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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
One of the side effects to consistently signing classes that are stocked top-to-bottom with talent is that it gets difficult to project who will end up playing and who will finish the season with “RS” posted next to his name.
While nothing is certain until fall camp is over, here’s a look at the incoming freshmen and transfer signees on the 2014 Alabama football team, and a quick assessment of which players are most likely to play or not play during the upcoming season.
Will definitely play
1. Cameron Robinson OL 6-6 325 5.3 10.0
Robinson spent most of the spring running with the 1s at left tackle, although he got off initially to a slow start and still has a long ways to go. Depending on how the depth chart shakes out with JUCO transfer Dominick Jackson, Robinson could either start or be the primary backup to the left tackle position. Either way, there won’t be much sense in redshirting him, as there is virtually no chance he’ll stay on campus the full five years.
2. Tony Brown CB 6-0 195 4.4 9.9
Brown made a swift climb up the depth chart in the spring after coming early. Then, Eddie Jackson suffered a knee injury, and Brown suddenly found himself no worse than an even-money pick to start the opener opposite Bradley Sylve. Brown seemed to pick up the defense quickly, which is a prerequisite for any young defensive back in Nick Saban’s system. He also looks like a future force on special teams.
3. Dominick Jackson OL 6-5 305 5.2 9.9
Jackson, a JUCO transfer, wasn’t signed to sit. The only question is where he’ll wind up playing, be it left tackle, left guard, right guard or right tackle. Expect a lot of shuffling early in fall camp as the coaches figure it out, but the smart money for now is on Jackson going to right guard and allowing Leon Brown to move to left tackle to compete with Cameron Robinson.
4. D.J. Pettway DE 6-3 265 4.7 9.9
It’s not beyond the realm of reason to suggest that when D.J. Pettway was dismissed from the team during the 2012-2013 offseason, it cost Alabama a national title shot. Pettway had developed into a ferocious edge rusher and the perfect type of player to corral spread-based offenses. After rejoining the team in the spring, he flashed more of those abilities, although now, Pettway is about 20 pounds heavier than prior to the 2013 season and he might give Alabama a true playmaker at end that the Crimson Tide has lacked lately.
5. Jarran Reed DL 6-3 310 5.1 9.8
Reed was the breakout newcomer of the spring. He can play nosetackle or end, and plays with a toughness and aggressiveness that Alabama often lacked in 2013. Having Reed allows Alabama to do more things with its defensive fronts and won’t leave the defense as prone to package-based substitution issues.
6. Ty Flournoy-Smith TE 6-3 245 4.7 9.7
Flournoy-Smith, a transfer from Georgia by way of junior college, will likely come to campus as the third tight end from the start. He can play either H-back or the Y, which makes him a valuable asset and should provide some pressure behind Brian Vogler. His main competition for playing time is either Y-only tight end Malcome Faciane or fullback Jalston Fowler, which means Alabama fans are likely to see a lot of Flournoy-Smith.
7. J.K. Scott P/PK 6-5 190 *.* *.*
Scott comes to campus as the starting punter. Unless he performs so horrifically in fall camp as to allow QB Alec Morris to overtake him for that job, he’ll be the team’s starting punter and perhaps its placekicker as well, as Adam Griffith’s spring work was uneven at best.
Will probably play
8. Da’Shawn Hand DE 6-4 260 4.6 10.0
Hand was rated as the No. 1 prospect in the country by several recruiting services, so it’s hard to imagine him getting a redshirt in 2014. Alabama still had some soft spots in its D-line depth chart coming out of spring, and Hand looks like the best bet to fill one of those. As good as the line looked at times during spring drills, the thought of adding Hand to the mix is almost too much.
9. Marlon Humphrey CB 6-2 180 4.4 10.0
Humphrey is in the “too good to redshirt” group, even though the defensive backfield is packed with guys who got playing experience in 2013. Eddie Jackson’s injury opens up the discussion, although Humphrey is unlikely to start given that he wasn’t with the team for spring drills. Plus, Tony Brown’s emergence in the spring and Bradley Sylve’s leap forward make it more likely that Humphrey will get his first action either in sub packages or on special teams.
10. Cameron Sims WR 6-4 200 4.5 10.0
Sims broke into the two-deep late in spring work, but Alabama’s wide receiver depth chart is perhaps the most fluid of any position group on the team. Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones separated themselves from the next set of names, of which Sims was a part. Still, being in Tuscaloosa for spring drills usually translates into seeing action the following fall, and Alabama needs to search for vertical playmakers to complement Cooper.
11. Laurence Jones S 6-2 210 4.5 9.9
Like Brown, Sims and others, the fact Jones spent time this spring in Tuscaloosa works strongly in his favor. Like Humphrey, however, the deck is fairly stacked in front of him, and Jones didn’t make the same move forward that Brown did at cornerback. It’s almost a guarantee, though, that Jones will find action on special teams, especially since he’s also a member of the “Too Good to Redshirt” club.
12. Shaun Dion Hamilton LB 5-11 230 4.7 9.5
Hamilton looked better than expected this spring, but the real factor affecting his ability to find playing time is a general lack of depth at inside linebacker. Reuben Foster, Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland are the only scholarshipped players besides Hamilton at the position, although Dillon Lee will move over from strongside linebacker at times to play there as well. Hamilton is a smart player with the ability to fill the hole against the run, and given Foster’s injury history, expect to see him on the field quite a bit in the early going.
