TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama began its quest to find a new starting quarterback with five candidates on campus and a big-name position coach in Lane Kiffin.
The Crimson Tide opened spring practice Saturday on an idyllic, sunny afternoon in what likely amounts to Phase 1 of the search for AJ McCarron's successor as the offensive leader. Alabama, winner of three of the past five national titles, hopes it also starts the team on a path toward redemption after losing its final two games.
Florida State transfer quarterback Jake Coker won't arrive until this summer after graduating but is already the presumed front-runner for the starting job.
"I think all of you know that the quarterback competition this spring is going to be something that a lot of people are going to get a lot of opportunity at," Saban told reporters. "Jacob is not going to be here in the spring, but he's certainly going to get an opportunity when he gets here as well.
"That's going to be the goal to develop each of our quarterbacks and see which one we feel would have the best opportunity to be successful next year."
Saban said the mobile Sims is still working on becoming a more consistent passer. Kiffin, a former Tennessee and Southern California head coach, replaced Doug Nussmeier as the Tide's new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
- Nick Saban for president! No, not that president. The Alabama head coach received a few write-in votes for SGA president, outpacing some of his own players in the process.
- Miracle man Chris Davis is no longer in Auburn's secondary. But the Tigers do have some talent returning at cornerback. Here's a good breakdown of the position to get you ready for spring practice on The Plains.
- As stated earlier, Arkansas opens spring camp this weekend. For those you who like to plan ahead, here's a full rundown of the Razorbacks schedule.
- Our very own Mel Kiper Jr. sees former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going No. 3 overall to the Jaguars in the upcoming NFL draft. But he could also see the talented defensive end ending up in other locations.
- He's battling inconsistency, but Vols wideout Von Pearson is being described by his coach as "ultra-talented." His offensive coordinator would one-up that assessment, calling the 6-foot-3 target "very, very, very talented."
- Maty Mauk is clearly the leader to become Missouri's starting quarterback, but he's no incumbent. Trent Hosick is aiming to compete for the job, himself. But the quarterback room, as he describes it, is "loaded."
- It's early, but the defense is running a little ahead of the offense at LSU. Les Miles said, as only Les Miles could, that "there's a lot of speed and get-to-the-ball" on defense.
- Vanderbilt needs more playmakers on offense with Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause gone. That's why Derek Mason moved talented freshman C.J. Duncan from quarterback/running back to receiver, where he has no game experience.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There’s a lot that stands to happen during spring practice at Alabama, but naming a starting quarterback isn’t one of them. Nick Saban has made it clear he and his staff are in no rush to find AJ McCarron’s replacement under center, adding that it would only be fair to give every quarterback a shot at winning the job. That, of course, comes as a nod to the only quarterback not yet on campus, soon-to-be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, who should finish his degree and get to campus in May.
If Coker wasn’t the frontrunner to land the job, why wait? Why not have the quarterback competition begin in earnest now and let the chips fall where they may? Is it really fair to make those already on campus wait? If one of them looks like the starter this spring, would it be right to hold off on making that decision? Wouldn't some continuity benefit everyone involved?
The inevitable answer to nearly every question surrounding Alabama’s quarterback competition is that Coker -- barring someone coming out of nowhere -- will remain the favorite through spring practice and on into fall camp. From everything that’s been reported, he might be the most talented option on the roster. And after three years at a very similar offensive system at Florida State, he might be the most experienced option on the roster, too.
But all that is not to say that someone can’t make a name for himself this spring. The quarterbacks currently in camp aren’t chopped liver, remember. They are all talented and eager and have the benefit of a head start. Should someone perform well and catch the eye of the coaching staff during these next 15 practices, he very well could get a leg up on Coker and the rest of the competition heading into the fall.
So who is best equipped to do that? Let’s handicap the race, ranking the quarterbacks from most likely to succeed to least.
