By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Jan. 21, 2014
While every team suffers losses from one year to the next, the hit to the roster Alabama took following the 2013 season – not just from graduation, but underclassmen opting for early entry into the NFL Draft – looks manageable for 2014.
The real question will be replacing upcoming losses following the 2014 season.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that Alabama could have eight senior starters on its 2014 offense, with another two players virtual locks to leave early for the NFL Draft in April 2015. Running back T.J. Yeldon and wideout Amari Cooper will be juniors in 2014, and if either returns for his senior season, it would be an upset somewhere on par with Louisiana-Monroe winning a rematch of its 2007 game against the Crimson Tide.
Of the other eight starting positions, the two most likely to go to an underclassman are the center position (Ryan Kelly, a junior) and the right guard slot, where sophomore Alphonse Taylor will battle senior Chad Lindsay and possibly senior Leon Brown, if Brown doesn’t hold off incoming freshman Cam Robinson at left tackle. A third position could go to an underclassman if quarterback Jacob Coker transfers in from Florida State and holds off senior Blake Sims – but Coker could very likely be a candidate for the draft next April himself. In addition to those names, Alabama will lose backups Lindsay and tight end Harrison Jones.
Defensively, Alabama will fare better, as just four projected starters will be seniors (NT Brandon Ivory, SLB Xzavier Dickson, WLB Trey DePriest, SS Jarrick Williams), but a couple of juniors – S Landon Collins, JLB Denzel Devall – could also make the jump. In addition, junior college transfer DE D.J. Pettway could find himself in the discussion with a strong junior season, and redshirt sophomore DT Dalvin Tomlinson will be draft-eligible. Key reserve S Nick Perry will also be lost.
Therefore, a strong finish to the 2014 class is needed, and Alabama must fill a plethora of holes heading into 2015. Here’s a look at the current recruiting class and some discussion on the way we think it will end.
Out: A.J. McCarron, Luke Del Rio
In: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod
Leaving after 2014: Sims
Committed for 2014: David Cornwell (signed, enrolled)
Others being recruited: None
Analysis: The loss of McCarron is the single biggest loss off the 2013 team, and until Jacob Coker officially declares his intent to transfer to Alabama, Blake Sims becomes the heir apparent. Luke Del Rio, who was no worse than neck-and-neck with Sims for the job, curiously decided to transfer to Oregon State, with speculation as to why centering on the Del Rio family’s opinion of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Alabama is bringing in David Cornwell, who will be limited in spring practice as he rehabs major knee surgery, but all eyes are on Coker and his decision. If Coker stays at Florida State, Alabama will go to bat with the other five names on the list.
Out: Alvin Kamara
In: T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry, Dee Hart, Jalston Fowler, Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones
Leaving after 2014: Fowler
Committed for 2014: Bo Scarbrough
Others being recruited: Racean Thomas
Analysis: Only hybrid H-back/fullback Jalston Fowler is guaranteed to leave after 2014, but it would surprise no one if either T.J. Yeldon or Dee Hart decided to cut his Alabama career short. Hart’s numerous injuries have rendered him only marginally effective in Alabama’s pro-style offense, while Yeldon has a NFL future. Alabama took an early commitment from Bo Scarbrough, whose future might come at running back, receiver or H-back. Other than that, Alabama appeared to put all its chips in the Leonard Fournette basket, and when Fournette, as expected, selected LSU, that seemed to put an end to the process. But rumors have heated up recently that Alabama is making a run at Racean “Roc” Thomas, currently an Auburn commitment, while at the same time having to hold onto Scarbrough in the face of a late charge from Ole Miss. It’s unclear whether Thomas has a firm offer, but if Alabama extends one, the Tide is expected to be no worse than an even-money pick to land him. The question is whether a numbers crunch will make Alabama’s decision a moot point.
Out: Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell, Ty Reed
In: Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, Chris Black, Raheem Falkins, ArDarius Stewart, Robert Foster, Parker Barrineau, Kyle Kazakevicius
Leaving after 2014: Jones, White, Kazakevicius
Committed for 2014: Cameron Sims (signed, enrolled), Derek Kief
Others being recruited: Malachi Dupre
Analysis: Although Alabama is guaranteed of losing just two scholarshipped wideouts (Jones, White), Cooper is almost a lock to enter the draft early and Jones might move to safety in the spring, further accelerating the need for depth both this year and next. Cameron Sims and Derek Kief are both tall receivers, although Kief will need to add some bulk after coming in and as such might not get an opportunity to show whether he’s ready to participate until next spring. That leaves Malachi Dupre, who is arguably more ready to play than either Sims or Kief. Pulling Dupre off LSU would be a Signing Day shocker for sure, but Nick Saban has shown the ability to do just that several times in recent seasons.