On the bubble
13. Christian Miller LB 6-4 215 4.6 10.0
On the flip side of the Hamilton situation, Christian Miller comes to campus and joins a mix of outside linebacker talent that is as deep as it is strong. Denzel Devall, Ryan Anderson, Dillon Lee, Xzavier Dickson and Tim Williams are all candidates to play at the Jack and strongside positions, meaning Miller’s best chance to play is on special teams or as a situational rusher. Still, he’s a charter member of the “Too Good to Redshirt” club, so he’s on the playing side of the bubble for now.
14. Rashaan Evans LB 6-3 215 4.6 10.0
Evans and Miller have pretty much identical chances at playing time, as both play the same positions. Evans might have a better chance to slide inside and play, but for all practical purposes, he’s a rush linebacker. Special teams will be his best chance to see playing time early while he learns the defense.
15. Bo Scarbrough RB 6-1 235 4.5 9.9
Assuming Scarbrough qualifies – as of press time, there was no official word on his status – he becomes an instant competitor at the running back, H-back and fullback positions and a good bet to see playing time on special teams. Not only is Scarbrough too good to imagine getting five years of school time, the fact that he is an academic close-case only strengthens the argument for playing him now.
16. Ronnie Clark S 6-3 210 4.6 9.9
Clark is here mostly due to the fact that he looks the part as a special teams demon. But it’s also due to the fact that Alabama’s safeties haven’t had the best injury luck as of late. Both reserve safeties, Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry, are somewhat fragile, and Perry is limited athletically. Laurence Jones would unquestionably be the first of the younger safeties off the bench, but Clark is a jackhammer hitter and could work his way onto the field.
17. J.C. Hassenauer C 6-2 295 5.1 9.8
When Chad Lindsay left Alabama for Ohio State, it left walk-on Paul Waldrop as the second center. Waldrop didn’t do badly in the spring, but the drop-off from starter Ryan Kelly back to Waldrop was noticeable. Both Hassenauer and Ross Pierschbacher have a chance to compete for playing time, and it would be somewhat shocking, actually, if one of the two didn’t ultimately unseat Waldrop before the first game. Hassenauer has the edge given the fact that he’s more of a pure center and spent more time at the position in high school.
Will probably redshirt
18. Josh Frazier DL 6-4 345 5.1 10.0
If Frazier had signed just about anywhere in the country, he’d be in the first group of this article. But Alabama isn’t most programs, and the Tide actually assembled decent depth at the nosetackle position this spring. Brandon Ivory is expected to start, Jarran Reed will play the position on most third downs and Darren Lake is a stout backup against the run. Dakota Ball, A’Shawn Robinson and Korren Kirven are also expected to see time depending on the situation. Frazier’s best shot at playing time is to unseat Lake as the primary first-/second-down reserve behind Ivory, and given that Lake hasn’t developed as hoped, it could happen.
19. Derek Kief WR 6-5 200 4.5 9.8
No slight against Kief’s talent, but the wide receiver corps is deep and Kief wasn’t in Tuscaloosa for spring drills. Still, Alabama needs one or more of its younger receivers to emerge as a vertical threat, and Kief certainly has the raw measurements necessary to do it.
20. Josh Casher OL 6-1 295 5.0 9.8
Casher is in the same competition for time as Hassenauer and Pierschbacher, but he’s considered the most long-term project of the bunch. If Hassenauer is ahead at the end of fall camp, Casher can almost guarantee himself a redshirt year.
21. Johnny Dwight DL 6-3 290 5.0 9.8
Dwight is simply caught up in a numbers game at the moment, as even a starter from last year (Dalvin Tomlinson) is having trouble staying in the two-deep at the moment.
22. Ross Pierschbacher OL 6-3 295 5.2 9.7
Pierschbacher is the most versatile of the trio that also includes Hassenauer and Casher, and he has drawn comparisons to a young Austin Shepherd. If so, that means he’ll need a redshirt year before he can begin to legitimately compete for playing time.
23. Montel McBride OL 6-5 350 5.3 9.7
McBride hasn’t been officially cleared yet, but the bigger issue is that McBride is a long-term project to begin with and will need a year of conditioning in order to maximize his potential.
24. Keith Holcombe LB 6-3 210 4.6 9.6
Holcombe might find early playing time on special teams, but more than likely he’ll need a redshirt year to add a little weight before competing at the strongside position and inside linebacker on passing downs.
25. O.J. Smith DL 6-1 325 5.1 9.5
If Smith wasn’t already behind the 8-ball in regards to the overall depth chart, he’s also competing with Josh Frazier at the nosetackle position.
Will redshirt/won’t play
26. David Cornwell QB 6-5 240 4.8 10.0
Although several others in this list are decidedly long shots to get playing time, Cornwell is the only one we think is a certain redshirt. There are a couple of reasons for that: First, he was fourth-team on the depth chart coming out of spring (fifth depending on where Parker McLeod was before his decision to transfer), and he’s still recovering from major knee surgery. And then there’s the little matter of Jacob Coker, who transferred in from Florida State. If Cornwell ends up playing this fall, it will be because of a massive number of major injuries happen in front of him.
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