30 August 2009
With today being an off day for the players, I thought I would close this series of breaking down the Bama players. If you missed the redshirt freshman
or the sophomores
, just click on the handy links to check those out. The seniors each got their own individual profiles, and you can check them out here
. I'll take a look at breaking down the incoming freshmen after they've played a handful of games.
For now, the junior class is up:
Earl Alexander - #82 - WR - 6-4 - 216
After an injury plagued 2008, Earl is looking to become a more consistent part of the passing attack. There is no question that he has a lot of tools, but the adjustment from quarterback in high school to wide receiver in the SEC has taken longer than some folks would have liked.
Expectations be damned, the bottom line is that in two years of playing, Earl has caught 11 passes for 156 yards and no touchdowns. I don't think it would be a stretch to say that there is improvement to make. And before it sounds like I'm jumping all over Earl, he did improve considerably between 2007 and 2008.
Eight of his 11 career receptions came last season, and you have to think that he would have had more if he could have stayed healthy. He's remained healthy throughout the fall, though he is likely fifth or sixth in the receiver rotation right now.
Even though the play resulted in a fumble, we all got a glimpse at the type of player that Earl can be early in the Tide's game at Baton Rouge this past year. The goal now has to be to make plays like that not only end up being touchdowns instead of fumbles, but to also have them happen much more frequently.
He isn't first in line to try to become that secondary threat to Julio Jones, but he is first among the other big receivers on the team. How much he contributes will likely depend on how much Alabama has to throw the ball. If the Tide is a run-first team like they were in 2008, then the opportunities won't be there for that many guys. If Bama becomes more balanced, or <gasp> more pass oriented then Earl will get his touches.
James Carpenter - #77 - OL - 6-5 - 305
We need to learn something as a fan base.... when Nick Saban signs a player from Junior College, he expects that player to contribute immediately. I don't think it's fare to expect Carpenter to have the same type of game-changing impact that Terrence Cody had in 2008, but he is replacing the best offensive lineman in college football last year.
To say that his addition to the team has been an important one would be like saying that Gene Chizik has struggled to win games in his career as a head coach. And you could have said that after spring practice, when he was still struggling with the position a little.
Despite those struggles, he still managed to lock down the left tackle position after the spring. The great thing is that he didn't relax, confident that his spot was safe. A giant 18 year old from Foley might have had something to do with that, but the reasons honestly don't matter. What matters is that he went through a pretty solid physical transition after being in Scott Cochran's off season program.
Now he's a player that Mike Johnson commented on as being not much of a drop-off from Andre Smith. That could be purposeful hyperbole on the part of Bama's leader on the offensive line, in an attempt to help build confidence in Carpenter. Or it could be that the big fellow is ready to keep the left side of Bama's line the strong side.
I'm not in favor of judging a player based on his performance in one game, but if he is dominant on Saturday against a solid front from Virginia Tech, this could be a great year.
Luther Davis - #96 - DL - 6-3 - 299
You know how Nick Saban talks about developing players as complete people
? Last year at this time a lot of folks (myself included) were questioning if Luther had the commitment level to continue as an SEC player. He missed some time in the spring of 2008 when he, rumor has it, he was homesick and deciding whether or not he wanted to remain at Alabama.
Thankfully Luther did come back, and he turned in a pretty solid season in 2008 - 12 tackles with 2.5 for a loss in very limited time. He built on that in the spring, and reported to fall camp in awesome condition.
While he is still running with the second team behind Brandon Deaderick at the right defensive end spot, he will get substantial playing time his year. Nick Saban and Bo Davis like to rotate their defensive linemen when they can, and Luther has sent a strong message that they can.
Don't be surprised to see if Luther ends up lining up alongside Marcel Dareus in Bama's rabbit package, with the two of them sliding inside to defensive tackle positions - with Eryk Anders and Dont'a Hightower outside of them. Luther has shown a solid propensity for getting pressure on the quarterback in the spring and fall, and this could be his ticket to more playing time.
Either way, he's not only poised for a lot of playing time in the defensive end rotation, but he is likely the presumptive starter at the right end in 2010 after Deaderick graduates.
He's also on target to get his degree.
So this is a young man who struggled mightily in his first two seasons on campus, only to have the support of his head coach. What happened? He transformed as a player, and matured as a person. And that's the type of development that Coach Saban talks about.
