Sunday, March 16, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC No. 1)

2008 Haul: 32 signees, 5 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Congratulations are once again in order to Nick Saban and the Alabama coaching staff for putting together the best recruiting class of the 2008 campaign. What makes this class so special is its balance. From top to bottom and at nearly every position on the field, the level of ability is astounding. It was terribly difficult just to pick 10 names for the ‘Best of the Rest’ section. It could have been 20 names long and some players would have still been left out. 

With so much balance, it becomes difficult to really narrow down areas of focus for this class. The defensive front seven and offensive playmakers might have been the two main areas of concern for Saban. Not only has he addressed those issues with flying colors but also any other small area of weakness as well.

With the implementation of the 3-4 defense, Saban has placed a premium on smaller, faster, more aggressive linebackers and bigger, stronger defensive lineman. Four defensive ends, four tackles and potentially five linebackers head to the Capstone in ’08.

Glenn Harbin (Mobile, Ala.) and Undra Billingsley (Birmingham, Ala.) are the two most talented end prospects and bring with them great size at 6-6 and 6-4 respectively. At tackle, size is the first word to come to mind when dealing with Terrance Cody (Perkinston, Miss.). He is listed at 6-5 and a ridiculous 395 pounds. Throw in the 6-5, 320-pound Kerry Murphy (Chatham, Va.) and the athletic Marcel Dareus (Birmingham, Ala.) and the Bama D-line should be well-stocked – and well fed – for the next few years.

At linebacker, there is a plethora of talent. Athlete Devonta Bolton (Norcross, Ga.), Don’ta Hightower (Lewisburg, Tenn.), Courtney Upshaw (Eufaula, Ala.) and Jerrell Harris (Gadsden, Ala.) are as strong a group of backers as any in the nation. Harris is the best of the group as he plays with complete disregard for bodily safety. He is a missile. Hightower is a perfect fit for that hybrid DE/OLB position that Saban calls the ‘Jackback.’ He can drop into coverage like a linebacker but put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. The DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman type player is certainly an important fit for a 3-4 scheme. Bolton could also play that role, but, like athlete Chris Jordan (Brentwood, Tenn.), could find himself on offense. Upshaw also will get a look at ‘Jackback.’

Playmakers on the offense were also a key focus of the Bama staff. With current suspensions hanging over certain unnamed players and senior graduation really hitting the wide receiver group hard (D.J. Hall, Matt Caddell and Keith Brown), the Tide had to add some playmakers to the offense. They added, potentially, 11 new faces to the offense skill positions – not counting quarterback.

Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.) is the best wideout in the nation, period.

Burton Scott (Prichard, Ala.), Mark Barron (Mobile, Ala.), Mark Ingram (Flint, Mich.) and Jordan can all be threats as wide receivers as well as running backs. They all are dangerous in the open field and are all very comfortable and successful with the ball in their hands. Scott and Barron are both return men that could make an immediate impact on special teams. Jordan is more a pure runner than the rest but could end up at linebacker. Ingram is simply a game breaker; he just makes plays.

Melvin Ray (Tallahassee, Fla.) and Destin Hood (Mobile, Ala.) join Jones as the top pure pass catchers in the class.

John Paker Wilson is likely to keep his starting job this fall, but he may be on a short leash. Star Jackson (Lake Worth, Fla.) steps onto campus and is immediately the most athletic and legit passing option on the roster. Whoever is starting, the offensive line should be able to offer solid protection. Tyler Love (Mountain Brook, Ala.) may not be the most physically gifted tackle prospect in the nation but he may be the best football player at his position. Barrett Jones (Memphis, Tenn.) has wonderful versatility and John Michael Boswell (Northport, Ala.) adds great depth to the O-line.

Defensive back is also well represented in this class. Alonzo Lawrence (Lucedale, Miss.) late meteoric rise up recruiting rankings was due to the excellent job he did on fellow signee Julio Jones in the Mississippi-Alabama all-star classic. Robby Green (River Ridge, La.) and Robert Lester (Foley, Ala.) add talented depth to the defensive backfield.

The state of Alabama was loaded in 2008 and the Tide took advantage. The Tide signed 18 players from the Heart of Dixie. Tennessee was also very kind to the Crimson Tide sending three of its top-5 to Alabama including the top player, Barrett Jones. 

Top Prospect: Julio Jones – WR – Foley, Ala. (6-4, 220) AC100 No. 2

Jones is the most physically gifted wide receiver in this year’s class of pass catchers. That is a monster statement as the 2008 wide receiver class might be the best and deepest group of wideouts ever.

He has a rare blend of size, speed, agility and natural instincts. He can do it all. As a deep threat, he has great leaping ability and ball-tracking skills. Over the middle he has the size and toughness to make the catch and take the big hit. At the line of scrimmage, his long arms and quick feet make him very difficult to jam. In the open field he has the elusiveness to make people miss and accelerate quickly for extra yards. In the running game, Jones can be a dominant blocker, using his big frame and long arms to shield defenders from the ball-carrier.

He is mentally tough as well. In a game against rival high school Daphne, Jones hurt his ankle in the first half and came out in the second half and played through the pain and caught a bomb to win the game. He is a leader on the field.

Best of the Rest:

Burton Scott – ATH – Prichard, Ala. (5-11, 190) AC100 No. 22
Tyler Love – OL – Mountain Brook, Ala. (6-7, 295) AC100 No. 23
Mark Barron – WR – Mobile, Ala. (6-2, 200) AC100 No. 58
Jerrell Harris – LB – Gadsden, Ala. (6-2, 220) AC100 No. 75
Alonzo Lawrence – CB – Lucedale, Miss. (6-1, 190)
Barrett Jones – OL – Memphis, Tenn. (6-5, 280)
Star Jackson – QB – Lake Worth, Fla. (6-3, 190)
Devonta Bolton – ATH – Norcross, Ga. (6-3, 220)
Don’ta Hightower – LB – Lewisburg, Tenn. (6-3, 250)
Mark Ingram – ATH – Flint, Mich. (5-10, 200)

Sleeper: Marcel Dareus – DL – Birmingham, Ala. (6-4, 275)

In a 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle is asked to basically play two gaps. Dareus, although very raw, could have that ability. Developing consistent pad level and strong hand technique will be his primary areas of focus. The rest of the ability is there, though. He has solid athleticism for his size and he plays with great strength at the point of attack. Dareus is a guy that could end up playing head up on the center, which in the game of football, is a rare commodity.

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