Nick Saban (Photo by Stuart McNair)

Alabama’s No. 1 signing class includes many early enrollees

Two new quarterbacks important to Alabama spring practice

Needless to say, Alabama Coach Nick Saban was pleased with Signing Day. After all, he added 14 players to 12 who are already enrolled.
As he has on past successful recruiting days — which is basically all of them in his 11 years as Alabama head coach — he complimented his assistant coaches for their work in evaluating prospects and then developing relationships (“sometimes going back as much as three years”) in recruiting them.
He also gave credit to The University administration and professors and others in the athletics department involved in selling Alabama to prospects.
He also said, “We hit every spot but one. We wanted to recruit at least one cornerback, maybe two, and it didn’t work out that way.”
That led to a question about players making the transition from skill position to another, including three defensive backs who appear to be safety-types — Kyriq McDonald, who is one of those who has already entered Bama; and Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright, both of whom will enter Alabama before the start of spring practice.
Saban didn’t say that any could become cornerbacks, but left the door open for developing cornerbacks from available talent.
“There is flexibility with a lot of guys who are skill guys,” Saban said. “Cyrus Jones came here and played one year as a receiver, and then ended up being a pretty good defensive back who got drafted l(into the NFL) in the second round.
“I think this is a little bit of a universal problem. When I was calling around to get draft grades on Marlon (Humphrey) and ArDarius (Stewart), a lot of general managers were asking me why there aren’t as more defensive players, why aren’t there more defensive skill players, that there don’t seem to be as many defensive players to draft as there used to be.
“I think that goes back to style of play. Football has changed. When I played (high school) football we played one receiver or two receivers, and if we had two receivers in the game we were in full mode passing.
“When I started coaching, the most people put was two receivers. When I was defensive coordinator at Michigan State, we played nickel against Iowa and tried to play nickel. They never put even three receivers in the game. Now, we’re playing nickel over 80 per cent of the time because everybody on offense is playing three and four wide receivers because the spread has had that kind of impact. the quarterback has changed because of the dynamic of the kind of player who plays quarterback because of the spread. People are looking for athletic guys to run.
“So where you used to have two guys playing on offense at skill positions, now you’ve got a quarterback, a running back, and four receivers. Three of those guys used to play defense.
“So there are more skilled guys on offense. The number one position in the draft with the greatest number of players to choose from is receiver. And when we’re out there recruiting, there are a lot of receivers out there.
“It’s harder to find defensive players.
“If I was a high school coach, I would put my best players on offense. The best athletes on my team, I want to give them the ball. I wouldn’t play them on defense. I’d put them where they can get the ball and score.
“Sometimes you have to look at a guy and think he’s not playing a position he could play, and maybe he’ll end up playing something else like Cyrus Jones did here. We may have to look at some guys on our team like that, but I can’t say who right now until they get here.”
Those players who are able to enter The University early include two quarterbacks — one, Tua Togavailoa, who has already enrolled, and Mac Jones, who will enroll Feb. 13.
The second early enrollment date was explained by Saban as, “We have an academic circumstance here that allows us to bring guys in. We have several players who will take advantage of that who didn’t quite get everything done when they needed to be able to start the term in January.”
As for the two quarterbacks coming in, he said, “I think it’s critical for us, and really good for us, because of the quarterback situation that we have, having a freshman starter (Jalen Hurts in 2016) and having the other players (Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman, and David Cornwell) leave the program thinking they wouldn’t have a chance to compete in the future, that we had two young guys that we have in here that we can develop in the spring. I think it’s very, very important to develop them at that position.”

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