11 December 2008
I found it interesting that John Michael Boswell made the SEC's All-Freshman team. Not to spoil anything, but he didn't make my list of the Tide's top ten newcomers. Sure, he played in seven games, but the Kentucky game was the only one in which he saw action when it mattered. I guess there just weren't many freshmen offensive linemen in conference this year.
Anyway, we are to numbers seven and eight on the countdown, and they are:
#8 Brad Smelley
It was assumed by most that, despite being very impressive early in camp, Brad Smelley would redshirt this season. Tight End was a position of depth for the Tide this year, and it was thought that a guy making the move from quarterback to tight end would need a year to make the transition. Then came the off week at mid-season, and Nick Saban began to talk about Brad, and it looked as though he might play.
Beginning with the Ole Miss game, Brad played in the Tide's final seven games. His role increased as the season went on, to the point that he was on the field for virtually every third down play of greater than three yards in the SEC Championship game. He still needs to work on his blocking skills, but as a receiver he is primed to take over the role that will be vacated by Nick Walker after the Sugar Bowl.
He had one catch in six of his seven games, and all but one of his six catches resulted in a first down. Four of those five that did result in a first down were crucial catches on third down. The only catch he made all season that did not result in a first down was a fourth down reception late in the Auburn game that would very likely have gone for big yardage had he not slipped on the wet grass.
All told he ended up with six catches for 91 yards, an average of 15.2 yards per catch, with a long of 37 yards.
#7 Courtney Upshaw
After Clemson's CJ Spiller returned a kick off for a touchdown in the season opener the coaches decided to change the kick coverage team. One of those changes involved adding Upshaw to the team, and he stayed there for the final 12 games of the season. He wasn't just on the kick coverage team, either... he was probably the unit's best player.
Most of his time at jack linebacker came late in games that had already been decided, but he showed a knack for getting to the quarterback that the Tide has lacked from that position for two seasons. Brandon Fanney had a really solid year overall and will be tough to unseat from the position, but Upshaw will be the prime candidate to push him in the spring.
The only freshman to have more tackles than Upshaw was Dont'a Hightower, who started 12 of the Tide's 13 games. His 21 total tackles ranked 14th on the team for the season, with the vast majority of those tackles coming on special teams. In his brief time on defense he also managed two tackles for a loss, two passes broken up, and a quarterback hurry.
He had a season high six tackles against Western Kentucky, where he saw his most extensive playing time. After that game he had at least one tackle in every game except for Arkansas State and Florida.
Up next will be a couple of guys that we didn't see much of in 2007.
#9 Mark Barron and #10 Marcel Dareus