Preston Dial - #85 - TE - 6-3 - 245
It seems like Preston has been on the verge of substantial playing time in each of the last two seasons, only to wind up being the third tight end. He has still played, mostly in short yardage and goal line situations, but he's yet to make the leap into one of the two spots that see the majority of the playing time.
To be fair, he was behind two seniors last year in Nick Walker and Travis McCall. And there is a senior ahead of him again in 2009 in Colin Peek. The problem for Preston is that right now Brad Smelley is also ahead of him, though the two guys play a totally different style of tight end.
Preston will see time this year, mostly at the H-Back position. His main competition there will be Baron Huber, who converted from fullback this off-season. Preston has played the position before, and has shown a great ability to be a lead blocker, so I expect to see him be the guy in short yardage and goal line situations.
If he wants to play more than that, he'll likely have to battle Smelley for time in the flex tight end spot - the guy that lines up off of the line of scrimmage and primarily heads down field as a receiving threat.
The other thing to watch is that he is the first person in line to play behind Colin Peek if the senior's nagging foot injury causes him problems during the season.
There are two talented redshirt freshmen that will push for playing time, but I expect Preston is well ahead of them at this point.
I don't expect Preston to be as involved in the passing attack as either Peek or Smelley, but his catches will probably be big ones. When you are playing mostly in short yardage and goal line situations, receptions tend to go for either first downs or touchdowns. Preston is a good enough athlete to carry out a play fake, and get open in these situations, and I expect we'll see a big catch or two from him in 2009
Terry Grant - #29 - RB - 5-10 - 190
Right after the Sugar Bowl, I wouldn't have given you $5 for Terry's chances of being with the Alabama football team in 2009. There were rampant rumors about him transferring, mostly to North Alabama. And considering he went from 180 carries in 2007 to 35 carries in 2008; who could blame him?
But here he is, still working his tail off every day to make the University of Alabama football team better. I gotta tell you, it's not hard to pull for a kid like that.
The good news for Terry is that he is set to possibly be more involved with the offense this season. I don't think he'll be one of the three back who get the bulk of the carries in the base offense, but I do believe that there is a role being created for Terry.
I think we'll see him used on jet sweeps, screen passes, wheel routes, and quick pitch plays. I'm guessing we'll also see him involved in some two back, shotgun sets, that force the defense to respect Terry's speed along with the other running back's normal skill set.
I'm also guessing that we will continue to see him on special teams. He was a big part of Bama punt and kick coverage units in 2008, and will likely play that role again in 2009.
How much time he sees in those specialized offensive sets will likely depend on how much Bama needs to run them. In 2008 the Tide simply lined up and ran the ball down a team's throat. If Bama can do that again in 2009, then Terry might be on the outside looking in. However, if Bama decides to (or is forced to) become more diverse, I expect you'll see Terry on the field more.
Kareem Jackson - #3 - DB - 5-11 - 192
How many times have you heard someone say that a defensive back has to have thick skin and a short memory? Kareem would be a prime example of that. Not only was he matched up against the opponent's best receiver every week, the fans seemed to think he had a poor season because he gave up some completions... all while the Tide front seven failed to generate any type of consistent pass rush.
Yes, Javier Arenas did a great job as a coverage corner last season. He also did it while coverage the other team's second or third best receiver. Kareem is still Alabama's top coverage guy, and until we see another defensive back lined up against that #1 receiver, he will remain that.
He is also a prime example of Nick Saban's ability to evaluate. He was a late addition to the class of 2007 - Nick Saban's first at Alabama. The coach quickly located him, determined that he was an SEC caliber player, and brought him to Tuscaloosa in time for the 2007 spring practice. The result was Kareem being a starter in 2007 and 2008.
Kareem will give up some receptions this year. Playing the top receiver on the other team every week all but guarantees that. How many he gives up will likely depend on two things:
1) how good the safety replacing Rashad Johnson ends up being.
2) how much consistent pass rush the Tide is able to generate.
I'm not concerned about Kareem, though. I'm one of the few people that think he had a very solid 2008 season. And I'm guessing he'll have a solid 2009 to back that up.
Rolando McClain - #25 - LB - 6-4 - 255
Simply put, this guy is the best linebacker in college football. The only questions regarding Rolando at this point are whether or not he'll develop into the type of vocal leader that Nick Saban wants him to be, and how high of a draft pick will he be in next April's NFL Draft.
