There was a time at Alabama in which we barely knew anything about recruits. I never knew who had been signed beyond the occasional big time blue chipper. We always looked over the roster in the program during the first game and scanned for freshmen. Most we knew nothing about and often looked for someone who was larger than average.
There was no Internet to give me every minute detail about young players, and at that time only the bluest of blue chip players played early. Most players expected to work for two to three years to get on the field. Some didn’t crack the lineup until their senior year.
Today things are somewhat different. One big difference is that players can and often do head to the NFL (heretofore referred to as “Satan”) after three years on campus. Another big reason is the dramatic improvement in high school coaching and conditioning. Players arrive at college today more prepared to play.
In spite of that, I believe it’s unfair to label a second-year player a failure if he has not played. However, facts are facts, and Nick Saban is recruiting high quality recruits and plenty of them. He is recruiting more than he has room for, and players at the bottom are going to be sacrificed.
Although no one can know the heart of a man or predict what he can accomplish when his back is against the wall, here is a rundown of non-freshman scholarship players who didn’t contribute much last year.
Offensively, running back Terry Grant went from starter to fifth string. Everyone was excited to see what Grant could do this year, and his disappearing act from the Alabama offense was one of the biggest surprises of 2008.
Many have speculated that the style of offense and the type of back preferred by Saban does not match up well with his skill set, but I believe it is more than that. I didn’t see the same burst of speed from Grant that I saw before his injury at the end of 2007. Grant’s pass blocking skills may have been another reason you didn’t see him more.
Demetrius Goode came in with a lot of promise, but a blown knee in the first day of fall practice in 2007 seems to have derailed his career to this point. It’s not unusual for such a catastrophic injury to take two years to heal, so I would hope that Goode could bounce back next year, but that is not a guarantee.
Brandon Gibson failed to register a catch in ’08, but a lack of depth at the position will likely open the door for him in 2009
Chris Underwood is built in the same mold as Brad Smelley, but barring an injury to Smelley, Underwood’s future could be limited to trash time.
A trio of offensive linemen, Brian Motley, Evan Cardwell, and William Vlachos, find themselves looking somewhat, shall we say, “gravity challenged” by comparison to current incoming road grader impersonators.
It is important to note that you don’t have to be 6’6” to be an effective blocker, but the three would need to show some ground-chewing grit that we have not yet witnessed to get on the field with such massive recruits as Saban is bringing in. One larger upperclassman, Taylor Pharr, is 6’6”, but he has yet to get on the field as well.
There are a number of upperclassmen—seven, to be exact—in the secondary, so pretty much everyone who can fog a mirror should be able to keep their free ride, but that is not the case at defensive line, which entered last year as a question mark but after this recruiting class should be considered an area of strength and potential.
Milton Talbert and Nick Gentry have shown neither the quickness to be a speed rusher nor the size to hold the line. This is not a knock on them personally, as I have noticed they play as hard and tenaciously as anyone, but with so much talent coming in, they must make headway up the depth chart.
At linebacker, Jennings Hester, Alex Watkins, and Charlie Kirschman haven’t played, and with newly minted five-star super recruit Nico Johnson and possibly a few more four-star recruits coming in this year, along with a now maturing Chris Jordan and Jarrell Harris, the prospects do not look good. Additionally, Chavis Williams never saw the field after midseason last year.
If you take this list next fall, I would bet money one or more of these guys will come out of nowhere and be a big contributor. As stated earlier, you never know what a kid can do. Sometimes the light just comes on, and it only takes one big play in the right game to put you in a wall painting that would immortalize you forever. I have a picture of a game-winning last second TD catch by Matt Caddell on my wall at home that proves the point.
But for many, the grim reaper is creeping up on their Alabama careers, and the door of opportunity is slowing swinging shut.
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