1. Cooper Bateman: Long time, no see. You came to Alabama early in 2013 as a highly regarded prospect, the No. 3 pocket passer in the ESPN 300. Since then, we haven’t heard much from you. Of the two guys ESPN ranked above you -- USC’s Max Browne and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg -- one has already won a starting job and the other is competing for one this spring. Can you do the same? You redshirted last season, which is normal for first-year quarterbacks, but what did you learn in that time? Did it mean anything to you when Alabama went and signed another blue-chip quarterback, David Cornwell? Did you think anything of Alabama then going out and getting Coker from Florida State? There has already been one highly thought of quarterback like you come to Tuscaloosa, fall behind and transfer (former No. 1 QB prospect Phillip Sims). Will you do the same? Or will you show us what made you a top recruit only a year ago?
2. Alec Morris: What are we to think of you, Alec? On the one hand, you look the part. You’re a big dude at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, bigger than any Alabama quarterback on campus last year. And when you rear back to throw the football, it has some zip on it. Redshirting your first year on campus didn’t hurt you, but your lack of pass attempts last season -- as in, zero -- doesn’t bode well. If Blake Sims really isn’t the guy for the job this season, why didn’t you play ahead of him? You got into one game all season, while he got into eight and threw the ball 29 times. None of those passes was meaningful, the game always being well in hand by the time he stepped on the field, so why not give those valuable reps to you and get you ready for 2014? The hope for you is that last year was no indication of future success, but that’s a tough thesis to subscribe to.
3. Parker McLeod: We don’t know much about you, Parker, except that you’re supposedly very smart, very tall and have red hair. None of that’s going to hurt you. Heck, Greg McElroy had the same hue of hair. But on a more serious note, you weren’t as highly regarded as your fellow Class of 2013 quarterback. You were a three-star prospect and the fifth-best quarterback in the state of Georgia, according to ESPN. Still, you’re a wild card after redshirting your first year on campus. We didn’t see much of you. You have good size (6-3, 193 pounds) and you do have that red hair going for you. Now build on that.
4. Blake Sims: Sorry, Blake. It’s understood that you’re the most experienced man for the job. With 18 games under your belt at quarterback and all of last season as McCarron’s top backup, you probably understand the offense better than most. You’re definitely the most athletic.You’re dangerous when you run the read-option and get the ball into open space. The problem is we don’t know what you can do throwing the football, especially from the confines of the pocket. Until we see that, it’s hard to say you’re the man for the job -- not for a coaching staff that values balance on offense.
5. David Cornwell: You’re talented, sure. Big, strong, a cannon for an arm; you have the look of an SEC quarterback down the road. But right now you’re too young. You just got on campus in January and, on top of that, you missed much of your senior season in high school with a knee injury. You say your rehab has gone well and you’re ready to compete, but that’s asking a lot. The good news for you is that everyone will be starting from scratch under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The question is whether you can pick up your first college playbook faster than those that have been doing it longer than you.
What’s new: The coaching staff has gone under some serious reconstruction. In fact, it looks a lot like Nick Saban’s staffs of old with Kevin Steele as the linebackers coach and Bo Davis as the defensive line coach. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart moved back to coaching the secondary to allow for Steele’s return. And let’s not forget the one new face on the staff, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. You might have heard of him.
On the move: When Saban last spoke to the media a week ago, he said there was “no news on who’s playing what position and who the quarterback is.” But there will be movement. Look for some tweaking in the defensive backfield this spring. Much like last year,when Saban asked offensive players Dee Hart, Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones to try their hand at cornerback, he might ask someone like ArDarius Stewart to see if a return to defense is in order. Considering the lack of depth at cornerback and the departure of safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, the coaching staff might need to plug some holes in the secondary with some surprise players.