Yes, I know he told Chris Low of ESPN during SEC Media Days that he might come back. He also told a crowd of reports five minutes later that he would sit down at the end of the season and discuss things with his family and with Coach Saban. I'll be both shocked and thrilled to see him in Tuscaloosa next season.
So enjoy him this year. He likely won't put up 130 tackles because there are too many other talented players on the defense for him to have that many. What he will do is make every play that comes his way, plus more than a few that he has to go out of his way to make.
His combination of size and speed is not seen often at the middle linebacker position - which makes is more amazing that Dont'a Hightower is virtually the same size and playing alongside him. But when you throw in the fact that he is an extremely smart player, capable of handling all of the mental aspects of the game... well, you get an All-American and a potential Butkus Award winner.
Expect nothing short of greatness from Rolando in 2009. You won't be disappointed.
Greg McElroy - #12 - QB - 6-2 - 220
The most popular person on the University of Alabama campus is the backup quarterback. And because Greg McElroy has never thrown a bad pass as the starting quarterback for Alabama, there is a frenzy of excitement surrounding his ascension into the starting spot.
Some of that is fueled by the fact that he sat for three years behind Washington Redskins backup quarterback Chase Daniel in high school before finally getting a shot as a senior - and leading his team to a state championship while setting several Texas state records on the way.
And in case you aren't aware... high school football in Texas is no joke.
Some of that is also fueled, though, by the words coming from current team mates. The players on the Alabama team seem very confident that Greg can not only step into the void left by John Parker Wilson, but also make the Alabama offense more diverse and prolific.
Having said all of that, here's the bottom line - Greg McElroy will make more plays than John Parker did; he will also make more mistakes. The balance of those big plays versus the mistakes will ultimately determine whether or not Alabama is back in Atlanta in early December.
Greg is an extremely smart and capable guy, who happens to be a great leader. He also possesses some very solid quarterback skills. Does all of that guarantee success? Of course not. He's still got to show the ability to walk out on the field and deal with the pressures of playing quarterback at the highest college football level.
He has far more quality players around him than John Parker had when he took over the starting role from Brodie Croyle. And, in the end, that should be what helps Greg succeed.
Brian Motley - #66 - OL - 6-2 - 289
Brian spent most of spring practice in a battle with John Michael Boswell for the starting right guard spot. And at the close of the spring, it looked like he had won the job. It took all of a week of fall camp for Alfred McCullough and Boswell to start getting reps ahead of him at the position, though. Now it looks like Barrett Jones is the guy at the position, leaving Motley, potentially, out in the cold.
The more staggering thing is that for the last two weeks of practice Motley was actually working with the third group at right guard, behind true freshman Anthony Steen. Is it possible that he entered fall camp as the starter at the position, only to head into the season as the third string guy?
Motley's versatility will help him. He might show up second on the depth chart tomorrow, or he might not show up at all. But the fact that he is capable of playing both guard spots, as well as the center position, will keep in the mix for playing time all season. The fact that Nick Saban and Joe Pendry like to move guys around in the second and third groups will make it difficult for him to see substantial playing time.
Still, you have to wonder how it was that he was working with the first group on A-Day... and whether or not that spark could reignite. If the first unit line struggles, and the Tide begins to look towards its secondary guys for help, I have to think that Motley might get one of the first chances to contribute.
Taylor Pharr - #68 - OL - 6-6 - 288
At the close of 2007 spring practice Drew Davis was in a similar position. He just simply couldn't add enough weight to meet the coaching staff's requirements for what they were looking for. He managed to add the weight during the off season, and will now be a two year starter at the right tackle position.
Taylor is the player that was most affected by that. At the close of that spring, it looked like Taylor might be the guy to lock down the right tackle spot. Now, not only is he not the starter, but he could be the seventh tackle on the team. Seventh. James Carpenter, Drew Davis, Tyler Love, Alfred McCullough, D.J. Fluker, and John Michael Boswell have all been getting consistent reps ahead of him.
Still, he is one of the strongest players on the team, and an off season that sees him gain 15 to 20 pounds could easily put him back in the mix in 2010. But, honestly, I just don't see him cracking the depth chart in 2009. There is just simply too much talent ahead of him. It is possible that we could see him on special teams, working with the field goal and punt protection units.
This is a kid that works his butt off every day in practice, and every day in the classroom - he was an SEC Academic Honor Roll member in 2008. He is a valuable member of the scout team, and has played in 13 games in his career. The fact that Alabama has a guy like this buried at seventh on the depth chart at a position say a lot
more about the depth that Nick Saban has created than it does anything negative about Taylor Pharr.
