26 January 2010
Part Three in our series of saying goodbye to the seniors will take a look at one All-American, one heavy special teams contributor, and the guy who saw the most improvement from one season to the next as any in recent history.
Baron Huber – FB/LB/TE – Knoxville, TN
Even if he had never played a snap, he would still be one of my favorite players on this team. Anyone that leaves Knoxville to come to Tuscaloosa automatically jumps up on my list of favorite people in the world. In all seriousness, though, this is a kid that epitomizes the team concept. He changed position no less than four times in his career because it was in the best interest of the team.
Lot’s of folks would have transferred in that situation, especially when asked to change again prior to their senior season. Very few players would have remained through the virtual elimination of their position – in this case fullback – but Huber never gave even a hint of thinking about transferring. This is a kid that was simply dedicated to the process of winning a national championship.
He started his career at linebacker, before moving to fullback during fall camp during his freshman season. He appeared in nine games that season, with almost all of those appearances coming on special teams. As a sophomore he played in all 13 games, both on special teams and as the fullback.
With the fullback position becoming more and more limited at Alabama, he spent most of the 2008 spring practice back at linebacker. After that move didn’t bring him closer to the playing field, he moved back to fullback. He saw action in all 14 games, but almost entirely on special teams. He was used as a blocker in short yardage and goal line situations, but Bama had all but eliminated the position from its base offense.
So prior to his senior season he made the move to tight end. He was third on the depth chart at the H-back tight end spot, a hybrid fullback and tight end. He played very little at the position, though. He did participate in all 14 games in his customary role on special teams.
All told he played in 50 games during his career at Alabama, and he touched the ball a grand total of three times for 12 yards. Yet there was never one complaint. In fact, if you spent any time around the team, you would likely have seen Baron doing everything he could to keep the morale of the team up. That might sound like a stretch to find something to compliment him for, but the guy is truly funny. And when a guy is a senior and not getting playing time, and he’s still got a great attitude, that works wonders on the attitude of the under classmen.
To top off all of that, Baron has his degree from Alabama, and was honored at the end of the 2009 spring practice with the Derrick Thomas Community Service Award. If you’re looking for an unsung hero from this championship class of seniors, here’s a guy that should be near the top of your list.
Marquis Johnson – DB – Moulton, AL
Has there ever been a player in the history of Alabama football be trashed as much by his fan base during an off season and respond with a season like Marquis had in 2009? I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to come up with one, and haven’t been able to. This guy was, simply put, the most pleasant surprise on the Alabama football team in 2009.
He played in all 13 games as a freshman in 2006, but most of that action came on special teams. In 2007 he saw brief action when Lionel Mitchell hurt his back, and immediately drew the ire of the Bama faithful when he was badly beaten twice for touchdowns in the Florida State game. Rather than bury his head in the sand, he worked his way out of the off season coach’s dog house, and earned his way into Bama’s starting nickel defense in 2008.
He was a much improved player in 2008, but it’s hard to really convince anyone of that. He was beaten for several big plays in the SEC Championship Game, and that’s all that folks seemed to remember from that season. He backed that up with a sub-par game against Utah (who didn’t?), and Bama fans spent the entire off season listing him as the weak point of the upcoming 2009 defense.
Again, though, Marquise managed to dig deep and find the will to improve. Only this time, in his third season under Nick Saban, he became a fan favorite. A blown coverage in the Tide’s opener against Virginia Tech was completely forgotten by the time that he tied the school record for passed broken up in a game against South Carolina. Of his six PBUs that day, four came in the end zone, and Marquis finally started feeling the love from the Bama faithful.
In all he recorded 17 PBUs in 2009, the third most in a single season in school history. He became the missing piece of the puzzle for the Tide secondary, and helped to lead Bama to a #2 national ranking in pass efficiency defense. Florida came after him again in the SEC Title Game, though this time around he was up for the challenge, knocking down two passes. For good measure, he threw in another one against Texas in the BCS Championship game.
Coach Saban has a word that uses for players that don’t buy into the system and aren’t physically capable of helping on the field – irrelevant. At the end of the 2007 season, it’s likely that Marquis was a player who was going to end his career at Alabama as irrelevant. Instead, he bought in. And his two year improvement has seen him grow to a point where he will get a shot in the NFL. The folks at draftcountdown.com have him rated as the #36 corner in the draft, which means he might get drafted in the late rounds. More than likely he’ll end up signing a free agent contract.
But if I had told you prior to the beginning of the 2009 season that Marquis Johnson would end up getting a realistic shot in the NFL, you likely would have stopped reading this site… that’s how ridiculous that notion would have been. Marquis is a testament to what can happen when a player commits himself fully to a system, and he has the coaches in place to make him better – in this case Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, with a special nod to Scott Cochran.
Career Stats – 89 tackles, 2 for a loss of 7 yards, 3 interceptions, 25 PBUs – tied for 6th in a career in school history.
Mike Johnson – OL – Pensacola, FL
There was never any real doubt prior to the season that Mike Johnson would be a permanent team captain in 2009. He was the most experienced returning player on offense, and had been one of the leaders of the team in 2008. What he did in 2009, though, was exceed all leadership expectations. The 2009 offense took on his mentality, and he was the unquestioned vocal leader of the squad. In fact, he might have held that role for the entire team.
Offensive linemen are tough to write about for me, because I simply can’t watch the game and only watch them. Sure, I can watch a highlight reel and see good blocks. But I simply can not avoid watching the ball when I’m watching a game. Of course, if you spent time watching the ball when Alabama ran it in 2009, you saw an awful lot of Mike Johnson clearing a path to the second level for Bama’s running backs.
Mike leaves Alabama holding the record for the most career games played – 54 (tied with P.J. Fitzgerald). He took meaningful snaps for the Tide at left tackle, right tackle, right guard, and most importantly left guard. He started each of the final 41 games of his career, with all but two of the final 28 being at left guard – he started two games at left tackle in 2008.
In 2009 he was named first team All-American and first team All-SEC. He was considered by virtually every national analyst to be the linchpin of Alabama’s offensive line, and among the best guards in the nation. The folks at nfldraftcountdown.com have him ranked as the fourth best guard in the 2010 NFL Draft. He has had a great beginning to the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, which could help his stock. He will almost certainly help himself at the combine with his strength and speed numbers, and he should score extremely well on the Wonderlic Test. He should climb his way into the top three rounds of the draft.
I wish that I knew more about offensive line play so that I could truly to Mike justice here. Sadly, I don’t, so you get a weak reflection on the career of a great lineman. What I can add is these two comments –He will be as tough to replace on the line as Rolando McClain will be for the linebackers. That’s how important he was to this team on and off the field. More importantly, I feel confident in saying that Alabama had zero chance of winning the National Championship without him. And that is the biggest compliment that I can pay.
Coming up in Part 4 - Mike McCoy, Colin Peek, and Cory Reamer