05 February 2010
First of all, let’s deal with this sentiment that’s been drifting around the internet that
How in the world would anyone in their right mind think that a top five national recruiting class was disappointing? I’m guessing there are two main reasons:
- Bama missed out on some guys late.
had a good class. Auburn
First of all, Bama missed out on some guys late. In 2009 especially Bama had a great run, getting six guys who announced on signing day. The only uncommitted guy that Bama was in on that announced Wednesday was James Stone, and he decided to go to
Then, of course, there was the drama surrounding Keenan Allen. While the announcement didn’t hit the internet until Sunday night that Allen had decommitted, the Tide coaching staff knew last Thursday night that he would not be a part of the class. Bama simply did not have room to offer Allen’s half-brother Zach Maynard a scholarship, so Allen headed off to
So with Allen out of the picture, Stone announcing to UT, and Coleman sticking with
The third reason I think a lot of folks think the class was disappointing is because
Give Gene Chizik and his staff credit. They made recruiting a clear priority, they put together a solid recruiting strategy, and they worked their collective butts off to execute it. Throw in the fact that they had immediate playing time available at several key positions, and you get a very good recruiting class. That worked for Bama back in 2008, and it worked for
The key thing to note in what I said above is how
Coach Saban mentioned in his Wed. press conference how much his dislikes negative recruiting, and how he insists that the
When you reach a certain level of talent on your roster, it simply becomes more difficult for you to recruit. A lot of the reason that Bama put together back to back #1 recruiting classes (according to Rivals.com) is that Bama had immediate needs, and it can be easier to get some elite players when that is the case. Case in point –
The Gators backed that up this year with the top class nationally according to ESPNU and Scout, and the #2 class with Rivals. Why? The boost from winning the national championship in 2008. Bama should receive a similar boost from winning the 2009 title, and next year’s class should be contender for the top spot nationally.
So with Bama in a position with playing time only available at a couple of spots, this year’s class became more about addressing needs than about stockpiling talent. How did the Tide do in that regard? Here you go:
Need #1 – Defensive Back
Bama lost ¾ of its starting secondary with the graduation of Javier Arenas and Justin Woodall, and the early entry into the NFL of Kareem Jackson. Throw in the departure of nickel corner Marquis Johnson, and top reserves Chris Rogers and Ali Sharrief, and the Tide was left extremely thin at defensive back – just three cornerbacks and four safeties returning.
All Bama did was go out and sign seven players who will join the Tide secondary.
With cornerback being the most pressing need, Bama went the most heavily after guys who could help in the secondary. Only three guys returned at this position – Phelon Jones (a transfer who played sparingly as a true freshman at LSU), B.J. Scott (redshirted in 2009 while he transitioned from receiver to corner), and Dre Kirkpatrick (played sparingly at corner as a true freshman).
Bama brought in five guys who will start their career at corner, and two of them are already on campus.
- DeMarcus Milliner was rated the #1 corner in the nation by Scout, and #2 by Rivals and ESPN. He is enrolled in classes and working with the team.
- John Fulton was rated the #4 corner by ESPNU, #5 by Rivals, and #6 by Scout. He is enrolled in classes and working with the team.
- Dequan Menzie was rated the #1 Junior College corner in the nation by both Rivals and Scout.
- Deion Belue was rated as the #22 corner in the nation by Scout, while both ESPNU and Rivals rated him as an athlete.
- Blake Sims was also rated as an athlete, and both Rivals and Scout had him ranked as a 4-star player.
Seeing Sims there is probably a shock for a lot of folks who follow recruiting closely, as he had indicated earlier in the process that he expected to start at receiver. In his Wed. press conference Coach Saban mentioned signing seven defensive backs. We know about the other four corners listed above, plus the two safeties and Sims is the only other signee that could potentially end up at corner; so I’m going to assume that’s who Coach Saban was talking about.
Menzie is the guy most likely to see the field in game one, since Coach Saban doesn’t typically sign a Junior College unless he thinks he can contribute early. He did throw down the gauntlet a bit at his Wed. press conference, saying that Menzie needs to make it in during the first summer term if he expects to play early. He mentioned that his maturity and experience give him a great chance to get on the field quick, provided he can pick up the schemes quickly – which is why the earlier he gets on campus, the better.
