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    Recruiting 2011: Teamís biggest needs center on defense

    Recruiting 2011: Team’s biggest needs center on defense
    By Jess Nicholas
    TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
    Jan. 8, 2011

    It doesn’t take a football genius to know what Alabama was lacking the most during the 2010 season. Given that opposing quarterbacks could have worn fine-china helmets and emerged from battle with all headgear intact, a big priority for Alabama finishing up the 2010-2011 recruiting season is defense, defense and more defense.

    Alabama finished the regular season ranked 77th nationally (and dead last in the SEC) in tackles for losses and 75th in sacks, which makes finding linebackers and defensive ends that can get off blocks and apply pressure to opposing offenses a priority. Also on the checklist is at least one top safety, a quarterback and some help at wide receiver.

    What follows is a position-by-position ranking of what is most important to Alabama as recruiting approaches.

    1. Defensive end
    Players lost: Luther Davis, Marcell Dareus
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: Undra Billingsley, Darrington Sentimore, William Ming, Damion Square, Kerry Murphy, Anthony Orr, Glenn Harbin, Chris Bonds, Brandon Lewis
    Recruits targeted: Jadeveon Clowney, Jermauria Rasco, Ray Drew, Jeoffrey Pagan, Anthony Chickillo, Gabe Wright
    Recruits committed: Xzavier Dickson, D.J. Pettway
    Analysis: It wouldn’t be a surprise to see further attrition among Alabama’s current roster before the spring starts, first of all. As far as the players Alabama has committed at the position, Xzavier Dickson and D.J. Pettway are polar opposites. Dickson is long and lean and could play either Jack linebacker or weakside end, depending on his final weight. D.J. Pettway is a stockier Wallace Gilberry, and a likely strongside end. Both players’ stock has gone shooting upward recently, especially Pettway’s. Florida is gunning for him, but it appears he will stick with his early commitment to Alabama. Dickson is a recent commitment, and could get early playing time depending on who stays and who goes at the Jack position. Of the players Alabama is pursuing, the biggest carrot in the basket is Jadeveon Clowney, who dominated the Under Armour All-Star Game and is thought to be a South Carolina lean. He was pretty much a lock for the Gamecocks before Alabama hired Mike Rumph to replace Bo Davis as defensive line coach. Now, it’s a 50/50 fight. Rasco isn’t quite the player Clowney is, but he’s still one of the best available ends in this class. Drew and Chickillo are long shots, but Chickillo’s stock is rising thanks to a solid performance in the Under Armour game. He’s thought to be eventually headed to Miami. Jeoffrey Pagan is an extreme risk-reward player thanks to a knee injury – a similar injury to the one that slowed Chris Bonds’ development.

    2. Wide receiver
    Players lost: Earl Alexander, Julio Jones, Rob Ezell
    Players considering NFL: Marquis Maze
    Players returning: Darius Hanks, Brandon Gibson, Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White, Keiwone Malone, Hardie Buck, Nick Williams
    Recruits targeted: Devon Blackmon, Josh Pinkston, Nick Brassell, Izauea Lanier, Kelvin Benjamin
    Recruits committed: Danny Woodson Jr., Marvin Shinn, Bradley Sylve, Daryl Collins, Ronald Carswell
    Analysis: A lot depends on whether Marquis Maze comes back. The coaches expect him back, but with Julio Jones already declaring for the NFL Draft, Maze might want to go, too, rather than risk having to fight through double-teams for all of 2011. Maze was at his most effective when Jones was drawing safeties away from him. If Maze goes, Alabama will have to come up with two new starters to go along with Darius Hanks, and they’ll likely be Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White. White came on in fall camp and has a lot of fans, while Norwood is considered to be another Jason McAddley, but with much better hands. Alabama already has several players committed, including a grayshirt, Ronald Carswell, who is already in school. Carswell is cut from the same mold as Hanks, Gibson and Bell. Bradley Sylve is a Maze redux, while Woodson and Shinn are bigger receivers. Shinn is thought to be ahead of Woodson in development. Daryl Collins may be the most curious commitment of this class; he committed early but didn’t really draw a lot of media attention in his senior season. Alabama would like to get another receiver with good height, and Nick Brassell and Josh Pinkston are said to be the staff’s top targets. Lanier is not likely to get an offer unless a lot of things fall through. Blackmon and Benjamin are both highly rated but figure to be headed elsewhere. The most likely player to commit from the list of the uncommitted is Brassell, and it would be a coup to land his signature.

