For the second time in as many years, Alabama—which has long been known for quarterback stability—is embroiled in one of the fiercest quarterback battles of the offseason.
Senior Jake Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett are all squaring off to win the top spot on the depth chart, with Coker and Cornwell apparently separating from the field at the conclusion of spring practice.
Should the veteran Coker get the nod, or is Cornwell the man for Alabama in 2015 and moving forward?
Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should roll with Cornwell.
Youth Gone Wild
Bill Haber/Associated Press
Alabama QB David Cornwell
There’s no such thing as a rebuilding year in Tuscaloosa; the Crimson Tide just reload. But in this specific situation with the youth across the roster on the offensive side of the ball, it’s possible for Alabama to rebuild/reload while also planning for the future.
In former Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence’s post-spring depth chart projections, there are young skill players littered all over the place.
Projected starting wide receivers (and co-stars of the spring game) Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart are sophomores, fellow wide receiver Chris Black is a junior and Alabama only has two senior wide receivers—graduate transfer Richard Mullaney and former walk-on Parker Barrineau.
If the story of the Crimson Tide offense is going to be “youth,” Kiffin and Saban should go for it.
Plus, it’s not like Cornwell is battling with a veteran who has significant game experience. After all that we heard about Coker coming in, he attempted just 59 passes last year—most of which came in mop-up duty and against cupcakes.
There’s going to be a steep learning curve for whichever quarterback Kiffin goes with, so if it’s close, why not go with the player who has the eligibility clock working in his favor?
So Different, Yet so the Same
Butch Dill/Associated Press
Alabama QBs Jake Coker (14) Blake Barnett (6) and David Cornwell (12)
If the battle does indeed boil down to Coker vs. Cornwell during fall camp, it might seem like it’s a battle between two polar opposites.
The veteran vs. the rookie.
The nomad vs. the homegrown talent.
The backup vs. the upstart.
None of that is true. In fact, Coker and Cornwell are incredibly similar. Both stand tall in the pocket at 6’5″, both can move more than they get credit for, both have fought through leg injuries (Coker’s meniscus and Cornwell’s ACL/ankle) and both have cannons.
One of Cornwell’s biggest attributes coming out of high school was arm strength that 247Sports rated as a “nine” out of 10. I saw firsthand Coker sling it 60 yards with relative ease before the West Virginia game after just a few minutes of warm-up with that knee wrapped.
If the race is close and the two players are similar, wouldn’t it be wise to go with the one with the most room to grow? Without a doubt, the one with the most room to grow would be Cornwell. After all, if it were Coker, wouldn’t he have won the job last year?
Moving On Up
Cornwell sits at the unquestioned No. 2 after spring practice, and if you don’t find that overly impressive, you should probably think again.
He enrolled at Alabama in January 2014 as a 4-star pro-style prospect, fresh off of a torn ACL suffered during his senior season of high school football in Norman, Oklahoma. He rehabbed during his first few months in Tuscaloosa and participated in some work last spring.
After spring practice, he underwent surgery to repair an ankle injury. According to Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star, he never really felt comfortable after that surgery until midway through his redshirt season of 2014.
“It’s been great,” Cornwell told Burnett in January. “Great experience with coach (Lane) Kiffin and coach (Nick) Saban. Coach (Scott) Cochran has been a part of it. I’ve lost some weight and got healthy finally.”
That’s important, because the first time that the coaching staff got a look at Cornwell at 100 percent in college, it was this spring. All he did was elevate himself to a clear-cut No. 2 in a five-man quarterback battle that included players with much more game and practice experience than he had coming in.
If Cornwell was able to make up that much ground in half of a spring practice session, that tells me that he has impressed the staff far more than expected and has a ton of momentum heading into summer workouts. If he’s a close No. 2 now with all the momentum, the best is yet to come and his ceiling hasn’t been reached.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Alabama QB David Cornwell
For the second straight spring game, the Crimson Tide offense left a lot to be desired.