David Ross - #74 - OL - 6-3 - 295
I don't think that the depth chart will actually show it, but I am guessing that David could be the primary backup at as many as three position on the offensive line. He was the first interior lineman off of the bench last season, and could very likely be looking at filling that role this year.
He has been in the battle for the starting position at center since the open of spring practice, though he has worked steadily behind William Vlachos this fall. He has also spent some time working with the second unit at both the left and right guard spot.
My guess is that he will show up on the depth chart as the backup at center, but will continue to be that first interior guy off of the bench if an injury happens. Having a guy with this type of skill and versatility on your team is an absolute must if you truly hope to compete for a championship, unless you have the best injury luck in the world.
David's name is not one you will hear a lot about this season, unless the injuries occur, but he could end up being one of the most important players on the team in 2008.
Milton Talbert - #90 - LB/DL - 6-3 - 263
After spending his entire career at defensive end, Milton began working with the jack linebackers at the open of fall camp. This came as quite a shock to me, though it really shouldn't have. At 263 pounds, he simply isn't big enough to play end in a 3-4 defense. This coaching staff excels at finding ways for a player to help the team, and it looks like Milton's best avenue for doing that is at the jack linebacker.
I don't know that he is quite fast enough to play the type of dynamic jack linebacker that the coaches are ultimately looking for. What he is capable of doing, though, is playing a similar style of jack that Brandon Fanney played in 2008. He's not quite as big as Brandon, but does have more recovery speed to correct any mistakes that might get made.
The fact that Alex Watkins recently made the move over to the same linebacker tells me that Milton is probably progressing nicely at the jack. Milton had been working behind Eryk Anders, Courtney Upshaw, and Watkins at the position. While Watkins' move might simply have been to give him more opportunity, I don't think the staff would have moved him from the jack without being somewhat confident in Milton's ability to play if Anders and Upshaw are unable to fill the role.
The fact that he was recruited by a different staff, to play a completely different role, and he is still in Tuscaloosa speaks volumes about him. He's flown under the radar since day one, mostly because he is a 4-3 defensive end playing in a 3-4 system. The jack linebacker could be the answer to him seeing playing time, though I do think he is still the third or fourth best option there (if you throw Dont'a Hightower into the mix).
That is going to make it difficult for Milton to see substantial playing time in 2009, but Eryk Anders being a senior could open the door for more time 2010. Milton did get some time in 2008 late in the season as Bama was trying to generate a pass rush. If he can improve his skills in that area, that will likely be his ticket to playing time.
Chavis Williams - #55 - LB - 6-4 - 223
After logging a sack in the Clemson game to open the 2008 season, Chavis basically disappeared. Think I'm kidding? That was his only tackle of the season. In his defense, Bama played so much nickel defense in 2008, and the sam linebacker is the guy that comes off of the field in that formation, that there just weren't very many opportunities.
Cory Reamer is still the starter at that position, ahead of him. However, Jerrell Harris has been moved to the will linebacker spot, which slides Chavis up in the rotation. He was running second unit until about the half way point in 2008, before Harris passed him. With Harris now gone inside, he's back working with the second group.
Now he's got a battle on his hands fending off Alex Watkins and true freshman Jonathan Atchison. At this time, it looks like he's still ahead of both of those guy, but not by much.
It is odd to me that Chavis hasn't been more involved. He is a pass rush specialist on a team that is desperate to create a pass rush. So why hasn't he been more impactful? To be honest, I have no clue. There has been no evidence (or rumor, even) of any off of the field problems. So what is holding him back?
This should be a very important year for Chavis. Reamer is a senior, so the starting spot at the sam will be up for grabs next spring. If he can manage to stay in the playing rotation all year in 2009, and be effective, he could be looking at a starting spot in the fall of 2010. If he struggles to find time on the field, or falls behind Watkins or Atchison, then he might not ever get the chance to be a significant contributor on defense.
Having said that, don't be surprised to see him wind up on the kick coverage units. He is big and fast, and has the skill set to be a great wedge buster.
That does it for the junior class at Alabama... a very small class that is likely to have a big impact on the 2009 season. Of the 13 guys in the class, I expect four to be starters, and an additional five to be a major part of the rotation at their position. Forgetting raw numbers, though, the starting quarterback and the rock of the defense are both in this class. And that's enough to make it a very important group.