    3. Offensive tackle
    Players lost: James Carpenter
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: D.J. Fluker, Tyler Love, Alfred McCullough, John Michael Boswell, Arie Kouandjio
    Recruits targeted: Antonio Richardson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Watts Dantzler, Cameron Clear, Xzavier Ward
    Recruits committed: Aaron Douglas
    Analysis: At first blush, this doesn’t appear to be a position of need for Alabama. Boswell, Love and McCullough are all experienced players, and Arie Kouandjio almost got on the field as a true freshman. But the coaches disagree. They signed JUCO star Aaron Douglas, but Douglas received a DUI before he even made it to Alabama’s campus and he’ll have to be watched closely. Alabama’s top target is probably Cyrus Kouandjio, Arie’s brother, although the entire college football world is chasing Antonio Richardson. Richardson will likely pick Tennessee or Auburn and Watts Dantzler is currently committed to Georgia, but the Bulldogs are a grease fire at the moment and Dantzler could be turned. Clear is a longshot, with Tennessee, Ole Miss and Duke the most likely destinations. Xzavier Ward would give Alabama two players with the first name Xzavier, certainly a first in college sports, but Ward is thought to be a Georgia lean and his best position may be guard. Look for Cyrus Kouandjio to jump on board, but if he doesn’t, Alabama might stop with Douglas.

    4. Outside linebacker
    Players lost: Chavis Williams
    Players considering NFL: Courtney Upshaw
    Players returning: Alex Watkins, Jerrell Harris, Jonathan Atchison, Adrian Hubbard, Ed Stinson
    Recruits targeted: Ishaq Williams, Tony Steward, Curtis Grant, Curt Maggitt
    Recruits committed: Trey DePriest, Vinnie Sunseri
    Analysis: Alabama missed Cory Reamer greatly in 2010. Chavis Williams tried his best to fill in at Reamer’s strongside position, but never made an impact. Replacing Williams won’t be too difficult; Jerrell Harris has experience and Jonathan Atchison came on strong down the stretch before suffering an injury prior to the Capital One Bowl. The problem will come if Courtney Upshaw jumps to the NFL and leaves the Jack position vacant. Alex Watkins developed into a reliable situational pass rusher, but his build is too slight to be a full-time Jack. Ed Stinson appears to be on his way to defensive end after playing there during bowl practices. He was signed with the hopes of being the prototypical Jack, but he had a rough 2010, to be kind. Adrian Hubbard redshirted and will be watched closely in the spring. Both Tide commitments are SLB prospects. Trey DePriest will either play strong or move inside. Vinnie Sunseri looks like a more athletic version of Reamer, and really upped his stock during all-star games. Alabama would love to get either Tony Steward or Curtis Grant down the stretch, but Steward looks like he’ll end up at either Clemson or Florida State and Grant will probably pick between Ohio State and the two Virginia schools. Curt Maggitt is likely to head to Wisconsin, while Ishaq Williams doesn’t have a firm offer. He’s more of a Jack prospect than a strongside backer. Xzavier Dickson could play Jack if Upshaw leaves.

    5. Quarterback
    Players lost: Greg McElroy
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: A.J. McCarron, Phillip Sims, Morgan Oglive
    Recruits targeted: Akil Dan-Fodio
    Recruits committed: Phillip Ely
    Analysis: Alabama cast its lot with Phillip Ely, who will go through spring practice with the team. Akil Dan-Fodio, despite having one of the neatest names in the 2011 class, does not have an Alabama offer and is unlikely to get one. His stock has slipped a bit down the stretch. The great unknown for Alabama is how the loser of the spring quarterback battle will handle himself. If either A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims were to transfer out, it would leave Alabama with a true freshman backup, or perhaps walk-on Morgan Oglive. Alabama pursued former Georgia QB Zach Mettenberger, but Mettenberger is headed to LSU. Those looking for a surprise name to pop up late in the recruiting process could see it pop up here.