According to stats released by the University, Coker completed 14 of 28 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and one interception playing with the first-team offense against the first-team defense, while Cornwell connected on 12 of 24 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown and two picks with the “twos.”
Who will be Alabama’s starting QB?
Neither quarterback looked comfortable and Cornwell took two sacks, but Saban went out of his way to compliment Cornwell and everybody with the second team based on the specific setup of the spring game.
“This game was set up to try to look at the quarterbacks, to try to give them an opportunity,” he said in quotes released by Alabama. “I think the guys that played with the second team, because of the offensive line, was not up to snuff and where it needs to be, relative to the second defensive line. They probably didn’t have the same opportunity to have success.“
That’s not coach speak. He’s exactly right.
Alabama’s two-deep in the defensive front seven is as loaded as any team in the country, while even its first-team offensive line is looking to plug holes and stabilize itself.
Is the second-team offensive line going to hold off that pass rush? That’s not likely. At least, not in spring practice.
It seems like Saban and the staff have more faith in Cornwell than it appears on the surface, which bodes well for his future.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
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The University of Alabama has had at least one player selected in the first round of each of the past seven NFL drafts, the longest active streak of any university. If junior interior defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson declares for the 2016 draft, their streak will likely extend to eight.
Heading into the 2015 college football season, the defensive tackle position appears to be one of the deepest for draft-eligible talent.
Some of the top talents at the position project more favorably to specific defensive schemes over others. Robinson, however, is a player who should be near the top of the watch list for any team, regardless of scheme, that wants to bolster the middle of its defensive front in 2016.
For the purposes of this article, the sixth of 10 installments in Bleacher Report’s series of the 2016 NFL draft’s preseason top prospects at each position, Robinson is being classified as a defensive tackle, the position he would play in a 4-3 defensive front. That said, a big part of his appeal is that he could also project as either a defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment.
College Football’s Best Interior Run Defender
Alabama’s defense allowed the fourth-lowest average of rushing yards per game in 2014, and the presence of Robinson up front was a big reason for that.
Listed at 6’4” and 312 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website, Robinson exhibits an excellent combination of size and strength.
As NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah pointed out in a tweet last week, Robinson consistently holds his ground at the point of attack.
Bama DTs Robinson (86) and Lee (90) both excel at the point of attack. Can’t move these guys. https://t.co/WLNHdlthu0
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 25, 2015
Robinson simply doesn’t let blockers push him around, even when he is double-teamed.
When blocked one-on-one, Robinson routinely shows the ability to stack and shed his opponents. He demonstrates very good understanding and execution of leverage. Advantaged by his long arms, Robinson does a great job keeping blockers off his body while getting into his opponent’s pads and thrusting his power forward to get offensive linemen moving in the wrong direction.
A textbook example of a stack-and-shed can be seen in the following clip from Alabama’s SEC Championship Game victory over Missouri this past season. Robinson (No. 86) shoots straight at Missouri left guard Brad McNulty, extends his outside arm into McNulty’s chest and then rips his inside arm across McNulty’s body to get off the block and stop Tigers running back Russell Hansbrough short on a 3rd-and-1 conversion attempt.
Robinson will need to continue refining those hand skills to be a consistently dominant run defender at the next level, but at times, he can also win at the line of scrimmage by simply overpowering his man. You can see that at work in the following clip—from the same game but this time against a different left guard, Mitch Hall—as Robinson pushed Hall backward to force a run wide left then worked off the blocker to make the tackle for a three-yard loss himself.
One can watch virtually any Alabama game and see those skills at work from Robinson. The GIF below, courtesy of Draft Breakdown, is another example of Robinson holding his ground and muscling himself off a blocker—this time, Mississippi State left guard Justin Malone, to make a stop for no gain moving outside left on 1st-and-goal.
Teams looking for a flashy, one-gap penetrator will want to look in a different direction from Robinson. Although he is a good all-around athlete for his size, he is not a player who will win at the next level with an explosive burst off the snap.
