Perception to Reality

Relief.

If you had to put into one word what the feeling Alabama's staff when Huffman all-star Andre Smith committed, that was it, according to Alabama director of football operations Randy Ross Wednesday.

How important is public perception in regards to the recruitment of a highly touted prospect in Bama's back yard?

"I think it's very important," Ross said. "The thing is we've always wanted to recruit in-state first. With a kid that was nationally known like that, I think one of the things that made a statement was the tradition part. He made a statement with that."

There are some other perceptions about the 2006 signing class that are also important: Smart; balanced and solid at tight end (1), running back (2), receiver (2) and quarterback (2); stout on the offensive line (6); lonely on the defensive line (1); heavy on DBs (9) and light on linebackers (3). And it's a class that's well-sized. Not too many signees and not to few, but just right.

"This staff's been together for three years, and as far as over signing and having kids that aren't going to make it academically and all that, you start feeling the need to have consistency," Ross said. "I think Coach Shula didn't want to go over a bunch this time. I think we felt like when we went in we were probably going to sign 26-27 kids. It worked out well."

It will be important for the academic side to hold up as is expected by the Alabama staff.

"This class's grades may be as strong as we've been around in a long time," Alabama defensive coordinator, linebackers and assistant head coach Joe Kines said. "That's one reason there's not a lot of over sign. When you over sign you're looking at maybe 5-6-7 guys that are on the bubble. I don't think there are that many on the bubble in this class. It looks like it's a good solid class. Most of them should be here in August when we show up."

Last year Alabama signed 33 players and brought in 25 (thee grayshirts and 5 non-qualifiers). Two years ago it was 28 to bring in 19 (two grayshirts and seven non-qualifiers).

This year, linebacker LaBronski Hutchins will re-take his ACT test to in February, hoping to up his score, as will cornerback Marcus Udell.

Kines talked about the three linebacker signees Wednesday in combination with his current crop.

"I like what we got with those three," he said. "Two of them are on the high end academically, the other one will have a shot to make it. I think there are some guys there that can do a lot of different things. We redshirted three guys last year that really did well in bowl practice. The cupboard won't be bare there, it's just a great opportunity for somebody in spring."

One prospective Tide linebacker switched his allegiance to Florida State on the final day of the process.

"Obviously there were a couple that we recruited that we would have loved to have had, and they went elsewhere," Kines said. "That's fine. We're proud of the ones we've got."

Obviously, too, linebackers and D-linemen become an immediate focus for the 2007 class. Ross said Alabama was already working on some junior linebackers to hopefully sign a year from now.

"Next year that's going to a top priority for us," Ross said. "We signed one defensive lineman. Next year there will be a priority in that area."

Kines said the three backers plus the nine defensive backs all had something in common. "12 runners and hitters," he said. Coincidentally, runners and hitters are needed on special teams, and as Alabama loses many veteran cover men, many of these could see significant action on special teams early.

"We wanted to sign some athletic kids who could also cover punts and cover kickoffs," Ross said. "Nine DBs and three linebackers will help us in the kicking area."

Summer Surprise?

If one recent trend has become vintage Mike Shula, it's the summer surprise. Alabama has signed a player in the summer months in each of Shula's three seasons at Alabama, and to great success. In 2003, Wallace Gilberry picked up a late offer from Alabama and has developed into a starter with All-SEC potential.

Jeffrey Dukes was picked up in the summer months of 2004 after a year in junior college. He played special teams as a freshman and was outstanding in a limited role this past year. Dukes is projected to replace Roman Harper as the starting safety in his senior season.

Last year it was Eryk Anders, a small, lightning fast defensive tackle from Texas. Anders redshirted in 2005, and is just in the infancy of his Crimson Tide career.

So the question is will Shula do it again? Will circumstances enable a late addition (usually a results of unexpected and disappointing academic news for another player), and if so can Shula find another gem?

"A lot of that depends on what goes on with anybody we may see out there," Ross said, "but we feel like with the way our numbers go to get to the 85 and with the 25 initials that you have, we're going to meet the needs with these that we have signed right now."


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