New faces: Aside from the handful of early enrollees fresh out of high school, there are four junior college transfers to watch, including the return of former Alabama defensive end D.J. Pettway. There’s also tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith, who was at Georgia once upon a time and could add to the passing game behind O.J. Howard; defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who could help plug the middle at 315 pounds; and offensive tackle Dominick Jackson, who was ranked as the No. 1 player at his position and could challenge to replace Cyrus Kouandjio.
Question marks: We’ve detailed the problems in the secondary and hinted at the battle at left tackle, leaving a major unanswered question as to who replaces C.J. Mosley on defense. The former All-American linebacker was the heart and soul of the unit. We know Trey DePriest wants to take on the role, but is he ready? And who will play alongside him at inside linebacker? Reuben Foster was an immensely talented linebacker coming out of high school -- with a dramatic recruitment, no less -- but he played mostly on special teams as a freshman. He’ll have a lot of competition for playing time, with Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland hoping to emerge.
Key battle: Unfortunately, this one won’t be solved until the fall. But that makes the battle no less important. Alabama needs to find a starting quarterback to replace AJ McCarron, and until that’s resolved, it’s priority No. 1. Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer, won’t arrive on campus until May. So that leaves a bevy of unproven options under center. Blake Sims will get his shot after backing up McCarron last year, but it remains to be seen how the run-first athlete will do as a pocket passer. Beyond Sims, there’s rising sophomore Alec Morris and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod. If one stands out this spring, he’ll surely have the upper hand come fall and could challenge the presumed frontrunner, Coker.
Breaking out: It was a process started at the Sugar Bowl that many Alabama fans hope will continue right on into his sophomore season. Derrick Henry didn’t do much during the regular season, carrying the ball a total of 28 times. But all you’ll remember is the bowl game and his eight carries and one reception against Oklahoma, accounting for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He’s big (try 6-3 and 238 pounds) and he’s deceptively fast. With dreadlocks that stick out from under his helmet, picture a stretched out Trent Richardson. After losing a large chunk of practice last spring to a broken leg, he’ll have the benefit of a full offseason to climb the depth chart and nip at the heels of incumbent starter T.J. Yeldon.
Don’t forget about: Don’t sleep on Yeldon. He’s pretty darn good, with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons to start his career. But don’t forget Alabama’s depth at wide receiver. Whoever starts at quarterback will have plenty of receivers to throw to. Amari Cooper, who is among the best in the SEC when healthy, is just the tip of the iceberg. DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are two veteran pieces, and tight end O.J. Howard has the potential to be one of the disruptive offensive weapons in the league if he reaches his potential. Given the way Alabama has recruited of late, look for one or two blue-chip prospects to emerge. Chris Black has been waiting patiently, and Robert Foster seems poised to step up with a year of experience under his belt.
All eyes on: There’s going to be a quarterback competition, position battles and several new players will emerge. But keep an eye on Alabama’s attitude. Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa was shaken but not entirely derailed last season. Losing the final two games, to Auburn and Oklahoma, in such unspectacular fashion hurts. The question is how Alabama will respond. It worked out well after the 2010 season, but this isn’t the same team. There are quite a few leaders in need of replacing, and there might be something to McCarron’s criticism that a five-star sense of entitlement crept into the program. Righting the ship won’t be easy for Saban and his staff, but he will have the luxury of putting a gigantic chip on his players’ shoulders this offseason. How they respond is up to them.
Who was the most significant assistant coach addition in the SEC for the 2014 season? We'll let you tell us by going to our SportsNation poll and voting.
Interestingly enough, the guys on the Big Ten blog conducted a similar poll, and three of their five choices are moving over from the SEC -- Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to Michigan, Taver Johnson from Arkansas to Purdue and Chris Ash from Arkansas to Ohio State.
Four of the five candidates we've come up with in the SEC are coordinators. Go cast your vote, and we'll go over the results in the coming days.