On the other hand, teams looking for a player who can consistently fill gaps, occupy blockers and shut down running lanes should be enamored by Robinson. He has the size, strength and skill to step in and provide immediate production as a run defender on an NFL unit.
Robinson’s range to make plays along the line of scrimmage is somewhat limited, but he does show the hustle to chase runs downfield when needed. The following play against Mississippi State was one such example, when the defensive tackle showed his speed in chasing down Bulldogs running back Josh Robinson—a sixth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft—12 yards downfield on a screen play.
Versatility to Fit Any Defensive Front
As previously mentioned, Robinson is a player who should garner interest from 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike. The experience he has gained playing multiple positions across both alignments at Alabama should increase his readiness to step in and play in the NFL regardless of front.
Robinson might technically be considered a defensive end this year, as the Crimson Tide typically use the three-man front in their base defense. But as the following screenshots depict, he plays everywhere from the 0-technique (where the 3-4 nose tackle typically lines up) to the 3-technique (penetrating 4-3 defensive tackle) and the 5-technique (3-4 defensive end).
Screenshot illustrated by author
A’Shawn Robinson lined up at 0-technique nose tackle
Screenshot illustrated by author
A’Shawn Robinson lined up at 3-technique defensive tackle
Screenshot illustrated by author
A’Shawn Robinson lined up at 5-technique defensive end
Robinson has the anchoring strength to play nose tackle and the length to play as a 5-technique, and he combines those with the all-around athleticism needed to play either spot in the middle of a four-man front.
Assuming a team that selects him highly plans to maximize his ability, it’s likely that Robinson will see time playing multiple spots on his NFL team’s defensive line.
Can Robinson Be an Impactful Pass-Rusher?
That is the question, Robinson will need to answer affirmatively if he is going to be among the top picks in the 2016 NFL draft, assuming he declares for the draft following his junior year.
As a true freshman in 2013, Robinson actually led the Crimson Tide with 5.5 sacks. In 2014, however, Robinson did not record a single sack for the year.
In itself, Robinson’s ability to defend the run should make him a first-round selection. His ability to provide a consistent impact in that area gives him huge value as an interior defensive lineman, and he could play a part in making an NFL run defense instantly better.
Yet because pass-rushers are at a premium in the modern NFL, Robinson could end up being surpassed by numerous interior defensive linemen in advance of the 2016 draft if he does not show more ability to put pressure on the quarterback in 2015.
Using the same skills as demonstrated earlier, Robinson can generate a powerful bull rush that jacks a blocker backward toward the passer. He appears to be strong enough to be able to bring pressure in that capacity even at the next level.
Beyond his bull rush, however, Robinson has not demonstrated any regularly effective secondary rush moves. If Robinson is going to be an effective pass-rusher in the NFL, he must be able to do more with his hands to fight his way off blockers when his power rush gets absorbed.
When Robinson is able to get free with an angle toward the quarterback, he has enough closing burst to bring pressure. His long arms can once again be an asset in this regard, as they increase his reach to the quarterback while also allowing him to disrupt and even deflect passes by getting his hands up in the passer’s face.
The problem for Robinson is that NFL offenses will move faster than opponents do at the collegiate level, and he will be less likely to get shots at the quarterback that he does not earn by winning with technique.
Given that, Robinson will need to make significant improvements to his pass-rushing repertoire before he will be able to make a significant impact on an NFL pass defense. For at least the beginning of his career, Robinson will likely be a player who substitutes out of the game in obvious passing situations.
Even if he does make large strides as a pass-rusher from a skill standpoint, it’s also unclear whether Robinson has the stamina to be an every-down player. Because Alabama rotates its defensive linemen in and out of the lineup regularly, Robinson has not been tested to an extent of having to play every series for an entire game.