While Milliner is a higher rated prospect, he has never played the corner position. That leads a lot of people to expect that his learning curve will keep him from making an immediate impact. He was smart enough to graduate high school early, so he shouldn’t have a problem grasping the schemes. He’ll also be participating in spring drills, so that should help him make up a lot of lost ground. But expecting a guy to learn a new position in 15 practices is maybe expecting too much. Between Nick Saban and Kirby Smart he has the two best DB coaches in
Belue has some serious work to do in the classroom (as does Sims), but is an elite athlete. It is possible that Bama signed him as much for his kick return skills as his cover skills, at least early in his career. During the 2009 season he returned a punt for a touchdown in seven consecutive games. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart recently turned another kick return specialist into an All-American corner, so having four years to work with Belue should be interesting. Not all good kick returners will make good corners, granted, but the athleticism required to be good at one will typically serve you well at the other.
The need at safety isn’t quite as great, though Bama did lose a starter in Justin Woodall, and a top reserve in Ali Sharrief. Mark Barron is a guy that some folks think might make a jump to the NFL after the 2010 season, so getting depth here was key.
Bama signed two guys who will start at safety, though one might end up at linebacker:
- Nick Perry was rated the #17 safety by Scout, #25 by Rivals, and #27 by ESPNU.
- Jarrick Williams was rated the #5 safety by Rivals, #8 by Scout, and #15 by ESPNU.
Perry comes from one of the nation’s top high school programs in
Williams might eventually grow into a linebacker, since he is already over 200 lbs. That didn’t stop either Justin Woodall or Mark Barron from playing safety, and has the look of a guy who could be a similar type of player. Coach Saban has shown a taste for having one safety that is larger than normal, especially in the dime package, and Williams could compete for playing time early at that spot.
Overall Bama brought in seven guys at this position, and four of them could seriously compete for playing time in 2010. Need met.
Need #2 – Kickers
Leigh Tiffin and P.J. Fitzgerald have been the starting kicker and punter for the last three seasons (four for Fitzgerald), and losing them both in the same year is quite a blow to the Tide’s special teams. It’s rare for team’s to use scholarships on incoming kickers, but Bama used two in the class of 2010. The fact that kickers are rarely rated above three-star players didn’t help the Tide’s ranking in the recruiting standings any, but needs certainly outweigh that.
- Cade Foster was rated the #3 kicker by Scout, #10 by Rivals, and #12 by ESPNU.
- Jay Williams was rated the #6 punter by Scout, the #9 by ESPNU, and #19 by Rivals.
Bama also added a walk-on kicker in Christian Kauffman, and a walk-on punter in Sam Buckingham.
Foster is already on campus taking classes and will have a chance to compete with Jeremy Shelley for kicking duties. He also played linebacker in high school, so this spring will be the first time in his career that he has concentrated solely on kicking. At the very least he is likely to be Bama’s kick-off man in 2010.
Williams has been receiving private coaching for the last two years, and is expected to continue doing that throughout the remainder of his time in high school. Buckingham was with the team briefly last summer before a family situation forced him to head back to
It’s very likely that both the kicker and punter for the Tide in 2010 will be from guys who were brought in on signing day 2010. Need met.
These are the only two positions at which Bama was in crucial need of immediate contributors. But a great coach doesn’t just look at next year when recruiting; he looks ahead to the next two years. And the following are overall program needs that Bama addressed.
Need #3 – Speed
It’s not that Bama had a slow squad in 2009, but the Tide wasn’t incredibly fast, either. In fact, the two fastest guys on the team – Kenny Bell and Terry Grant – spent most of the season on the sidelines due to injuries. Obviously skill is more important than speed, but skill is also easier to teach than speed. And the Tide added some serious speed in this class.
As soon as they report to campus DeAndrew White and Corey Grant will become the fastest two guys on the team. Unfortunately for the Tide football team, it is possible that both guys could see their enrollment delayed until the 2nd summer term because they could qualify into the U.S. Track & Field Junior National Championship, which is held in June.
White has already posted a time in the 200 meter dash fast enough to qualify into the meet, and is close to establishing the necessary lengths in the long jump and triple jump. Grant is close to running fast enough in the 100 meter dash.
It’s possible that these guys could enroll for the first summer term and leave school to go to the event. It’s also possible that they could decide to skip the event in favor of staying for summer workouts in
Deion Belue, DeMarcus Milliner, Keiwone Malone, and Blake Sims are also considered to be “speed” guys, though not quite on the same level as White and Grant. But bringing in six guys in one class that have the overall speed that these guys possess should go a long way towards Bama being able to stretch the field on offense, and protect the deep ball on defense. Need met.