Here's a quick look at the five candidates (listed alphabetically):
Jeff Grimes, offensive line coach, LSU: Grimes spent last season at Virginia Tech as the Hokies' offensive line coach, but he's no stranger to the SEC. He was Auburn's offensive line coach from 2009-12 under Gene Chizik and a part of the Tigers' 2010 national championship staff. Grimes, a 20-year coaching veteran, will also assume the role of running game coordinator at LSU. The Tigers return four starters in the offensive line.
Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Alabama: Kiffin and Nick Saban may seem like an odd pairing to most, but Saban has long respected Kiffin's mind for the game and his feel for calling plays. He's also a proven recruiter. Kiffin returns to the coordinator ranks after three head-coaching stints. He spent the past three-plus seasons at USC before being fired and was at Tennessee for a season (2009) before that. Kiffin was also the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for the entire 2007 season and part of the 2008 season before being fired.
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary, Georgia: Pruitt is back in the SEC after spending last season as Florida State's defensive coordinator. His FSU defense led the country in scoring defense in helping the Seminoles to the national championship. Pruitt, a finalist for the Broyles Award last season as the nation's top assistant coach, was the defensive backs coach at Alabama for three seasons (2010-12) and has been a part of three straight national championship staffs.
Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Florida: After a long association with David Cutcliffe, Roper moves back to the SEC to try and pump some life into a Florida offense that has struggled under head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators have never finished higher than 10th in the SEC in total offense under Muschamp. Roper spent the past six seasons as Duke's offensive coordinator. The Blue Devils set a school record with 54 total touchdowns last season. Prior to going to Duke with Cutcliffe, Roper spent all of his time in the SEC with stops at Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss.
Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary, Arkansas: Smith spent last season in the NFL as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebackers coach, but his previous 14 seasons were spent in the collegiate ranks. He was at Rutgers for four seasons and promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. His defense that season was ranked fourth nationally in points allowed (14.2). Smith was the defensive coordinator at Maine before joining the Rutgers staff. He inherits an Arkansas defense that finished 12th in the SEC in scoring defense in 2013, allowing an average of 30.8 points per game.
The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.
On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.
Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:
When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.
Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.
2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.
The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.
With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.
3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.
Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.
We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.
4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.
The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.
We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.
5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.
- Many of the NFL's elite attended Alabama's pro day yesterday, including coaches Chip Kelly, Marvin Lewis and Sean Payton. There, they saw former offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio state his case for a clean bill of health and former quarterback AJ McCarron shrug off the notion of pressure, saying "this is easy."
- Jake Holland and his 46 tackles are gone from Auburn's linebacker corps this spring. Here's a breakdown of the rest of the position group.
- Why doesn't college football have an early signing period? The AJC asked a few notable coaches for their opinions, including Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Tennessee's Butch Jones.
- The offensive guard position is a point of contention in Baton Rouge these days. Evan Washington is running with the first-team now, but he hasn't been the only one. The race to replace Trai Turner is an open competition.
- Tennessee defensive tackle Danny O'Brien says he's learned from his offseason arrest. In fact, he said he's glad it happened, and it's a lesson he'll take with him forever.
- Maty Mauk is Missouri's No. 1 quarterback, but that's not written in stone. "It's all about competition," said coach Gary Pinkel.
- Andre Dubose, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last season, was granted a sixth year of eligibility at Florida.
That's down from four head-coaching changes the previous year. In fact, Mason will be the 38th different head coach to coach in a game for one of the current SEC schools since the start of the 2004 season.
Even in the volatile world of the SEC, that's a ton. But change is a part of this league's fabric. With 11 of the 14 head coaches making $3 million or more per year, there is no such thing as a five-year plan anymore. Some would argue there's not even a four-year plan.
One assistant, Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, left for a head-coaching gig at Florida Atlantic. His former colleague with the Hogs, Chris Ash, left his post as co-defensive coordinator for the same job at Ohio State.