How Robinson Should Stack Up in 2016 Draft Class
Because he does not project to be a game-changer in pass defense, Robinson could potentially slide from early first-round consideration to being a late first-round player. As it currently stands, however, Robinson projects as the player with the most complete combination of size, strength, athleticism and skill among interior defensive line prospects for the 2016 draft.
While Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller placed Robinson 21st on his initial big board for the 2016 draft, ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him as the No. 6 overall draft-eligible prospect.
“Though he can eat up blocks on the inside, he’s actually in the backfield a lot, because he’s got strength and impressive athletic ability for a man his size,” Kiper wrote on Robinson in May. “To be an instant-impact player at Bama is usually a good sign, and Robinson should continue to get better.”
Robinson’s teammates, including linebacker Reggie Ragland (who himself is a potential early-round pick), also hold the defensive lineman in high regard.
“You can tell he’s the best player on our team,” Ragland said in April, according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle. “He’s hard-nosed, physical, and the sky’s the limit for him.”
With that being said, Robinson should have plenty of competition among defensive tackles/3-4 defensive ends with the potential to be first-round picks.
Some of the draft’s top 4-3 defensive end prospects, including Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche, also project as potential 3-4 defensive ends and as players who could kick inside, at least situationally, in four-man fronts. Those players were not considered for the top spot in this article, however, as defensive ends will be in focus in the next installment in this series.
Among true defensive tackles, Robinson’s steepest competition for draft position might come from Baylor junior Andrew Billings.
An outstanding physical specimen who broke the Texas state powerlifting record in high school, Billings has a truly rare combination of agility and strength. A more explosive athlete than Robinson, he offers more pass-rushing ability than his counterpart but is not as stout against the run. His appeal could also be limited for 3-4 teams, as he is undersized for a nose tackle (6’2″, 300 lbs) and has poor length for a defensive end.
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Among Robinson’s other competition, a case could be made that he is not even the best interior defensive line prospect on his own team. Jarran Reed, a similarly built player who projects to start at nose tackle for the Crimson Tide in his senior year, is coming off a breakout junior season in which he often topped Robinson as the most disruptive player on the team’s defensive line.
Another school with two potential early-round prospects on the interior defensive line, depending on how those players progress in their junior years, is UCLA. Physically gifted and highly touted, Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes have exhibited flashes of brilliance that could vault them up draft boards if they can take their games to the next level this fall.
There are also a number of interior penetrators, prospects who project as either 3-technique defensive tackles or 5-technique defensive ends, with the tools to end up in the first-round mix in 2016, including Penn State redshirt junior Anthony Zettel, Nebraska junior Maliek Collins, Ohio State senior Adolphus Washington, Notre Dame senior Sheldon Day and Mississippi State junior Chris Jones.
With so much prospective competition to be a top pick on the interior defensive line, Robinson will need to play up to expectations to be the early first-round selection he has the potential to be in 2016.
Robinson’s game is not as flashy as that as some of the other top prospects, and that could hurt him in the draft process. From a standpoint of consistent substance, however, Robinson offers the skill set that will likely bring the most immediate impact to a team that drafts an interior defensive lineman next year.
This article is part of a series on the projected top prospects at each position for the 2016 NFL draft. Also read:
Meet Jared Goff, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top QB Heading into Next Season
Meet Ezekiel Elliott, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top RB Heading into Next Season
Meet Tyler Boyd, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top WR Heading into Next Season
Meet Evan Engram, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top TE Heading into Next Season
Meet Ronnie Stanley, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top OL Heading into Next Season
Meet Joey Bosa, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top DE Heading into Next Season
All GIFs were made at Gfycat using videos from Draft Breakdown and YouTube.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is unquestionably the face of his Crimson Tide team, and perhaps college football as a whole. The four-time national champion and three-time SEC Coach of the Year is among the most recognizable figures in all of American sports, setting the stage for sustained success on the recruiting trail.