    6. Running back
    Players lost: Mark Ingram
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Demetrius Goode, Jalston Fowler, Corey Grant
    Recruits targeted: Isaiah Crowell, Malcolm Brown, James Wilder, Javorius Allen, Jeremy Hill
    Recruits committed: Dee Hart
    Analysis: It’s not so much the fact that Trent Richardson returns for Alabama, it’s the way the depth chart sets up behind him. Eddie Lacy looked very good at times this year, and very questionable at others. He quickly lost the role held by Roy Upchurch a year before after a pair of early-season fumbles, then got hurt and missed a big chunk of the year. Late in the season, he appeared to have gained substantial weight, but still was running hard and appeared to keep his speed. It almost appears as if Alabama doesn’t know what to do with him yet. Going into 2011, Demetrius Goode would figure to get more time based on his abilities as a receiver and as a blocker. He should get the third-down back role, while Richardson and Lacy split most of the carries. Jalston Fowler is a load, but he needs to learn the nuances of the position and must improve as a receiver. He’s also a candidate to move to Preston Dial’s H-back position. Corey Grant and commitment Dee Hart are both scatbacks. But the big reason running back is so high on the priority list is that Richardson has one more year left before he too is draft-eligible. Alabama’s top target is undeniably Isaiah Crowell, but pulling him out from under his beloved home-state Georgia Bulldogs is looking tougher than at the front end of the recruiting cycle. Malcolm Brown will likely head to Texas, but he’s the power back Alabama covets. James Wilder is already committed (Florida State) as a linebacker, but Alabama continues to pursue. Jeremy Hill is committed to LSU, but if Les Miles were to leave for the Michigan job, Hill’s recruitment probably opens back up. Javorius Allen is likely headed to Florida State, but is a name to watch for if Crowell picks Georgia.

    7. Safety
    Players lost:
    Players considering NFL: Mark Barron
    Players returning: Robert Lester, Will Lowery, Nick Perry, Jarrick Williams, Wesley Neighbors, Kendall Kelly, Robby Green
    Recruits targeted: Malcolm Mitchell, Erique Florence
    Recruits committed: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix
    Analysis: This position fell from around the second- or third-most important down to seventh when Mark Barron hurt his shoulder against Auburn. Barron’s injury will likely keep him from turning pro, although it’s still a possibility. And if he does, Alabama will have to reshuffle its priority list. With a healthy Barron in 2011, Alabama returns what might be the top safety duo in the country in Barron and Robert Lester, a cerebral player who established himself as a ballhawk and leader in 2010. Walk-on Will Lowery became steady as the season went along, and Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams are players to watch for the future. Perry is a Kelvin Sigler clone, while Williams is a big hitter. Wesley Neighbors provides depth. The other name to watch is Robby Green, who returns from a year-long suspension and will compete at least with Lowery for the dime safety job. As for Kendall Kelly, he’s a good athlete but some strange health problems over the offseason have rendered him an unlikely contributor in the near-term. He might also move back to wideout in the wake of Julio Jones’ departure. Provided Alabama holds on to Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, all is well in safety recruiting. Clinton-Dix is the nation’s top safety and may be the nation’s top overall prospect. Malcolm Mitchell would be a nice get down the stretch to go with him, and Mitchell can also play corner. Erique Florence is saying all the right things but if he ends up anywhere other than Auburn, the world might end from pure shock.

    8. Defensive tackle
    Players lost:
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: Josh Chapman, Kerry Murphy, Nick Gentry, Brandon Moore, Brandon Ivory
    Recruits targeted: Tim Jernigan, Todd Peat
    Recruits committed: Quinton Dial, Jesse Williams, LaMichael Fanning
    Analysis: Alabama returns enough players to adequately plug the middle, and with Brandon Ivory coming off a redshirt, the Crimson Tide might actually have a Terrence Cody-like body to put in the middle. That didn’t stop Alabama coaches from signing a couple of JUCO players, though, in Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial. Williams looks like something from another planet, but he’s raw and will need a lot of work in preseason camp. Dial originally signed with Alabama two years ago before going off to JUCO and seeing his stock explode. He might end up at strongside end and push Kerry Murphy back inside, but he can play the nose if needed. LaMichael Fanning is probably the most under-the-radar commitment Alabama has. He should be getting a mention with the most highly rated prospects in the country, but it hasn’t worked out that way. He can play in or out. His big issue is grades. The name to watch late in the game is Tim Jernigan, who Alabama is very much in the running for, and who many consider to be the top defensive tackle available in this class. Todd Peat is much less an option and figures to stay on the West Coast.