Georgia's entire defensive staff has a new look, triggered largely by Todd Grantham's move to Louisville as defensive coordinator. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt replaces Grantham along with three other new defensive assistants.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has his fourth different offensive coordinator since coming to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Lane Kiffin, who's no stranger to the SEC after his turbulent 14 months as Tennessee's head coach in 2009, will call the Tide's plays in 2014.
One of the most critical hires was at Florida, where offensive coordinator Kurt Roper comes over from Duke with the mission of resurrecting the Gators' offense.
Here's a rundown of the coaching changes (head coaches and position coaches only; number of new coaches in parentheses):
Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bo Davis, defensive line
Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Rumph, defensive line coach
Greg Brown, secondary
- Kevin Steele moves onto the field as inside linebackers coach and will serve as special assistant to the head coach. He was the Tide's player personnel director last season.
- Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will coach the secondary after coaching linebackers last season.
Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary
Clay Jennings, secondary
Rory Segrest, defensive line/specialists
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator
Charlie Partridge, defensive line
Taver Johnson, secondary
- Randy Shannon was promoted to senior associate head coach.
Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Summers, offensive line
Coleman Hutzler, special teams coordinator
Brent Pease, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Davis, offensive line
Jeff Choate, special teams/outside linebackers
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary
Tracy Rocker, defensive line/weak-side linebackers
Mike Ekeler, inside linebackers/special teams
Kevin Sherrer, strong-side linebackers/nickel backs
Todd Grantham, defensive coordinator
Chris Wilson, defensive line
Kirk Olivadotti, inside linebackers
Scott Lakatos, secondary
Craig Naivar, special teams/safeties
Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams/safeties
Jeff Grimes, offensive line/running game coordinator
Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams coordinator
Greg Studrawa, offensive line
Thomas McGaughey, special teams coordinator
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1)
Brian Johnson, quarterbacks
Les Koenning, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
TEXAS A&M (1)
Terry Joseph, secondary
Marcel Yates, co-defensive coordinator/secondary
- Jake Spavital will call plays in 2014 as offensive coordinator. He was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season.
- Clarence McKinney moves back to running backs after calling the plays last season as offensive coordinator.
Derek Mason, head coach
Karl Dorrell, offensive line/quarterbacks
David Kotulski, defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Marc Lubick, receivers
Keven Lightner, offensive line
Gerry Gdowski, tight ends
Brett Maxie, secondary
Kenwick Thompson, outside linebackers
Frank Maile, defensive line
James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/running backs
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Herb Hand, offensive line
Josh Gattis, receivers
Brent Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Sean Spencer, defensive line
George Barlow, secondary
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If you’ve watched Alabama football these past few years, then you know what Trey DePriest looks like in uniform. The No. 33 emblazoned on his chest, he’s a thickly built linebacker with a low center of gravity. He’s a complete player; good in tight quarters against the run and solid in space against the pass. He doesn’t shy away from contact, but he hasn’t always been at the center of it either since signing with Alabama in 2011. Instead, that honor belongs to All-American C.J. Mosley, who racked up 100 or more tackles in each of the past two seasons.
But with Mosley off to a career in the NFL, expect to see a new Trey DePriest on the field this spring. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior doesn’t figure to change much physically; he doesn’t need to. Between the ears, however, he should make significant strides. A vacuum in leadership has moved him to the forefront of Nick Saban’s defense, demanding that he be both productive and vocal in 2014. Looking good in uniform and showing flashes of promise won’t cut it anymore. DePriest must transform himself these next few weeks and months if Alabama’s defense is to live up to the lofty standards of seasons past.
Still, he has been consistently productive in somewhat of a lesser role. He stood out early as a playmaker on special teams with 25 tackles in 13 games as a freshman. In each of the past two seasons he’s ranked in the top three on the team in tackles: 59 as a sophomore and 65 as a junior. Mosley, by means of comparison, went from 37 tackles as a sophomore to 107 tackles as a junior. Both could have entered the NFL draft as underclassmen, but both decided to stay for their senior seasons. For Mosley, it paid off to the tune of another 100-tackle season and an even more inflated draft stock. The hope for DePriest is he does the same.