The program entered unprecedented territory last February, securing its fifth consecutive top-ranked class, via 247Sports’ composite, on national signing day. The Crimson Tide have landed among the top five on that list every year since 2008, which was Saban’s first full cycle with Alabama.
After a relatively “slow” start toward signing day 2016, the Crimson Tide caught first in late spring. Alabama surged to fourth overall in national composite class rankings this month, spurred by 12 commitments during an nine-week stretch.
Saban, known as a tireless pursuer of top-tier high school prospects, surrounds himself with similarly tenacious assistants. It’s a staff that turns “down time” into recruiting-department strategy sessions and casts its net across the country in an attempt to keep momentum moving toward more titles in Tuscaloosa.
Whether or not a team is led by the likes of Saban, Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher or Urban Meyer, a cohesive and consistent group effort within football facilities is required to reel in large volumes of talent. The roster counted on to chase championships four years from now ultimately demands replenishment in the present.
Current 2016 Recruiting Class Rankings
247Sports composite rankings
Alabama’s recruiting efforts occasionally require improvisation, including increased attention toward the Texas landscape. When the SEC welcomed Texas A&M into the fold a few years ago, it essentially expanded the conference’s borders, and the Crimson Tide are taking advantage.
Saban signed 5-star cornerbacks (Tony Brown and Kendall Sheffield) from the Lone Star State during each of the past two recruiting cycles. Alabama currently holds three 2016 pledges from Texas products.
Defensive line coach Bo Davis, an original member of Saban’s staff who returned to Tuscaloosa in 2014, plays a big role in this department. He previously served as a Texas Longhorns assistant and continues to claim recruiting victories in the talent-laden region.
Davis played a key role in the recruitment of Sheffield leading up to his 2015 signing. Last month, he helped Alabama beat the Longhorns in a head-to-head showdown for prized Texas defensive tackle Kendell Jones.
“He’s a good guy,” Jones’ head high school coach Channon Hall told Hank South of 247Sports. “We knew him when he was at Texas. It’s always good when our guys see those guys walk through the door.”
Davis was instrumental in landing Texas DT Kendell Jones.
Davis also served as a key facilitator for a June commitment from fellow Texas standout Jalen Hurts, a 4-star quarterback and Elite 11 finalist.
The Crimson Tide currently hold more 4-star pledges from Texas (three) than the Longhorns (two), and there could be more to come.
Meanwhile, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal is making another strong case as one of the country’s premier recruiters. He finished atop national assistant coach recruiting rankings last cycle and is off to another strong start.
Cristobal, who served as head coach at FIU for seven seasons before coming to Alabama, was the primary recruiter for three 5-star signees in 2015 and already helped land four 4-star offensive linemen in this class.
Since Saban hired him in February 2013, Cristobal has helped Alabama claim 12 blockers who command a prospect rating of 4-star or 5-star. The list is headlined by No. 1 overall 2014 lineman and potential top-10 NFL draft pick Cam Robinson.
His most recent additions along the offensive front—Chris Owens, Deonte Brown and Charles Baldwin—are each 4-star recruits who joined the 2016 class since April.
Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal continues to help stockpile talent in Tuscaloosa.
Cristobal is part of an offensive staff led by coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lane Kiffin, who made significant recruiting splashes as head coach at Tennessee and USC. He and Saban have evolved the offensive vision, emphasizing more importance on dual-threat quarterback talents like Hurts and 5-star 2015 signee Blake Barnett.
“I’m extremely excited about the chance to play for Coach Kiffin,” Barnett told Bleacher Report. “Obviously, he’s had a lot of success offensively at other places and I think there’s an opportunity to do some new things on that side of the ball at Alabama. They’re going to do some things to get me on the move and out of the pocket.”
This new approach could also help Alabama pluck coveted quarterback Jawon Pass out of Georgia. The athletic 6’5″, 220-pound specimen is expected to decide between Auburn, North Carolina, Louisville and the Crimson Tide when he announces July 13.