Prediction: Sims, Kief
In: Brian Vogler, O.J. Howard, Harrison Jones, Malcolm Faciane, Brandon Greene, Kurt Freitag, Corey McCarron, Michael Nysewander, Jalston Fowler (H-back)
Leaving after 2014: Fowler, Vogler, Jones, McCarron, Nysewander
Committed for 2014: None
Others being recruited: None
Analysis: Alabama has allowed its roster of tight ends to swell and with numbers being tight, 2014 looks like a correction year. Lane Kiffin’s offense seems to use fullbacks or second running backs more than H-backs, which likely means more playing time for players like Derrick Henry or Bo Scarbrough and less for players like Fowler, Freitag and Nysewander. Alabama could also shift Brandon Greene back to his natural position, offensive tackle. A tight end lineup in 2015 of receiving tight end Howard, blocking tight end Faciane and hybrid Freitag would probably be enough to carry Alabama into 2016. In other words, this just isn’t a priority right now.
Out: G Anthony Steen, T Cyrus Kouandjio, G/C Kellen Williams
In: C Ryan Kelly, G Arie Kouandjio, G/T Leon Brown, G Alphonse Taylor, G/T Austin Shepherd, G/C Chad Lindsay, T Grant Hill, G/T Brandon Hill, G Isaac Luatua, G/T Bradley Bozeman, C Paul Waldrop, G Brandon Moore, G/T Howard Nicholson
Leaving after 2014: Kouandjio, Brown, Shepherd, Lindsay, Nicholson
Committed for 2014: T Cameron Robinson (signed, enrolled), T Dominick Jackson (JUCO), G Josh Casher, G/C J.C. Hassenauer, G/T Montel McBride, G/C Ross Pierschbacher
Others being recruited: G/T Jordan Sims, G Viane Talamaivo, G/T Braden Smith, G/T Damien Mama, T Roderick Johnson
Analysis: It’s easy to see this is a priority position for Alabama heading into Signing Day. Alabama scored a huge coup by getting Cameron Robinson to bypass LSU, and the fact he was able to enroll early and go through spring practice is a huge, huge plus. The real story, though, will be JUCO tackle Dominick Jackson and his grades. Alabama needs Jackson to be eligible, as it would allow for increased competition at right guard (by virtue of Leon Brown moving there full-time). Alabama had a commitment from G Viane Talamaivo at one time, but he swapped to USC after Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach. It’s unclear if Alabama can flip him back. If not, the focus will swap to Damien Mama, but Alabama will have to eventually work around Mama’s intention to undertake a Mormon mission sometime in his college career, not to mention the issue of distance from home. Smith and Johnson appear to be unlikely candidates to join this class, but Jordan Sims could be a possibility late if a scholarship opens up – or a grayshirt possibility if a spot doesn’t come open. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Alabama spend as many as nine slots on this position group.
Prediction: Robinson, Jackson, Casher, Hassenauer, McBride, Pierschbacher, Sims
Out: Ed Stinson, Jeoffrey Pagan
In: Brandon Ivory, A’Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Darren Lake, Dalvin Tomlinson, D.J. Pettway, Anthony Orr, Korren Kirven, Dakota Ball, Wilson Love, Dee Liner, Michael Newsome
Leaving after 2014: Ivory, Orr, Newsome
Committed for 2014: Johnny Dwight, Josh Frazier, D.J. Pettway (JUCO; signed, enrolled), Da’Shawn Hand, Jarren Reed (JUCO; signed, enrolled), O.J. Smith
Others being recruited: Matt Elam, Derrick Nnadi, Elisha Shaw, Chad Thomas
Analysis: Alabama will survive the 2014 season aftermath mostly intact, as only Brandon Ivory is a front-line contributor. But that hasn’t stopped Tide coaches for looking for upgrades, particularly in the middle, where Ivory has been inconsistent and injury-prone and Darren Lake has yet to develop as hoped. Alabama might also lose Wilson Love sooner rather than later, as Love has already suffered multiple concussions. Jarren Reed, who will be with the program in the spring, is being expected to put immediate pressure on Ivory and Lake, but it’s Josh Frazier who might eventually be the brightest star here. Alabama is also keeping an eye on Johnny Dwight’s recruitment, as Dwight may be at risk of jumping to Georgia after the Bulldogs hired Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State. As for the uncommitted players, it will likely come down to massive Matt Elam or no one at all. Shaw and Thomas are longshots and Nnadi somewhat of a tweener in Alabama’s system. Elam is under immense pressure to stay in his home state and sign with Kentucky, but Alabama makes more sense both in the Bama program’s ability to prepare players for the NFL and Alabama’s current defensive system.
