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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The best may be yet to come for Alabama

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. –- While it might surprise some that Nick Saban is on the doorstep of a national championship in only his third year at Alabama, senior offensive guard Mike Johnson looks around on the practice field every day and isn’t the least bit shocked.

Even now, Johnson is floored by all the talent Saban has brought in, and he has a message for anybody thinking the talent level is going to drop off next season.

Think again.

“The talent that we’ve brought in for the last two years is incredible,” Johnson said. “You look around, and it’s at all positions.”

Johnson says many of the guys who didn’t play huge roles this season, or maybe even redshirted, would be starting at a lot of other SEC schools.

“We’re losing three senior defensive linemen, and I really don’t think we’re dropping off too bad,” Johnson said. “We lose (Terrence) Cody, but go straight to Josh Chapman. We lose Lorenzo (Washington), but go to Marcell (Dareus). Then we’ve got guys who were injured like (Dont’a) Hightower and Damion Square who will be back. There’s just incredible depth on this team.”

And that’s not even counting some of the younger players fans haven’t had the chance to see in games yet that Johnson has seen every day in practice.

He thinks the Tide Nation will be pleased with what’s coming down the road.

“There are a lot of guys under the radar who really are going to blossom the next few years in this program,” Johnson said.

One of those guys is freshman quarterback A.J. McCarron, who’s been impressive enough in practice the second half of this season that he could be the one to go in Thursday if something were to happen to Greg McElroy.

Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain wouldn’t directly answer that question this week, but he made it clear how impressed he’s been with McCarron’s development.

And then there’s freshman running back Trent Richardson, who many in, and around, the program think has more pure ability and is more explosive than Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Richardson rushed for 642 yards as Ingram’s backup this season.

“Every year, coach Saban and the staff are bringing in better players,” senior linebacker Cory Reamer said. “I look forward to seeing where it all ends.”