As Al.com announced, the Alabama Crimson Tide have added to their already-robust early enrollee numbers for the upcoming spring practice.
Mac Jones will join Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback. Running back and Tuscaloosa native Brian Robinson will follow top recruit Najee Harris. Defensive backs Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright will shore up the depth in the secondary with January enrollee Kyriq McDonald.
For those keeping score at home, of the 26 members signed to the 2017 Alabama recruiting class, SIXTEEN will be available for spring practice in March.
That is bonkers.
What in God’s name did the coaches tell these kids?
“Son, we’re tryin’ to build something at Alabama and you’n help us get there.”
Yes, the Tide lost some key players, guys that were not only egregiously talented even by Nick Saban’s standards, but were two and three year starters. Big-time leaders.
But to somehow let on that this team doesn’t have a roster three deep of four and five-star guys laying in wait behind the ones who left is simply absurd.
Maybe that’s just the ever-evolving level of confidence these athletes have. Having watched their highlights, it’s understandable that they would believe in themselves to the point that coming in early for spring practice would put them in a prime position for playing time in the fall. It’s certainly worked before.
TJ Yeldon, Amari Cooper, Dee Milliner, Vinnie Sunseri, Trey DePriest, Derrick Henry and, most recently, Jalen Hurts all benefitted from not only going through spring drills early, but the college lifestyle in general.
And Saban has said on numerous occasions that he never forces the issue with the recruits. If they want to come and play, they’re more than welcome, but they will be subject to an entirely different culture than the one they are planning to leave.
Still, you have to think there’s something in the water that allows approximately 62 percent of this year’s freshman class to act as precociously as they are.
It’s interesting when you start to break down the numbers, though, because while most spots vacated have their next-in-line, they’re not necessarily locked up. Then, there are other positions completely up for grabs.
Yes, a true freshman started at quarterback in 2016, but doesn’t that also mean that Saban doesn’t have any qualms about starting a true freshman at quarterback? Hence, the presence of both Tagovailoa and Jones. Also, three quarterbacks who were on scholarship in 2016 with multiple years left all transferred because of said true freshman. Depth is very much important at that position right now.
The receiving corps lost two players, one of them being the second-most important offensive player on last year’s team in ArDarius Stewart. Trevon Diggs (younger brother of Stefon) should be in line to fill that void, but tell that to five-star Jerry Jeudy. He’s in Tuscaloosa early, along with the towering Tyrell Shavers and “athlete” Chadarius Townsend. Diggs only has a year on them, so they’re not going to be told that they don’t have a shot.
Across the offensive line, the left tackle and right guard positions are empty and most feel that 2016 freshman All-American Jonah Williams will move from his spot at right tackle to the left side. That leaves two spots on the right side very much in play with no real challengers, save for maybe Lester Cotton who’s probably in dutch with the boss at the moment. Five-star freshman Alex Leatherwood and top JUCO transfer Elliot Baker both could make headway in locking up either one of those spots this spring.
At tight end, star-yet-somehow-underutilized athlete O.J. Howard has used up his eligibility, leaving rising junior Hale Hentges and rising sophomore Miller Forristall. They both have plenty of experience over the the last 1-2 years, so early enrollee Major Tennison may have work a little overtime to get the coaches to take notice.
And, then, we have the running back unit. With the early addition of Harris and Robinson to the cadre of backs that took over many games last season, this will be the most talent-laden group in the country. As of right now, there are three former five-stars at the position and the guy that Rivals’ analyst Mike Farrell believes is the most talented running back coming out of high school since Adrian Peterson in Harris could just be another face in the crowd.
The defensive line could be a major opportunity for the three signed players in this class. Unfortunately, two of the remaining ten players not yet on campus reside at this very position. However, the other top JUCO player, Isaiah Buggs, is on campus and of all the incoming players, he’s the one who stands the best chance of starting. Right now it’s Da’Shawn Hand on one end and the other is available to be taken. Buggs has a good chance to be the guy.
The linebacker unit was also hit pretty hard with the exodus of seniors Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams. The use of multiple players at several positions leads one to think that Anfernee Jennings, Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller will seamlessly take over. Yet, five-star Dylan Moses who probably has the most raw talent out of all the freshmen will certainly state his case once spring practice begins.
All three defensive backs recruited for the 2017 class are officially on campus. Wright and McKinney join McDonald in hopes to merely break the two-deep with the amount of talent and experience coming back in the secondary. Yes, Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson are gone, but this will be the section of the defense that the early enrollees will just have to hope for a spot on kick-off and punt coverage in 2017.
That leaves the most important early enrollee of the 2017 class in Thomas Fletcher. Fletcher will be immediately replacing four-year starter Cole Mazza as the Tide’s long snapper next season. He’s already on campus and will almost certainly be the lead guy on punts and place kicks on A Day.
16 is a very large number to have in early for a program that doesn’t need them. Still, the goal is to always get the best guys on the field and nothing keeps a three-year starter in check better than a 17-year-old scrub itching for a spot on the field.
Stand by, because fall camp could be an interesting one in Tuscaloosa.