Need #4 – Pass Rush
Bama improved considerably in 2009 in putting pressure on the quarterback, but the Tide was still not among the nation’s elite pass rushing teams. While Bama was finally able to begin using the type of intricate blitz packages that are a staple of a Nick Saban defense, and great pass rush is going to start with the guys up front. And in Nick Saban’s defense, it typically starts with the jack linebacker.
With the emergence of Marcell Dareus and Courtney Upshaw, who each had their best game of 2009 in the BCS Championship Game, the pass rush should see an immediate boost in 2010. What is needed now is depth at key positions.
Bama signed four guys who are listed as defensive ends, but two of them will likely start their careers at the jack:
- Alfy Hill was rated the #6 defensive end by ESPNU, the #8 strongside end by Rivals, and the #26 end by Scout.
- Adrian Hubbard was rated the #5 defensive end by ESPNU, the #10 strongside end by Rivals, and the #20 end by Scout.
- Brandon Lewis was rated the #13 Junior College defensive lineman by Scout.
- Wilson Love was rated the #34 defensive end by ESPNU, #42 by Rivals, and #62 by Scout.
Hill and Hubbard will likely each start their career at the jack, and are considered to be pass rush specialists. Hill is 6-4 and Hubbard is 6-7, so each guy has a big frame to grow into. They both need to add some weight, and are likely to redshirt. The fact that Bama still doesn’t have the prototypical jack on the roster (Ed Stinson is the closest) could mean that playing time is available. If one of them comes in over 260 lbs., they could see time in the rabbit rusher package.
Lewis was a highly rated end coming out of high school, and he signed with Bama at that time. Again, Nick Saban doesn’t typically sign a Junior College guy unless he thinks that he can contribute immediately. Lewis could be immune from that because he is a re-sign, but also because he redshirted one year at Junior College, meaning he’ll start his Bama career as a sophomore. He is on campus now and will go through the 4th Quarter Program and spring drills. Playing time is available at the defensive end spots, so he could factor into the rotation quickly.
Love is the younger brother of reserve offensive linemen Tyler Love, and an injury could potentially delay his enrollment. According to the official release by the University, he’s already beefed up to 275 lbs., which was his biggest question mark. He could end up moving to the offensive line, but evidently he prefers playing on defense. The kid reportedly has the mean streak that you like to see in linemen, and the fact that he’s put on significant weight shows that he wants to play early. His injury combined with the fact that he’s not coming in until the summer (at the earliest) means he’s likely headed for a redshirt.
Of the four guys at the end position, two are considered to be pass rush specialists. The other two guys both have the tenacity required to be good pass rushers. Need met.
Need #5 – Quarterback
Bama should be set at the QB spot in 2010 with Greg McElroy returning for his senior season. The real competition begins in 2011, when McElroy is gone. You typically want to add a quarterback in every class, but that’s especially true when you have a senior starter. Bama only went after one quarterback, and the Tide got their man early.
Phillip Sims committed early and enrolled early, moving to
What makes this especially great is that he should be afforded the opportunity to redshirt in 2010, with McElroy, McCarron, and Star Jackson all currently ahead of him on the depth chart. That would mean that by the time he was a redshirt freshman competing for the starting job he will have gone through two spring practice sessions, two 4th Quarter Programs, two summer workout programs, and a full season on the practice field.
Bama needed to add depth to the quarterback position, and all the Tide did was add the nation’s top high school quarterback. Need met.
Need #6 – Nose Guard
With Terrence Cody headed off to the NFL after two All-American seasons, Bama has to find a new man to clog the middle. Fortunately there are several guys on campus already who should take care of that in 2010 – namely Josh Chapman and Kerry Murphy – but it is crucial to keep a steady line of these guys coming. With that in mind, Bama looked to add one guy to the middle, and appears to have found a diamond in the rough.
Brandon Ivory isn’t a top rated recruit. In fact, only Rivals has him ranked among defensive lineman, and they’ve got him at #73 at that position. Both Rivals and ESPNU have him ranked as a three-star, but Scout doesn’t even have him evaluated.