    9. Cornerback
    Players lost: Kyle Pennington, B.J. Scott
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, John Fulton, Phelon Jones, DeQuan Menzie
    Recruits targeted: JaVante Watson
    Recruits committed: Jabriel Washington, Christion Jones
    Analysis: Alabama’s A-group is stocked full of talent, with as many as four future NFLers in the mix. But as with the running back position, the needs at cornerback aren’t necessarily in 2011, but 2012. Alabama got an early commitment from Jabriel Washington and added Christion Jones later in the fall, and that seems to have the cupboard full. JaVante Watson is a possibility, albeit remote. The real issue will come in 2012, after Jones and Menzie have graduated and Kirkpatrick takes his skills to the NFL. That will leave Alabama with only Milliner and Fulton, backed by Washington, Jones and whoever the Tide signs next year. In 2011, Alabama will have to replace walk-on Pennington, who despite allowing a late touchdown to Michigan State was a good practice player and special teams participant. B.J. Scott will likely finalize a transfer in the next few weeks; he never fit in on either side of the ball.

    10. Inside linebacker
    Players lost:
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: Dont'a Hightower, C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson, Chris Jordan, Tana Patrick, Petey Smith
    Recruits targeted:
    Recruits committed: Shannon Brown
    Analysis: Alabama got an early commitment from Shannon Brown, but grades will keep him from reporting to Tuscaloosa in the fall. Alabama targeted no other pure inside linebackers, although both Trey DePriest and Vinnie Sunseri are capable of playing the position. As much nickel and dime as Alabama plays now on defense, all its linebackers must be capable of playing in or out, so the lack of another player at the spot is meaningless. As soon as Dont'a Hightower opted to come back for his fourth season, recruiting of inside linebackers stopped.

    11. Tight end
    Players lost: Preston Dial
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: Michael Williams, Chris Underwood, Brad Smelley, Harrison Jones, Brian Vogler, John Baites
    Recruits targeted: Jay Rome, Nick O’Leary, A.C. Leonard
    Recruits committed: Malcolm Faciane, Wilson Love
    Analysis: Here’s a quandary: Alabama doesn’t really need another tight end. Although the Crimson Tide lost Preston Dial to graduation, the trio of Michael Williams, Chris Underwood and Brad Smelley is plenty talented and experienced enough to get the job done. Add in redshirts Harrison Jones and Brian Vogler, walk-on John Baites and grayshirt Wilson Love, and there are plenty of bodies here to fill the two tight end positions in Alabama’s base set. The Tide also got a commitment from Malcolm Faciane early in recruiting, and until a knee injury was seeing his stock shoot skyward. But there are three true blue-chip players left on the board, Jay Rome, Nick O’Leary and A.C. Leonard, and if Alabama has space for them, would be foolish to turn down a commitment. Leonard can also play defense. Rome will probably end up at Georgia or Clemson, Leonard is a soft commitment to Florida and O’Leary has a dozen schools under consideration. But the possibility remains…

    12. Offensive guard/center
    Players lost: Brian Motley, David Ross
    Players considering NFL:
    Players returning: Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen, Kellen Williams, Austin Shepherd, John Michael Boswell, William Vlachos, Chad Lindsey
    Recruits targeted: Aaron Morris, Christian Westerman, Spencer Region
    Recruits committed: Ryan Kelly, Isaac Luatua
    Analysis: This is the deepest position on the team, yet Alabama continues to add to its numbers. Reserves Brian Motley and David Ross graduated, which means Alabama will need to find a reserve center. Chad Lindsey is probably the best fit to back up William Vlachos. Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones return as starters, and many observers believe Jones will be able to give up his senior season and enter the NFL Draft after 2011. Anthony Steen has starting experience, as does John Michael Boswell, and Kellen Williams and Austin Shepherd – who can also play tackle – have drawn positive comments from practice observers. Alabama snagged athletic guard Isaac Luatua early, then added arguably the nation’s top center prospect, Ryan Kelly, who is also a prospect at guard. If Aaron Morris were to make himself available, Alabama would probably take a commitment from him. He can play any position on the line. Christian Westerman is a longshot at best. He will likely stay out west, but is the country’s top guard prospect and Alabama would certainly take him. The case of Spencer Region is beyond odd at this point. He committed to Auburn early in a strange ceremony when everyone thought he was leaning to Alabama, then decommitted from Auburn and made several unofficial visits to Tuscaloosa. He seems to have again “eliminated” Alabama from consideration, which appears to be a mutual decision. He could end up at Wisconsin or UAB.
    Last edited by JessN; January 8th, 2011 at 10:50 PM.
    Jess Nicholas
    Editor-In-Chief
    TideFans.com

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