Reading the recruiting tea leaves

Alabama's actual plans for the final weeks of recruiting are a closely kept secret, specific details of which are known only to the Tide coaches. But after months and months of literally scores of stories and updates conducted with prospects linked to The Capstone, a semi-informed guess can be made at where things stand.

As all dedicated recruiting fans know by now, Bama is allowed to bring in 19 new athletes on scholarship this fall. Yet the Tide coaches have so far taken commitments from 24 players. Some won't qualify, and will play next year at either a junior college or in prep school. And some have agreed (all but Drew Davis in confidence) to be so-called "grayshirts," if needed, delaying their entry into The University until January of 2005, at which point they would count against the Tide's '05 numbers.

So how many more players will Bama's coaches take commitments from? Again, the issue is confusing, because on just before Signing Day several athletes may be allowed to commit that are actually certain "sign and place" kids. But our incredibly "waffling" answer is probably four or five, and if things work out right, maybe even six.

Defensive Line

Lorenzo Washington will announce on television on January 28.

Without question, this is the main position where publicly at least, the Tide hasn't yet filled its need. If Georgia blue-chipper Lorenzo Washington commits next week, as he's been hinting for awhile, then Alabama will have done well at the position. But with some other talented commitments facing difficult challenges to qualify, ideally the Tide will want to sign one more.

Brandon Miller appears out of the picture now, though in truth he may never have been genuinely "in." Which leaves Jeremy Jones, Michael Brown and Neil Brown as Bama's obvious remaining targets. Several other talented prospects continue to list the Tide, like Micah Howeth and Walter Fisher, but they aren't expected to qualify.

Jones of course visited Alabama last week and liked what he saw. But the Louisiana native has always been know to favor LSU, where he's visiting this week. The only question is whether or not the Bengal Tigers will have an unconditional scholarship to offer. Clearly LSU has been "slow playing" Jones to this point.

Michael Brown is still scheduled to visit Alabama this weekend. If he shows up in Tuscaloosa, expect the Tide coaches to afford the Georgia prospect the royal treatment--and then some. Bama badly needs one more D-Tackle type, and Brown would seem to be a perfect fit.

Neil Brown is more interesting. A teammate of Darius Walker, who visited Alabama earlier this week and then announced yesterday that he was attending Notre Dame, Brown has recently been spurned by Nebraska and may well be looking for someplace to land. He has genuine talent, so the Tide coaches can be expected to press hard. He's tentatively scheduled to visit Alabama January 30. If the Tide still has a D-Line spot open by the time of that visit, Brown will have the recruiting spotlight almost all to himself.

Wide Receiver

Larry Kendrick says he's narrowed his choice to Alabama and Ole Miss.

Continuing qualifying concerns for Nikita Stover and Ezekiel Knight mean that Bama definitely wants to sign one more receiver and possibly two. Keith Brown (see our front-page story today Brown likes Bama, visiting MSU), Larry Kendrick and D.J. Hall remain the prime candidates. Adrian Smith of Rome, Georgia is also a possibility.

At this point it's probably foolish to rank Brown, Kendrick and Hall in order of preference. Clearly the Tide coaches like them all. As a junior college player, Kendrick would be significantly more mature and thus better able to step in and play immediately. But both Brown and Hall are tall, fast receivers in the pro mold favored by Tide Head Coach Mike Shula. Brown's somewhat better academic situation may give him a slight edge over Hall at this point.

More likely, it's a "first come, first served" situation with the open receiver spot. But since all three athletes are determined to take at least one more official visit, odds are that nothing will happen until at least next Sunday night--probably later.

Depending on how many "grayshirt" deals the Tide staff has worked, it's possible the second receiver slot could be a conditional offer as well. Which of course would essentially eliminate a JUCO athlete like Kendrick, but might be of real interest to Adrian Smith.


Lavarus Giles has yet to commit.

Darius Walker's announcement this week that he was South-Bend-bound, turned the spotlight back on Tuscaloosa's Markus Manson. Alabama fans have probably grown frustrated with Manson. Certainly the Hillcrest running back has played the recruiting game for all it's worth. But frankly, he's hardly the first blue-chipper to drag out the process, and he certainly won't be the last.

Manson has actually remained consistent in his public statements, explaining that he was still committed to Florida but intent on taking all his visits, including the final one on January 30 to Alabama.

Will a scholarship still be there waiting? At this point, we'd answer "probably."

Lavarus Giles of course is also an intriguing candidate. His ability to play other positions besides tailback (strong safety and receiver) helps a lot. But Manson's vacillations almost certainly do not.

Many assume that the Tide is keeping Giles on hold as a back-up plan if Manson doesn't switch, but that may not be the case at all. In fact, it's just as likely that the Alabama coaches have guaranteed Giles a spot as either "tailback" or "athlete," and that he's been asked to hold off on his announcement so as not to scare a more "jittery prospect" off.

Ain't recruiting fun?

Is Gandy still a possibility for the Tide?


Speaking of "athletes," so far at least Steve Gandy remains uncommitted. Since there isn't a clear need in Bama's class for a linebacker, many recruiting pundits just assume he's been cut loose and will sign with either Auburn or Ole Miss.

Maybe, maybe not.

Certainly defensive line and wide receiver are higher priorities for the Tide. But if those designated slots can't be filled, Alabama would be thrilled to add an athlete as talented as Gandy.

It's also possible that Giles could end up in this category as well.

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