Coach Saban was asked about
After fellow signee Keiwone Malone played with Ivory in an all-star game and called coach Saban to recommend Ivory (along with the All-Star coaches), Coach Saban asked for new tape on the big fellow. Coach Saban said that what he saw on tape looked, “too good to be true” so he went to watch him play basketball. What he saw was a 6-3 335 lbs. guy who could run the floor and dunk the basketball. He offered immediately, and Ivory switched his commitment from
The fact that Coach Saban voluntarily compared him to Terrence Cody in his press conference tells me all that I need to know. The coach doesn’t like to put undue expectations on his younger players, and he had to know that comparing him to Cody would start the fans comparing him to Cody. That he wasn’t worried about the fans doing that tells me that Ivory is likely to be an absolute terror in a couple of years.
The great news is that Bama doesn’t need him to play in 2010, so he’ll likely get the chance to redshirt. Getting a guy this size into the program at 18 so that you can control his conditioning is a great thing. Coach Saban joked that “with Cody gone we had to justify having a dietician.” I can’t wait to see this guy in two years. Need met.
Need # 7 – Offensive Line
Bama is replacing two starters on the offensive line, but there is ample depth of the Tide roster to fill those spots. I list this as a need for the future because you can never have enough big, capable linemen. It is absolutely vital to any program, especially one that wants to run the ball, to keep elite lineman coming through the program.
Counting a deferred enrollee from the 2009 signing class, Bama has 4 new guys joining the squad, and three of them are already on campus:
- Arie Kouandjio was rated the #14 tackle by ESPNU, #15 by Rivals, and the #29 guard by Scout.
- Chad Lindsay was rated the #1 guard by ESPNU, #13 by Scout, and #30 by Rivals. He is enrolled in classes and working with the team now.
- Darius McKeller signed with Bama in 2009 and deferred enrollment because of an injury. He is enrolled in classes and working with the team now.
- Austin Shepherd was rated the #20 tackle by Rivals, #25 by scout, and #46 by ESPNU.
Both Kouandjio and McKeller project at tackle, where Bama will be looking to replace starter Drew Davis in 2010 and starter James Carpenter in 2011. Kouandjio is probably more ready to play from a physical standpoint, but McKeller will be participating in spring drills. He’s had six months to mature physically after deferring enrollment, and it will be interesting to see how much he’s healed from knee surgery once spring practice starts. Both of these guys are likely to redshirt, though Kouandjio is athletic enough that he could make waves early.
Shepherd projects as a guard all the way, while Lindsay could play guard or center. The fact that both of these guys are on campus now could pay huge dividends as Bama looks to replace starter Mike Johnson. If ESPNU is right, and Lindsay is the top guard in the country, he could compete right away. Rivals lowered his value do to some weight issues, but the fact that he’s participating in the 4th Quarter Program should alleviate those problems. It’s likely that both guys redshirt, but Chance Warmack proved in 2009 that early enrollees on the offensive line can play as true freshmen.
As a best case scenario you want all linemen to redshirt. The more physically mature that they are, the better. Sometimes a guy comes into the program and is ready to go immediately, and when that happens you adjust. But having a lineman redshirt is a positive. We should see a huge difference in 2009 five-star D.J. Fluker now that he’s had a year in the program, as one example.
The bottom line is that Bama added four guys - two tackles, and two interior guys. There were a couple of guys on the table on signing day that the Tide would have liked to have gotten as well, but sufficient depth has been added for one year. Need met.
That’s the top 7 needs as I see them, and the Tide met them all. And even going through that many guys, I still haven’t mentioned Ronald Carswell, Jalston Fowler, Harrison Jones, C.J. Mosley, or Brian Vogler – and every one of them was rated as a four-star player by at least one of the three main recruiting sites.
In all, Bama brought in 20 guys that were rated as four-star or better by at least one of the three sites, and that’s not including the three deferred enrollees from 2009.
The fact that 11 of the 29 guys are already on campus is astounding. Coach Saban talked about how important that would be in their development during his Wed. press conference. Those guys will have an immediate leg up on their fellow signees that don’t report until the summer, and several of them will compete for playing time in the fall because of it.
Bama signed 25 guys on national signing day, plus Brandon Lewis in December, and the three deferred enrollees. Three of those guys can’t back count towards the 2009 class, so that leaves Bama with 26 guys to deal with. That means that 1 guy from this class will not be with the team in the fall, and we’ll update you on that when we know – keep in mind that we didn’t know about Petey Smith’s deferred enrollment until media guides came out in 2009.
This is an elite recruiting class that will join the Tide. Needs were met for 2010 and beyond. Several of these players are likely future All-Americans. Better yet, all of these guys are likely to be future SEC and NCAA Champions.
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