"He knows the defense just like I do," Mosley told reporters prior the Allstate Sugar Bowl. "If he comes back like I did, he'll evolve into that every-down linebacker role so people will be able to see his true talents. They'll see he can control the defense and be the only linebacker on the field and make all the calls."
When it comes to the matter of leadership, Mosley sees that capability in DePriest, too.
"If he stays, it will be him," Mosley said when asked who the leaders will be when he leaves. "He doesn't get a lot of credit, but he's a pretty good linebacker."
Said DePriest: “I’m definitely going to be ready to take on that job. Like I said earlier, I’m going to have to. Him and the other guys leaving like that, it’s going to be something that I have to do.”
The linebacker corps will be young next season. Sam linebacker Adrian Hubbard is off to the NFL and Jack linebacker Xzavier Dickson was suspended for the Sugar Bowl, though Saban said he’ll be back for spring practice. None of the three contenders to replace Mosley at inside linebacker -- Reuben Foster, Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland -- has ever started a game and together they combined for all of 45 tackles last season.
DePriest, more than ever, will be leaned on by the coaching staff. He has had the luxury of working with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart one-on-one in the past as his position coach, but now that responsibility falls to Kevin Steele, who was a defensive coordinator at Clemson (2009-12) before returning to Tuscaloosa last year as director of player personnel.
Maybe a new challenge and a new coach will be just what the doctor ordered for DePriest as he takes on the biggest test of his career at Alabama. As spring practice kicks off on campus this week, look for the senior to look the same but play like a new man.
A report from NFL Network circulated during the combine saying that several teams failed Kouandjio on his physical. His knee, which hadn’t been an obvious concern during his last two seasons at Alabama, was being described as “arthritic,” according to the report. In a draft process during which every ligament and abrasion is scrutinized, the news was potentially devastating -- so much so that Dr. James Andrews felt compelled to send a detailed report he described to CBSSports.com as Kouandjio's "true medical history” in which he said he “put out fires that aren’t even justified.”
“After the combine that night, my agent called me and said, ‘Hey, is there something wrong with your knee?’ I was completely confused. I said, ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with my knee,’” Kouandjio said at Alabama’s pro day Wednesday afternoon. “I thought he was joking. But he kept asking. I was surprised. I was like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with my knee. Is there a rumor out there?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, a couple of media things came out that there was something wrong with your knee.’
“It was interesting, but I never worried about it because I know and the film will tell you there’s nothing wrong with my knee.”
Kouandjio sustained a season-ending knee injury eight games into his freshman season at Alabama. The No. 1-ranked offensive tackle coming out of high school in 2011 made an apparent full recovery, starting every game as a sophomore and junior. Though he did play somewhat shakily in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, Kouandjio nonetheless decided to turn pro on the basis of a first-round draft grade.
The report about his knee sent red flags up as the draft looms in early May. But neither Kouandjio nor his agent were ever told he’d failed a physical. Kouandjio said it was stuff that “you guys wrote,” referring to the media.
Alabama coach Nick Saban echoed Kouandjio's statement. Saban lectured the media on inaccurate reporting and that he “can’t find anybody that failed the guy on a physical.”
“I’m not a doctor, but Cyrus played every game since he’s been here since he’s been back [from injury],” Saban said. “Never missed any time, never missed practice. You look at history being the best indicator of what the future is going to bring, he’s been able to perform extremely well, so that’s all I can go on -- my experience with him. It wouldn’t be a concern for me because I have watched the guy perform after his injury very effectively.”
Kouandjio, for his part, isn’t giving in to the potential distraction. Though he didn’t run the 40-yard dash at Alabama’s first pro day, he said it felt good to be out there and show how athletic he really is. While he was potentially nervous at the combine, he felt right at home in Tuscaloosa.
