08 June 2008
| Jimmy Johns - #10 - LB - 6-2 - 233 lbs - Brookhaven, MS - Brookhaven HS - 3 Varsity Letters
There have been very few players in recent Bama history that have been evaluated as poorly as Jimmy Johns was when he first arrived on campus. As a QB in high school Jimmy was the typical “run first” type of dominating athlete that beat people based on size and athleticism more than a specific skill set. He was the typical small-town QB that Bear Bryant made a priority because they were then, and in a lot of cases still are, the best athlete on their team, and they can be moved to a position in college where they can excel, if evaluated correctly and coached well.
Sadly for Jimmy, Alabama’s staff at the time saw a running back. Rather than completely bash Mike Shula and his staff, I will grant that Jimmy was a decently effective running back when given the ball. Over his first 2 seasons at Alabama he rushed for 485 yards on 104 carries, an average of 4.6 yards per. From a pure numbers standpoint, that made Jimmy look like a bruising type of back that you could rely on in short yardage situations.
But numbers don’t always tell the story. In watching him, most people saw a guy that ran too upright and too stiff to ever truly be a great running back, especially a bruising type back – those guys tend to specialize in the philosophy of “get below the pad level of the guy trying to tackle you” that made LSU’s Jacob Hester a good college running back.
A lot of folks saw what Joe Kines saw, though. As Bama’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at the time, Joe begged for the opportunity to get Jimmy on defense. Once Johns started playing special teams, and showing the propensity for being a big-hitting, head hunter type, this move should have been made.
But Jimmy didn’t want to move to linebacker. He liked offense and was sold on the idea of running back.
This happens all the time with players, and the typical response from coaches is to give the player 1 year - typically of the redshirt variety - to try the position. If real talent is displayed, then the player continues to get a shot there. If not, then you move him.
Nick Saban has indicated that he doesn’t like to move a player unless the player is in favor of the move. But my guess is that Nick Saban has a way of convincing a player to be in favor of a move, and Jimmy let the coaches know that he wanted to switch to defense prior to the practices for the 2007 Independence Bowl.
Unfortunately for Jimmy Johns, 3 wasted years at running back (just 3 total TDs) have given him just one season to show what he can do at linebacker. He has indicated a willingness to redshirt this season if necessary, to further learn the position, but with Bama’s lack of depth, especially at the WILL position, it’s unlikely he’ll be afforded that opportunity.
This willingness is another example in the ever-changing world of the behavior of Jimmy Johns. Last spring he won the Jerry Duncan, “I Love to Practice Award”, but followed that up by spending most of the summer and fall in the coaches’ dog-house because of problems with behavior and attitude. Despite playing in all 13 games, mostly on special teams, he only totaled 17 rushing attempts, with those coming in just 3 games, and 8 of them in mop-up duty against Western Carolina.
So here we are, heading into 2008, with a position move that a lot of people thought should have happened in 2005. Between Kevin Steele and Lance Thompson, Jimmy will get some of the best positional coaching that anyone learning the linebacker position could hope to have. He’ll have the entire summer to work on the mental aspect of playing linebacker. How much he works will likely determine how successful he’ll be in the fall.
: How effective of a linebacker Jimmy can be will likely go a long way towards determining the success of Bama’s linebackers. He was tried at both the WILL and SAM positions during the spring, and while he didn’t absolutely struggle, he didn’t absolutely shine either. If Prince Hall and Zeke Knight both return to the team (doubtful on both cases) then Jimmy might redshirt. Otherwise it is very likely that he’ll have to play, especially early in the season while the incoming freshman are still adjusting.
There are not many players that have captured the imagination and interest of the fans of the last 3 years than Jimmy Johns. And to this point, most of that has been unwarranted, because Jimmy has simply not performed to an extent worthy of the attention and praise he has received. A lot of that was based on potential, though, and for many that potential was always at LB. Had this move been made 2 years ago, I think he might have made a good LB.
Now? I don’t hold out much hope. I'd love to be proven wrong.
Next up tomorrow: John Parker Wilson