NCAA recruiting restrictions will take as many as eight names off the list. Some will not make the necessary academic progress between now and the end of the summer. Others will grayshirt, delaying their entry into school until the spring. But the number might be less, if there are other walk-ons in the group besides Friedman who have yet to announce that fact.
Therefore, we'll take a look at the master list of 34, and assume for our purposes that they would all be able to magically show up in August, ready and eligible to play. Who will, who won't, and who might? Here's this writer's best guess:
Will almost certainly play
1. Brandon Fanney, DE/DT
Fanney might not be the most highly-ranked player in Alabama's incoming class, but he has the good fortune of playing at one of Alabama's thinnest positions – interior defensive line. Fanney went to Hargrave Military Academy as a defensive end and may have come back as a defensive tackle. He figures to get a look at both positions once he gets to Tuscaloosa, and there are enough depth problems at both that Fanney will probably see the field.
2. Travis McCall, TE/DE
Like Fanney, McCall's versatility gives him a leg up on some of his fellow signing classmates. Head coach Mike Shula says McCall's first look will likely come at tight end, where the Tide has depth concerns. In addition, Alabama's other tight end signee, Charles Hoke, could feasibly play in 2005 but ideally needs a redshirt season to add bulk. McCall's ability to play fullback and on special teams also makes him a valuable commodity, and players with that much usefulness rarely sit. Look for McCall to be on the field for Alabama's first play of 2005 – a kickoff return, or a kick coverage unit – as well as at least one side of the line of scrimmage later on.
3. Lionel Mitchell, CB
Mitchell, a late pickup from Hargrave, arrived on campus in time to practice with the team in the weeks leading up to the Music City Bowl. He'll be with the team during spring training, too, meaning he'll have a leg up on fellow defensive back signees when they arrive in the fall. Mitchell's first position is cornerback, but with Jeffery Dukes possibly moving from free safety to linebacker heading into the spring, Mitchell could work some at safety as well. His speed and height make him an interesting prospect, and a possibility for kick coverage as well. Being in the system for months already, however, is what elevates him to this category.
Will probably play
4. Lorenzo Washington, DE/DT
Washington is in much the same category as Fanney, able to play either end or tackle. But Washington will apparently get his first shot at end, where the immediate depth concern isn't quite so dire as in the interior line. Furthermore, instead of beefing up significantly at Hargrave, Washington remained relatively svelte, meaning he would have to make a substantial adjustment to his conditioning program in a short amount of time in order to play in the trenches with some of the league's bigger offensive linemen. The key element here that can't be overlooked, though, is talent, which Washington has in spades. Alabama will probably play three of its defensive end signees this year, and Washington is certainly at the top of that list.
5. Brandon Deaderick, DE
Unlike Fanney and Washington, Deaderick's only position at the moment is a defensive end – and there's nothing wrong with that, because he's a good one. Alabama needs one pure speed rusher from this class to step forward in fall practices, and that figures to be Deaderick. It would not be a surprise to see Deaderick not just contributing, but in the main rotation from game one.
6. Mike Ford, RB
Although Kenneth Darby is expected to be 100 percent by the time fall arrives, it is not a certainty. And even if Darby makes it back to full speed, depth behind him is questionable. Tim Castille is recovering from major knee surgery, and the only way to tell if his speed is affected is to let him recover and check it. Aaron Johns did not inspire in his late-season trial as a starter, and unless one of a handful of walk-ons steps forward in the spring – Theo Townsend, Brandon McAway, Vic Horn or Damien Jones, among others – there will be at least one and perhaps two or more slots for signees to capture in the fall. Of those, Mike Ford may have the best chance. Physically, he is already prepared for college ball; some schools even evaluated him as a linebacker during the recruiting process. With his speed, moves and power, Ford could be a dangerous weapon off the bench and would give Shula an option behind Darby that wouldn't require changing the playcalling routine, as playing Johns currently does.
7. Roy Upchurch, RB
In contrast to Ford, Roy Upchurch is a speedier back, with moves that recall the career of Tide great Bobby Humphrey. It would come as little surprise, then, for both players to see the field early in 2005. Upchurch might also help the Tide returning kicks. Look for these two to make each other better throughout the fall.
