senior than you were as a freshman in high school?” Of course the answer is yest.

Saban can also point to his success in having players leave the Alabama program for the NFL in extraordinarily large numbers. And rest assured that the Tide is not recruiting any players who don’t think they will continue playing after college as professionals. They all won’t, but they all think they will.

Saban also has only to explain to prospects and their parents that Alabama would not be recruiting the player if Bama did not believe that he is good enough to play for the nation’s best program, and also compete in the classroom at The University, almost surely leaving with a degree.

And, finally, Saban can just point to the record. Freshmen can play at Alabama.

This year it’s easy.

Jalen Hurts, a true freshman, is starting at quarterback and is already in the Heisman Trophy conversation and one of the front-runners to be Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.

Jonah Williams, another true freshman, is starting at right tackle on the offensive line, and almost certain to be a Freshman All-America.

Josh Jacobs has started one game and is a regular in the rotation at tailback, and the same is true for tight end Miller Forristall.

And nearly a dozen other freshmen in the 2016 signing class are also playing for the Tide, either as backups on offense or defense or on special teams. True freshman Trevon Diggs has seen action both as a defensive back and currently as a wide receiver, and he’s also Alabama’s punt return specialist following the loss of Eddie Jackson. Also on special teams, Mack Wilson has provided highlight videos on how to tackle on kickoffs.

Saban discussed his freshman class in Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference Teleconference.

“We’ve had quite a few guys that have contributed in some way,” he said. “We’re very pleased with the group. Really very few issues and problems and a lot of guys have contributed and other guys are developing nicely. We feel like there’ll be a significant number of good players come out of this class.

“It’s all about development, though. I think that there’s several freshmen that you always have that can contribute, especially at certain positions. And then there’s other guys that develop into really good players over time. So it’s a lot about their character and attitude to do that.”

Asked if he still thought of them as freshmen, Saban said, “To be honest with you, once we decide that they’re ready to play they’re really not freshmen any more. Even though you don’t want to overburden them with doing things that they’re not ready to do from a confidence standpoint, you certainly say this guy has proven that he’s ready to play so our expectation is he’s going to play effectively regardless of what his age or class is.”

Other freshmen who have played this year are defensive back Shyheim Carter, defensive lineman Raekwon Davis, tailback B.J. Emmons (who is out with a broken foot), linebacker Terrell Hall, defensive lineman Jamar King, defensive back Jared Mayden, defensive back Aaron Robinson, wide receiver T.J. Simmons, and tight end Irv Smith, Jr.

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