Prediction: Dwight, Frazier, Pettway, Hand, Reed, Smith, Elam
Out: C.J. Mosley, Tana Patrick, Adrian Hubbard
In: Denzel Devall, Xzavier Dickson, Reuben Foster, Trey DePriest, Dillon Lee, Reggie Ragland, Tim Williams, Walker Jones, Ryan Anderson, Josh Dickerson, Tyler Owens
Leaving after 2014: Dickson, DePriest, Dickerson, Owens
Committed for 2014: Keith Holcombe, Christian Miller, Shaun Dion Hamilton (signed, enrolled)
Others being recruited: Tre Williams, Vincent Jackson, Rashaan Evans
Analysis: A.J. McCarron might be the biggest loss from the 2013 team, but C.J. Mosley is basically riding shotgun. Adrian Hubbard’s departure likely won’t have a significant effect, but Alabama didn’t have another Mosley on its roster and then unexpectedly lost commitment Zach Whitley to UCLA. Whitley’s defection was a huge blow, as he was the most “Mosley-like” of the players Alabama was recruiting, and now that Whitley has enrolled at UCLA, Alabama is out of time in trying to flip him back. The loss of reserve Tana Patrick will be felt more than people realize, as Patrick knew the defense inside and out and would have stepped in for Mosley had his eligibility not run out. Additionally, several rivals are pursuing commitment Christian Miller, whose ultimate decision will be a nail-biter all the way until the faxes are received. Alabama continues to recruit Auburn commitment Tre Williams, but it’s Auburn High School linebacker Rashaan Evans that the Crimson Tide is currently showing the most attention. Alabama has made up a lot of ground with Evans and he would fit the Tide scheme well.
Prediction: Holcombe, Miller, Hamilton, Evans
Out: CB Deion Belue, S Vinnie Sunseri, S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, CB John Fulton
In: CB Eddie Jackson, CB Bradley Sylve, CB Cyrus Jones, CB/S Maurice Smith, CB Jonathan Cook, CB Anthony Averett, S Jarrick Williams, S Landon Collins, S Nick Perry, S/CB Geno Smith, CB/S Jabriel Washington, S Jai Miller
Leaving after 2014: Williams, Perry
Committed for 2014: S Laurence Jones (signed, enrolled), CB Tony Brown (signed, enrolled), S Chris Williams, S Ronnie Clark
Others being recruited: CB Kalvarez Bessent, CB/S Jabrill Peppers, CB Marlon Humphrey
Analysis: Injuries and new players getting their feet wet made for a bad combination for Alabama’s secondary in 2013. Despite finishing the year with good statistics, there was no denying scheme played a greater role in Alabama’s success than did individual performances. Then, safety Vinnie Sunseri rather inexplicably decided against coming back for his senior season. Alabama enters 2014 needing immediate help at safety, where Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry both have spotty injury histories, and where Geno Smith didn’t develop as much as hoped in 2013. Laurence “Hootie” Jones and Tony Brown will both go through spring practice with the team, although Brown got off to a rocky start following an arrest at a party. Fall entrants Chris Williams and Ronnie Clark will also get a chance to earn playing time, although Clark may end up moving to receiver or linebacker. The biggest name left on Alabama’s recruiting board at any position is legacy Marlon Humphrey, the son of former star running back Bobby Humphrey. Marlon is thought to be a lean to Bama, a lean that got more pronounced when Jeremy Pruitt left Florida State for Georgia. The other two names, Bessent and Peppers, are intriguing, but for different reasons. Bessent was an early commitment to Alabama who has since flipped to Auburn, while Peppers is considered one of the 10 best prospects in the country and could play any of about five different positions in college. Bessent, meanwhile, gets high marks from some scouts and middling marks from others, and it’s not clear whether Alabama has tried very hard to get him to re-commit.
Prediction: Jones, Brown, Williams, Clark, Humphrey
Out: PK Cade Foster, P Cody Mandell
In: PK/P Adam Griffith
Leaving after 2014: None
Committed for 2014: P/PK J.K. Scott
Others being recruited: None
Analysis: Adam Griffith should be able to step into Foster’s role immediately, but it’s the punter role that has Alabama fans concerned. Alabama always seems to have a handful of walk-ons around the program at these positions that come and go depending on the week, and with Griffith being the only known quantity at either position, expect to see a bunch of names, both familiar and unfamiliar, at A-Day. However, if anyone but incoming freshman J.K. Scott starts at punter in the fall, it will be a major surprise. Scott could also push Griffith for the placekicking spot and certainly will push him in the kickoff specialist’s role. Alabama’s other priority will be finding a new holder, as all three of last year’s holders – A.J. McCarron, Vinnie Sunseri and Cody Mandell – have left the program.
A FINAL WORD
For those counting, we have projected 28 signees to Alabama, which is obviously three over the limit. One of those is offensive lineman Jordan Sims, who would most likely be a grayshirt, reducing the number to 27. Alabama is believed to have at least one back-counter position available, which would reduce the number to 26. Alabama would either have to clear another back-counter slot or drop a current signee from the list in some way, either by grayshirting the player or not signing him at all, in order to fit under the NCAA’s hard cap of 25.
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