“I just went out there and did what I was born to do,” he said.
Kouandjio said he measured in at 6-foot-7 and 311 pounds, down 11 pounds from when he was weighed at the combine. It translated to the drills, he said.
“I felt lighter on my feet,” he said. “I wake up feeling lighter on my feet.”
Kouandjio will do more at Alabama’s next pro day in early April, but for now he’s pleased with his progress. He said he feels like he should be considered the top offensive tackle in the draft but that he’s not worried about where he’s taken. As with the medical reports, he’s willing to let the chips fall where they may and prove his value when he does get to the next level.
“I’m not the type of guy to get frustrated over matters that are out of my control,” he said. “All of these coaches know that there’s nothing wrong with my knee. I played two years. The fourth month after my knee surgery, I was out there playing until now. I didn’t miss a practice. I haven’t missed a game because of my knee. All the guys out here, all the coaches, know that. It didn’t bother me one bit.”
The team that drafts Kouandjio will be getting a player with high expectations for himself.
“I have personal goals,” he said. “I want to be known as an offensive tackle in the league that you can stick him there on the left side and he’ll block the guy, no matter who it is and no matter what week it is, and the quarterback never has to worry about that side. That’s my goal.”
Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy is on the backtracking front after taking a shot at Alabama coach Nick Saban on Twitter Tuesday night, when he went after Saban's backing of the now tabled 10-second proposal that had most offensive coaches in a real tizzy.
Here's what Gundy tweeted from his account (@OU_CoachGundy):
Looks like someone came up short again. You better take that SEC country somewhere else. Let's Play Faster. #Boomer
You don't need to be Albert Einstein to figure out the subject of Gundy's tweet. And Gundy didn't have to be an Einstein to realize that he might want to retract those electronic shots he fired. Within an hour of throwing that tweet together, Gundy deleted it and add an apology (which has also since been deleted):
I apologize for my last tweet. My passion for OU football is crazy. I respect the great college football teams. #Boomer Sooner
— Cale Gundy (@OU_CoachGundy)
It makes sense because OU likes to run the hurry-up, and its offense left the Crimson Tide's defense panting down on Bourbon Street. I'm all for having fun on Twitter and showing that you aren't a robot coach, but you have to be careful poking the bear that is Nick Saban. We don't know when Saban will get a rematch with the Sooners or Gundy, but you'd better believe this is something that will be in the back of his mind the next time that opportunity comes.
Saban might not publicly respond to Gundy, but he'll be thinking about it. His team will know. The people around him will know. And he'll wait until he gets his chance to strike.
Maybe, he'll just retaliate by taking it out on the hurry-up offenses he faces in 2014. I'm sure he's anxious to make on on-field statement.
- Missouri opened spring practice on Tuesday looking to build on the momentum of a 12-2 record last season.
- Spring practice got started at Vanderbilt, and with it the quarterback derby began as well. Presumed starter sophomore Patton Robinette looks to fend off redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary.
- Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton has been compared to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and is among Johnny Football's many advocates, calling him "a quarterback savant."
- LSU's first day in pads revolved around the "Big Cat drill," and there was a minor scuffle between DE Lewis Neal and OL Josh Boutte. The Tigers expect to have stiff competition at guard this spring.
- The first of Alabama's two pro days is today. Injured players Anthony Steen and Vinnie Sunseri are aiming for the second pro day on April 8.
- One year after signing a three-year contract, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gets a one-year extension.
- Auburn's message on Twitter about the now-tabled 10-second rule? "We're only going to get faster."
- Florida players are excited about the new offense that will be installed this spring.
- Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson chose not to go early into the NFL draft, and as a result he'll be facing greater expectations with the Vols.
- Former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, now head coach at his alma mater Texas Tech, said he felt conflicted about his time in College Station, Texas.