8. John Parker Wilson, QB
It may come as a jolt to see a true freshman quarterback's name on this list – particularly the one who, arguably, carries the lightest recruiting reputation of the three quarterbacks in this class – but Wilson is the beneficiary of two fortunate events. First, Wilson joined the team in December and has already practiced with the offense. He'll get an entire spring training to learn the Tide system, and with starter Brodie Croyle not quite 100 percent, it figures Wilson will get lots of work.
Secondly, the decision from Spencer Pennington to give up football means Wilson is in competition with Marc Guillon, himself perhaps not healthy enough to fully compete for the backup job in the spring, and redshirt walk-on Adam Thrash. Even though fellow signees Jimmy Barnes and Jimmy Johns were more ballyhooed, Wilson figures to come out of spring practice as Croyle's backup, and it will be tough to unseat him in the fall.
9. Chris Keys, SS/LB
Keys should probably be listed in the first category, but the question of whether he'll stay at safety or be moved to linebacker looms. If coaches decide the keep Keys in the defensive backfield, he's a safe bet to play immediately, because Alabama has only one reserve safety (Marcus Carter) on scholarship heading into the fall. If Keys moves to linebacker – the position some say he's best suited for in the long run – there is an outside chance he could redshirt. Bet, however, on seeing Keys on the field in 2005, not the sidelines.
10. Prince Hall, LB
Assuming Hall qualifies, he will step onto campus in the fall as one of only two true scholarshipped middle linebackers on the Alabama team. Freddie Roach is the other, and if Hall beats out walk-ons Matt Collins and Brent Nall, he could get quite a bit of playing time in 2005. The biggest issue for Hall, though, is making his grades. If he qualifies, it's hard to imagine a scenario that has him sitting out 2005, given Alabama's needs at his position.
Up in the air
11. Chris Rogers, CB
Rogers is probably the top overall corner prospect Alabama signed in 2005, but given the amount of depth Alabama has at corner, along with Lionel Mitchell getting the jump on Rogers and Michael Ricks by being in Tuscaloosa for spring practice, it may be difficult to find a place for Rogers other than on special teams. Alabama's numbers are getting back to the point where redshirting can be explored and depth for future years can be built, and players like Rogers are in that gray area.
12. Charles Hoke, TE
In a normal year, Hoke would be on the likely-to-redshirt list, but this is not a normal year. Alabama's tight end scenario goes like this: Trent Davidson is the incumbent starter by default, but he needs to work on his receiving, as well as avoid inadvertently growing into an offensive guard. His primary backup, Greg McLain, has seen his career slowed by numerous injuries, including some of the same concussion-related issues that curtailed Clint Johnston's career. Nick Walker, the only other scholarshipped tight end on the UA roster, came to campus as essentially an oversized wide receiver. His progress in the spring will go a long way toward determining whether Hoke or McCall play in 2005, and how much. Hoke's receiving skills make him an attractive option for 2005, as does his height. How well he can block on the collegiate level will probably make the difference between playing and sitting in 2005.
13. Antonio Forbes, DE
If Fanney, Washington and Deaderick play in 2005, it's a good bet that Forbes will redshirt. Of all the DE/DT combo types that Alabama signed, Forbes may be the one with the most ability to move inside and remain a dominant player. He is probably the quickest of any of the linemen Alabama signed relative to his size, but he could use some conditioning work before being ready to play SEC ball. In terms of long-term potential, Forbes may have more than any of the Tide's other line signees. As far as who is ready to play immediately, however, others appear more ready than Forbes.
14. Byron Walton, DT
Alabama's only true interior defensive line signee, Walton could break into the defensive tackle rotation as a short-yardage specialist. He had a great summer camp, and his coachability and natural strength make him a good fit for Alabama's 2005 defense. Conditioning will be one key, but Walton's chances will also be affected by forces outside his control – like whether Dominic Lee or Chris Turner step up from the current roster, or whether Brandon Fanney makes a big impression early in fall camp. If Walton ends up moving to offense – he's also a prospect at offensive tackle – a redshirt is all but certain.