Pass is yet another piece who, if added to the equation, could help Alabama capture a sixth straight No. 1 recruiting haul. Fellow high-profile 2016 targets include defensive tackle Rashan Gary, offensive lineman Greg Little and Crimson Tide linebacker legacy Ben Davis.
Will Alabama extend its streak of top-ranked recruiting classes in 2016?
Alabama looked extremely likely to finally surrender its recruiting crown just two months ago.
Now at the start of summer, Saban and his determined staff of assistants appear primed to push for that top spot yet again.
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Alabama used to be known as a program that not only sent members of its secondary to the NFL but also produced a top-tier pass defense while those players were on the Crimson Tide roster.
Over the last two seasons, the second half of that equation has been more myth than reality.
The Crimson Tide secondary finished 11th in the SEC in pass defense last year after it gave up 226 yards per game, more passing plays of 10 or more yards (133) than any team in the SEC and the second-most first downs (15) in obvious passing situations (3rd-and-10 or more) in the conference.
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Alabama DB Eddie Jackson (right)
The year before, Alabama got picked apart by teams that could actually throw the ball and finished eighth in the SEC in third-down passing conversions of 10 or more yards (eight).
What seemed like an anomaly has become a trend under head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart—both of whom were hands-on with their defensive backs in practice.
Will Alabama’s secondary go from pushover to power in 2015?
Yep. Here’s why.
An Established Leader
The secondary seemed more like the punchline to a bad joke in 2014, but it wasn’t Cyrus Jones’ fault.
The 5’10”, 196-pounder from Baltimore earned a starting nod at corner before the season and steadily transformed into a star as the season progressed. He finished the year with three picks, a team-high 13 pass breakups and second-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press (via USA Today). Not bad for a guy who, as Matt Zenitz of AL.com notes, put off hip surgery and played through the pain.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Alabama CB Cyrus Jones
He missed spring practice recovering from surgery for that torn labrum in his hip but should be 100 percent this fall.
As Zenitz noted in April, he has the confidence from last season’s personal success and the motivation to fix the perception of the Alabama defense.
“Now I know what I can do, and I know my abilities, and I know the defense,” Jones told Zenitz. “Now it’s just up to me to just go out there and play and prove everyone wrong who has something bad to say about it.”
His presence and established success at corner will help stabilize the secondary and give Saban and his staff a nice foundation as they fill out the rest of the depth chart during fall camp.
A Fresh Face
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Alabama DB coach Mel Tucker
Whatever Saban and Smart were doing over the last few years was clearly not working the way that it should. That doesn’t fall squarely on the coaching staff, although it should shoulder some of the blame.
New secondary coach Mel Tucker was brought in as a fresh set of eyes to try to fix the glitch.
Tucker was most recently the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears from 2013 to 2014 and served in the same capacity for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-2012) and Cleveland Browns (2008). He has also served as the defensive backs coach for the Browns (2005-2007), Ohio State (2001-2004)—where he won a national title in 2002—LSU (2000) and Miami-Ohio (1999).
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Alabama head coach Nick Saban
“I’ve known Mel for almost 20 years going back to Michigan State when I hired him as a graduate assistant,” said Saban, according to Alabama’s official site. “He is an outstanding coach all the way around and really does an excellent job in terms of teaching the players. When you look at his college and NFL experience, his resume is very impressive.”
His presence takes pressure off Saban and allows Smart to move back down to coaching inside linebackers. Basically, Saban and Smart recognized the problem and brought in Tucker as the elixir.
How much will things change under Tucker? Saban and Smart will still have their hands in the cookie jar to an extent, but it’s Tucker’s show for the most part, and that new set of eyes couldn’t hurt.
A Blessing in Disguise
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Alabama CB Tony Brown (left)
Jones’ absence this spring could be a blessing in disguise for the cornerbacks, because it allowed even more first-team snaps for players who are vying for the top spot on the depth chart.
Who took advantage the most? Sophomore Tony Brown seems like the big winner.