- If you remember watching Auburn running back Stephen Davis star in the mid-90s, this might make you feel a bit older. His son, Stephen Davis Jr. is a 6-foot-3 safety who is -- surprise, surprise -- favoring the Tigers in recruiting.
- Many coaches favor some form of an early signing period in football recruiting. Georgia's Mark Richt, however, says, "Be careful what we ask for."
- Athlon ranked all 128 NCAA coaching jobs. Florida, Alabama, Georgia and LSU made the top 10.
- Recently engaged Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw is a busy man preparing for the NFL draft.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s not going to be easy, but Cam Robinson is going to do it. The five-star prospect from Louisiana is still wet behind the ears, but that won’t stop him from claiming the left tackle position at Alabama. He'll be replacing another former highly-regarded recruit who played in his first eight games as a freshman before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Cyrus Kouandjio would recover and start 27 consecutive games as a sophomore and junior and is on pace to be taken in the first round of May’s NFL draft.
Whether Robinson develops into that successful an offensive tackle remains to be seen. Rather, today is reserved for the slightly less ambitious question of whether a true freshman can enroll early, beat out some stiff competition and start from Day 1 at a position that is widely considered the most pivotal on the offensive line. Robinson, who cuts an imposing figure at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, is the best equipped of Alabama’s eight early enrollees to answer with a resounding, “Yes.” And that’s saying something, if you take Nick Saban at his word.
“I’ve been really impressed with the eight freshmen that we have here,” the 62-year-old head coach of the Tide said last week. “I think that it's a huge advantage for them to be here. But they've all sort of done a nice job in the offseason program, are all guys that look like might be guys that can compete to help the team in some kind of way which I think is a real positive for us.”
Robinson gave up his final semester of high school -- prom, graduation, etc. -- to come to Alabama early and compete. It wasn’t a tough decision, he said, because it would give him the leg up he was after.
“I had to think about the long run, how it would benefit me when I get to college,” he told reporters on signing day in early February. “So it wasn't a tough decision at all.”
Coaches have told him he’ll play left tackle, he said, which is obvious when you look at his tape. He might be big, but he’s more than athletic enough to play on the outside. As his ESPN scouting report notes, he has “good initial quicks off the ball, ankle flexibility and the strength to deliver a jarring initial pop.” There are plenty of colorful adjectives one could use to describe the way he hits the second level of the defense.
“Of course I wouldn't mind starting,” Robinson said, “but that's something you have to ask coach about.”
For now, Saban isn’t saying. He wouldn’t put the pressure on a player like that. And Mario Cristobal, who is in charge of the offensive line, isn’t allowed to speak to the media.
That said, Robinson seems like he has humbled himself to the challenge of competing at Alabama. When asked what he needs to work on, his answer was very much to the point.
“Everything,” he said. “I need to work on everything. SEC man, with these defensive linemen, it's crazy. These guys are freak athletes. I'm working on everything I can to just get better overall.”
He’ll have challengers, but none with the upside he possesses. Leon Brown should figure into the competition, along with Brandon Greene and Brandon Hill. Dominick Jackson, who was the No. 1 offensive tackle in junior college last year according to ESPN, wasn’t signed by Alabama to sit and watch. He’ll push Robinson as much as anyone.
But there are already rumblings coming out of Alabama that Robinson will play as a true freshman, and spring practice hasn’t even begun. If his work ethic matches his physical tools, then the job very well could be his.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Kouandjio was talked about much in the same vein prior to his arrival in 2011. Had he enrolled early, he might have done more than play in eight games as a true freshman -- he might have started.
It’s going to be a tall task for Robinson to win the job and start from Day 1. That challenge will begin on Saturday when Alabama opens spring practice in Tuscaloosa. How Robinson fares over those 15 practices will either propel him to a starting role or set him on a course for later development. But given the landscape of things, bet on the more ambitious goal.
Projecting Impact Teams in 2015 Recruiting
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35