15. Glen Coffee, RB
It's highly likely, but not certain, that Alabama will play two and redshirt two of its four running back signees. On the bubble is Glen Coffee, who like Ford, is physically ready to play at the college level. However, Coffee doesn't have Upchurch's homerun ability, which may make the difference between playing and sitting. Coffee is a tough player, however, and versatile enough to be a fixture on special teams if a slot opens up. It will be up to Coffee to play his way onto the field once fall practice begins.
Will probably redshirt
16. Jimmy Barnes, QB
It's and oddity when one true freshman quarterback plays for an SEC team; two freshmen playing almost never happens – unless you happen to be Tennessee, in which case it happens once a decade. Assuming John Parker Wilson doesn't fall flat in the spring, the depth chart will be fairly set by the time Barnes and Johns arrive in Tuscaloosa. Barnes needs conditioning work and will need to adjust from his high school's spread offense to the pro-set feel of Alabama's offense. For those reasons, a redshirt is almost a certainty. But with Alabama's injury situation at quarterback seeming to get ugly every year, there is an outside chance Barnes could play as a true freshman.
17. Jimmy Johns, QB
Like Barnes, Johns will arrive on campus behind Croyle, Wilson and Guillon, and no better than even with Adam Thrash. The speed of the college game will take some time getting used to, and Johns most likely will experience it from the confines of the bench. But Johns' athleticism is intriguing, and given that he has been mentioned as a possible prospect on defense, a redshirt can't be guaranteed. In fact, Johns' conditioning is good enough that he probably has the early upper hand on Barnes, and injuries could elevate him into a game before season's end. Expect, however, for Johns to redshirt and compete for the starting job in 2006.
18. Bobby Greenwood, DE
At this point, the numbers may be too much for Greenwood to overcome. He is likely the one defensive end signee most in need of some weight room work and bulking up, and it's a good bet Alabama will have been able to find three or four instant contributors from its list by the time things get to Greenwood. Injuries could shuffle the picture, however, and if Alabama finds itself in need of a speed rusher before season's end, Greenwood stands ready to fill the role.
19. Desmond Jennings, WR
It's unlikely that Jennings will be in Tuscaloosa in the fall, given the academic hurdles he must overcome, as well as the lure of the Major League Baseball draft. If Jennings qualifies and comes to campus, however, all bets are off. He is far more athletic that fellow signee Nick Kyles, although Kyles is in better football shape. Still, Jennings would be an intriguing addition to the wide receiver rotation, not to mention the kick return unit.
20. Michael Johnson, OL
Perhaps the most ready of Alabama's offensive line signees to play immediately, the coaches are probably hoping they won't have to put Johnson on the field in 2005. Redshirt years for offensive linemen are like bowls of chicken soup to a head cold sufferer; the extra time in the weight room and on the practice field can mean the difference between great success down the road, or four years of struggle. Alabama has a little depth at tackle, better at least than the depth at guard, and Johnson is a tackle. Barring injury, look for him to stay on the sidelines in 2005.
21. Marlon Davis, OL
Johnson may be the most ready to play immediately, but Davis might have the greatest upside. Davis also has the versatility to play both guard and tackle, and given the holes at offensive guard, he could be in the early mix for playing time. Davis' chances will be decided mostly by the progress of redshirt freshmen Antoine Caldwell and B.J. Stabler during the spring. If Caldwell and Stabler play well, enough depth can likely be scraped together from current players to allow Davis to redshirt.
22. Zach Schreiber, LB/DE
Schreiber was thought to be ticketed for linebacker at Alabama, but head coach Mike Shula mentioned Schreiber specifically in his post-signing day press conference as having been recruited to be a stand-up pass-rushing end. In that event, Schreiber probably needs a redshirt year to gain weight, as he will hit Tuscaloosa at around 220 pounds. His instincts as a pass rusher, however, are evident, and may give him an outside shot at playing as a situational end.
23. Nick Kyles, WR
While Jennings might have the most potential, Kyles was recruited mostly because of his physical play and toughness over the middle, and given that he has those attributes already, he may not need a redshirt season. The thing standing foremost in the way of Kyles playing is current depth. Alabama lost only Antonio Carter to graduation, and Carter was not part of the rotation. Additionally, Will Oakley is coming off a redshirt season, and he has the entire spring to get ahead. If Kyles redshirts and adds 20 pounds, he'll go from being a good-sized, physical receiver to being a very-good-sized, physical receiver.
