Alabama Coach Mike Shula said that his second recruiting class would provide the same thing his first one did a year ago in at least one respect. "When we think about how these new players will fit into the depth chart, the word that comes to mind is ‘competition,'" Shula said. "I think they'll fit right in. It reminds me of last year at wide receiver. Some of the new ones played and they made the other ones better football players."
This was the first season since 2001 that Alabama had been able to sign the full complement of 25 new players. And in 2000, even before NCAA sanctions were imposed, Bama signed only 21. Shula said that bringing in 25 new ones this year still won't be enough to get the Crimson Tide to the overall limit of 85, but said "We'll be closer."
Last year Alabama ended up with 28 signees when the Tide could bring in only 19 new players. As last year, Shula said, "We have a plan for all 33." And he said the experience of dealing with that situation a year ago would be helpful this year.
Last year 21 of 28 signees were from Alabama. This year there are 14 from Alabama with the 19 from out-of-state including six from Florida, five from Georgia, three from Tennessee, two from California, and one each from Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Shula said the Crimson Tide would always "focus on Alabama players first, and then the surrounding states. There are a lot of good players right in our backyard." He said this year the Tide was able to get early commitments from a few very good out-of-state players. "And I think it helps us to be able to go out," he said.
Shula said he thinks the practice of "grayshirting" a player–holding him out for a year and having him enter the next spring and sign again in the next year's class–is positive. He noted that two signees in this class, quarterback John Parker Wilson and offensive lineman Drew Davis, had done that and said he thinks both benefitted. Although he did not tip his hand as to which players might have grayshirt status this year, he said that quarterback and offensive line are positions where that practice might be particularly beneficial. He also said he would probably limit the practice to "about three."
Shula said that 11 freshmen and two other new signees from last year's class played in 2004 and said it is possible Bama will be in that range in using newcomers in 2005.
All 33 of the signees have four years of eligibility, although not all are coming directly from high school. In addition to Wilson and Davis, the Tide is bringing in three players from Hargrave Academy–new signee cornerback Lionel Mitchell, who is already enrolled, and defensive linemen Brandon Fanney and Lorenzo Washington, who will arrive in August. And Travis McCall, signed last year out of Prattville, returned to high school this year to complete academic work.
McCall was one of the primary topics of discussion Wednesday afternoon. Shula said that while some listed him as a defensive end–the position for which he had been recruited in 2004–that McCall will start his career as a tight end. He noted that McCall had been one of the state's top tight ends in 2003. Shula called McCall "a wild card," and noted that he had been discussed for linebacker and fullback as well as defensive end and tight end.
Alabama also signed Charles Hoke of Birmingham Briarwood Christian at tight end and Shula said he is an accomplished receiver. The Tide head coach also said he felt Bama's recruiting needs had been met at tight end with McCall and Hoke.
There was one other signee who Shula said would start at a position other than which he is most often listed. He said Zach Schreiber of Shreveport, Louisiana, had been a very good rush end in high school and that would be the first place he would be tried at Bama. Many have listed Schreiber as a linebacker.
Shula said that defensive line had been a top recruiting objective because of recent losses and upcoming losses. He said those who are defensive linemen would have a chance to provide depth in 2005 and then be the starters of the future. In addition to Fanney, Washington and Schreiber, defensive linemen include Brandon Deaderick, Antonio Forbes, Bobby Greenwood, and Byron Walton.
In great part because of what happened last season, Shula said the staff wanted to sign a number of running backs. "Last year Ray Hudson got hurt, then Tim Castille, then Kenneth Darby and we were down to our fourth tailback in Aaron Johns when we had important games to play," Shula said. He said Darby and Johns would be back at tailback this spring and that Castille would return in the fall, "but then he'll be at fullback, too."
The group of defensive backs was noted for its size with Sam Burnthall (6-2), Chris Keys (6-2), Lionel Mitchell (6-2), Cory Reamer (6-3), Michael Ricks (6-2), Chris Rogers (6-1), and Travis Sikes (6-3).
Sikes was also listed as a possible wide receiver. Other wide receivers are Nick Kyles and the one surprise of the day, Desmond Jennings, a 6-2, 188-pounder from Pinson Valley. Jennings is also a top baseball player who could go in the Major League Draft. If he goes to college he is expected to start in junior college.
Although Shula was asked if offensive linemen might be candidates for grayshirts, the Tide coach did not respond. Offensive line signees in the class are Evan Cardwell, Drew Davis, Marlon Davis, Scott Deaton, Cole Harvey, and Mike Johnson.
Shula noted there was no fullback in the class. When it was pointed out that 6-0, 240-pound middle linebacker Prince Hall had also been a fullback, Shula said the defensive coaches had recruited Hall and Hall would start out at linebacker. Both fullback and linebacker will be top priorities in next year's recruiting class, Shula said.
He said he is not against signing kickers or punters, but that this year the feeling was that needs at other positions, along with the judgment of non-scholarshipped kickers on campus and expected to walk on in the fall, determined a kicker would not be signed in this class. Although he did not mention him, Andrew Friedman of Mobile, the top place-kicker in Alabama, is expected to walk on with the Tide next year.