The 6’0″, 195-pounder from Beaumont, Texas, played with the first team in the spring game and had three tackles, one for a loss and one quarterback hurry, according to stats released by Alabama. As Marc Torrence noted on Bleacher Report following the spring game, Brown should start alongside Jones barring something crazy happening this summer.
Butch Dill/Associated Press
Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
Jones’ absence also allowed more reps for Bradley Sylve, Anthony Averett and Marlon Humphrey, all of whom will see time either as reserves or at nickel.
What’s more, the move of former cornerback and part-time starter Eddie Jackson to safety indicates that Tucker has already put together some pieces of the puzzle.
Geno Smith will join Jackson at safety after spending the majority of his career at nickel, sophomore Hootie Jones has boat loads of potential, and early enrollee Ronnie Harrison was the talk of spring practice in the defensive backfield.
“The freshman is impressing me a lot. He’s just showing a lot of instinctiveness out there on the field,” Jones said, according to Alex Byington of the Times Daily. “He’s still getting it mentally, and that’s going to take time, but he’s definitely a football player. So he’s one of the guys that’s impressed me a lot.”
In 15 short practices, Tucker already has made tremendous progress in getting the secondary shuffle sorted out.
That bodes well for the future.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
While Alabama’s roster is just about settled with the enrollment of the rest of its 2015 recruiting class, its depth chart can’t quite say the same.
During spring practice, a largely steady lineup emerged and culminated at A-Day, when players were split into teams based on first- or second-team status, the closest we’ll get to a depth chart until fall camp.
But a small handful of positions remain up in the air and could further be disrupted by the arrival of several top recruits to campus.
With a month to ago until SEC media days and less than two months until fall camp, here are predictions for who will emerge victorious in the Crimson Tide’s remaining position battles.
Reggie Ragland will be a major leader on the Alabama defense but still needs a steady inside linebacker partner.
Junior Reuben Foster and sophomore Shaun Dion Hamilton got about equal work in at that spot during the spring, both showing they’re capable of handling that role.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Saban said the two played situationally, with the bigger Hamilton used during running situations and the more athletic Foster playing against the pass. But who will be the one in late against LSU? The fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl with the SEC West on the line?
Foster has been on campus longer and was the 5-star, can’t-miss recruit, but injuries stemming from poor tackling technique have cost him valuable playing time. Hamilton, meanwhile, doesn’t have the raw athletic ability, but his military-family background gave him incredible smarts, instincts and discipline needed to thrive as a middle linebacker in Saban’s system.
Foster and Hamilton should both get healthy amounts of playing time, but when the rubber meets the road, it’ll be Hamilton.
Prediction: Shaun Dion Hamilton
The offensive line stayed largely the same through the spring, but that doesn’t mean that it’s totally set in stone.
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Saban consistently mentioned during the spring that he felt he had four offensive linemen who could play “winning football.” He was referring to Cam Robinson, Ross Pierschbacher, Ryan Kelly and Dominick Jackson.
That leaves right guard, where Bradley Bozeman’s job isn’t totally secure.
Alphonse Taylor has seemingly always been on the cusp of a starting role for the last year or so. He rotated in at right guard last year with Leon Brown, with neither player grabbing solid playing time.
In a more extreme scenario, the staff could decide Jackson’s pass-blocking isn’t where it needs to be and slide him inside, creating an open position at right tackle.
But Bozeman has been a solid player since coming to Alabama, and Taylor’s window seems to have closed. He’ll be the one to complete an offensive line that should be its best since the vaunted 2012 group.
Prediction: Bradley Bozeman
And now, the million dollar question.
Predicting the quarterback here could mean a few things. Who starts against Wisconsin and who starts against Auburn are two very different propositions.
Butch Dill/Associated Press
But this prediction is for the long-term—the guy the Crimson Tide live or die with late in the season with everything on the line.
