Early departures from rising juniors?It wasn't that long ago when the question would have sent chills down the back of informed Alabama fans. Start with an entirely new coaching staff, throw in the possibility of a losing season, and then top that witch's brew off with the threat of bowl sanctions--and you've got a nightmare scenario, serious enough to give even the most loyal Tide player pause.
But success on the field has solved the first two concerns. As much as the players liked Dennis Franchione when he first arrived last winter, a lasting level of trust between player and coach can only be forged during the season on the football field. And while there may have been doubters back in October, the events of late November solidified the growing bond between new staff and the squad.
Now, even the NCAA storm clouds have quieted, meaning that post-season play remains as a motivator for next year's rising seniors.
At this point only athletes good enough to go high in the NFL draft are likely to leave early. With names like Antonio Carter, Tyler Watts, Kenny King, Jarret Johnson, Ahmaad Galloway, Saleem Rasheed Alonzo Ephraim and Kindal Moorehead, the Tide obviously relied on a talented group of juniors in 2001. But while many are good players who can undoubtedly still get better, at this point none would be projected as a first- or second-round draft choice.
With an outstanding performance at the NFL combine, Saleem Rasheed could impress some scouts. Athletes with his combination of intelligence, character, native strength, speed and work ethic are every coach's dream. But at 220 pounds, he's on the small side for a pro middle linebacker, and he'd be the first to admit that he needs work on his coverage skills to play on the outside.
As much due to his personal circumstances as his physical ability, Kindal Moorehead will face a decision about the draft. It would be hard to criticize him for leaving to earn money to support his family. But there is also no doubt that staying another year--gaining weight and strength to play inside while also proving conclusively that he is completely recovered from his Achilles tendon tear--would help his draft status. And of course the difference between middle-to-late round bonus money and that shelled out to early draft choices is significant.
‘Hidden' candidate for tight end?
If there is a single player on the Alabama squad with a reason to be angry at the NCAA, it may well be David Cavan. At 6-5, 238 pounds, the Northport native is a very good athlete, probably as talented a receiver as the Tide has at the tight end position. But his second season in Crimson spent watching from the sideline can be at least partially attributed to the NCAA.
Longtime Tide fans will recognize his name. Cavan's father, Pete (‘73-'75) played halfback on some of Coach Bryant's best teams, and the son turned down a scholarship offer to play for his uncle (Mike) at SMU. Always a gifted receiver, Cavan spent his first season at Alabama working hard in the weight room, bulking up to help his blocking.
Truthfully, he would have probably seen action this season as a redshirt freshman except that the NCAA investigation caught him in a numbers game. Since he was a "recruited walk-on," once he steps on the football field he must count against Alabama's scholarship totals. So because the Tide was facing reductions over the next few years, his debut was delayed.
However, one way or another the NCAA mess will end this January. Expect Cavan to compete for a spot in the playing rotation next fall. In fact, he may well be placed on scholarship during the off season.
Bama faces challenge in equalizing class sizes
As most fans know, NCAA regulations prohibit any squad from having more than 85 athletes on scholarship at any given time. But of course every team has at least some players not on scholarship that end up playing.
It's common for kickers to walk on, and sometimes non-scholarship athletes contribute on special teams. Wide receiver and defensive back especially are positions where walk-ons often find a spot.
On average, a team like Alabama could reasonably expect to have 100 players or so that either contribute on the field or are being redshirted. And of course the common practice of redshirting, means that a squad can be divided not into four, but rather five groups: seniors, juniors, sophomores, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen.
It's not necessary to keep the numbers exactly even. In fact, your senior class will commonly be smallest as normal attrition (academics, injuries, etc.) takes its toll. But good coaches pay attention to the size of each group and will be careful to keep things evened out.
BamaMag.com broke down the current Bama squad, counting all scholarshipped players, plus those players that have contributed on the field. And the results were interesting. In 2002 the Tide should have approximately 24 seniors, 20 juniors, 15 sophomores, 15 redshirt freshmen and 13 true freshmen.
Some points to consider: The senior class will likely be smaller than that, because at least some attrition is virtually certain. The 20 juniors includes four projected junior-college signees, while in fact that number could be larger. And of course the low number of true freshmen is due to self-imposed scholarship reductions. Also note the true freshman number doesn't include any walk-ons, whose inclusion won't become official until next summer.