24. Drew Davis, OL
Davis, like Wilson and Mitchell, joined the team in December and will have spring training under his belt by the time the other signees arrive in the fall. The head start elevates Davis from a certain redshirt to just a probable redshirt. Davis can play guard or tackle, but is probably headed for tackle eventually. He'll get plenty of chances in the spring to prove himself ready to play as a freshman, but the most likely scenario is that Davis will redshirt in order to continue to build his body for college ball.
25. Baron Huber, LB
With Schreiber ticketed for end and Prince Hall's qualifying status up in the air, Huber may be the only true linebacker that makes it to campus in the fall. If he can play middle linebacker, his chances at playing time immediately go up, significantly. Most likely, Huber is looking at a career as an outside linebacker or a defensive end, the latter of which means a redshirt year and a lot of weight gain. Huber may actually belong in the "up in the air" category; it depends mostly on which other signees make it into school.
26. Andrew Friedman, PK
Friedman is walking on at Alabama, and he may walk right into the starting kicking job. The spring battle is expected to be between Jamie Christensen and C.J. Rhody, but if neither player makes a definitive step forward in spring practice, Friedman could snatch the job in the fall. Observers, however, were impressed with Rhody's work last fall while he was redshirting, and all Christensen needs to show is some accuracy to go along with his impressive leg strength. If the Tide coaches are comfortable with someone after spring practice, Friedman probably sits.
Will almost certainly redshirt
27. Cole Harvey, OL
Harvey probably would have landed in the "up in the air" category, had he not already said he plans to be a grayshirt once fall practice begins. Harvey is the lone true center prospect Alabama recruited this year, and Alabama has a depth concern there. While Harvey has some growing to do, his technique is good and he probably could have played in a pinch. As it is, it appears he will sit out the 2005 season.
28. Ali Sharrief, RB
The sheer numbers of running backs that Alabama signed will most likely send Sharrief to the bench for 2005. Sharrief's size leaves him less likely to immediately contribute, compared to players like Ford and Upchurch. There is also the possibility for playing on defense, if running back doesn't work out. Look for Sharrief to sit out the 2005 season while his football career path is determined.
29. Michael Ricks, CB
Coming from a small school, Ricks will probably need some time to get acclimated to Division-IA college ball. Given that he is probably best suited for cornerback, and cornerback is a position of depth for Alabama, the road to playing time is further blocked. Ricks must also qualify academically. Look for 2005 to be a learning year for him rather than a playing year.
30. Travis Sikes, FS
Like Harvey, Sikes has already said he will likely greyshirt in 2005. If he comes to campus in the fall, he is still headed for a redshirt, given that most of his high school experience was as a wide receiver, and he was recruited to Alabama as a safety. Sikes has good long-term potential, but he'll need instruction and conditioning work first.
31. Cory Reamer, SS/LB
Reamer was once a high school cornerback, then a safety, then a linebacker. Being caught between multiple positions probably relegates him to a redshirt while the coaches figure out what path he should take. Reamer was recruited as a safety, but if he continues to grow, linebacker will be his ultimate calling – just not in the 2005 season.
32. Scott Deaton, OL
Deaton is likely coming to UA on the Bryant Scholarship. While he has a good frame, good technique and was an underrated player in high school ball, it will probably take some time before he's physically ready to play in the SEC. Deaton is versatile and can play anywhere along the offensive line, but expect the scout team to be his place of residence in 2005.
33. Sam Burnthall, SS
Burnthall is the only true strong safety prospect Alabama signed in 2005, but it is unlikely he'll come to campus ready for SEC football this year. Burnthall's name is another mentioned as a possible grayshirt, but even if he comes to campus in the fall, he'll need weight room work and some adjustment time before he's ready to play in the Tide secondary.
34. Evan Cardwell, OL/DL
The staff's first task upon Cardwell's arrival will be to determine whether his best position is offensive guard or defensive tackle. Cardwell was recruited on the offensive side of the ball, but defense is not out of the question. Either way, he'll need quite a bit of conditioning work before he's ready to play, and may be the farthest out of any of the line signees. A redshirt is a virtual certainty.