Jake Coker and David Cornwell are the two front-runners, with Coker having a slight edge in seniority and playing time (the only quarterback on the roster, actually, who has thrown a pass in a game).
If the race continues to be this tight, which it likely will, it’s hard to see Saban not going with the younger guy who has room to grow. Do you really think he wants to do this all over again for the third year in a row next offseason?
Coker is probably the odds-on favorite to take the first snap in Arlington.
But for the long run, it’s going to be The David Cornwell Show.
Prediction: David Cornwell
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
It’s largely been a quiet offseason so far for the Alabama football team, but that doesn’t mean anyone in Tuscaloosa is complaining.
After a spring that saw four arrests and two long-term injuries, a light news cycle in May and into June has been a welcome silence for Alabama fans, coaches and players.
Still, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a couple of headline-makers during that period. Here’s a rundown of Alabama’s offseason to this point.
To transfer or not to transfer
Depending on who you asked, the Crimson Tide were at least somewhat in the running for two of the offseason’s hottest transfer quarterbacks. With no No. 1 starter coming out of spring practice, Alabama could have used the services of a grad transfer who could start right away.
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
First it was Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, the former Big Ten player of the year who was seemingly displaced to third-team duties after the emergence of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.
Miller spent time in Tuscaloosa in May, leading some to question whether he was visiting campus and meeting with coaches. Alabama linebacker and Ohio native Trey DePriest, though, revealed to al.com’s Matt Zenitz that Miller was rehabbing with Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham and hanging out with DePriest, a friend, in the meantime.
The further and further the offseason goes along, the more likely it seems that Miller will indeed stay in Columbus for his senior season.
Then, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson started poking around, and Alabama naturally came up as a possible destination.
Most notably, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported that Alabama would be open to adding Golson but that the SEC’s restrictive graduate transfer rules would prevent it from doing so.
And that turned out to be the case.
Golson transferred to Florida State, leaving Alabama and other SEC schools without the services of an experienced quarterback because of their own rule.
Nick Saban speaks out on college football change
Sparked by discussion about the SEC missing out on a major transfer, Alabama’s outspoken coach made his thoughts clear that all Power Five schools should play by the same rules.
That didn’t just have to do with graduate transfers, though.
Butch Dill/Associated Press
The SEC also has restrictive legislation on holding satellite camps and at spring meetings passed a rule banning the transfer of players who had previously been kicked out of a school for “serious misconduct.”
When asked about that new transfer rule, Saban broke off into a tangent about how he wants to see the Power Five under one umbrella rules-wise.
“What I’m most concerned about—I just think that we should have the same rules in the SEC as all the other big five schools have,” he said. “Because now we’re not just talking about the SEC. We’re talking about having a playoff, no different than the NFL. One division in the NFL doesn’t have different rules, different salary caps, different anything, because the league knows that parity is the best competitive balance that you can create.
“So when we pass rules that other people that we have to compete against, if that is really what’s best for the young people that we’re dealing with here, the student-athletes that we’re dealing with, then it should be best for everyone. Or otherwise we shouldn’t do it.
“So I’m hopeful that in some kind of way, we’ll be able to get the big five together under the NCAA’s supervision to try to create rules that we all see in the best interest of student-athletes, which I think we need to be thinking about here.”
Recruiting momentum built
Exiting spring practice, Alabama had just six commitments for the 2016 class—not catastrophic by any means, but not ideal for trying to haul in another top class and keep up with some of the other top schools.
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
But since A-Day, the Crimson Tide have landed five 2016 prospects and three for 2017.
Of note, Alabama finally landed a 2016 quarterback, when it got a commitment from 4-star dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts. It also got a commitment from a top JUCO player in the country, Charles Baldwin, who could start at right tackle next season after Dominick Jackson’s departure.
For 2017, D.D. Bowie has the makings of an instant-impact wide receiver when he gets to campus.
You can see Alabama’s full list of 2016 commitments here and 2017 pledges here.
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.