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- OFFENSE -
Former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims did the unimaginable in 2014. He led the Crimson Tide to a 12-win season, a Southeastern Conference title, and an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Sims was able to fend off Florida State transfer Jake Coker for the starting job in the preseason, navigate the treacherous SEC West masterfully, and total 3,487 passing yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions by seasons end. Unfortunately for the Tide, that will be the only season he will be seen under center as he is now pursuing a career in the National Football League.
2015 QB competition: Jake Coker, Alec Morris, David Cornwell, Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett
Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban and his staff are back at square one: locate a new starting quarterback. Jake Coker, a senior, has a year of experience in Lane Kiffin’s offense, his left knee has healed, and he’s building chemistry with the players. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Coker has a strong arm but needs to shorten his release. He saw action in seven games last season, accounting for 403 yards and four touchdowns.
Alec Morris, a junior, enters his fourth season at Alabama. He too possesses a strong arm and solid footwork, but lacks game experience. Morris was the lone quarterback Alabama signed in its 2012 recruiting class. He’s a former three-star prospect that averaged 270.7 passing yards per game at Allen High School (Allen, Texas). Sophomore David Cornwell was the second quarterback Alabama signed in its 2014 recruiting cycle. His athleticism and passing paralysis quickly drew attention from sports writers. He was a known commodity at Norman North High School (Norman, Okla.). The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Cornwell tossed for 2,742 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior in 2012. He recorded 755 rushing yards with six scores, before a knee injury halted his senior season. Cornwell, like Coker, is now healthy and looks to push for the starting job. His vision as a passer is fluent, and he’s excelling at ball placement.
Finally, sophomore Cooper Bateman quietly appears to be Alabama’s second-string quarterback, despite Saban’s uncertainty. He was exceptional as a scout team player in 2014, providing the Crimson Tide’s defense with multiple looks. Bateman was a solid contributor on special teams (87 perfect holds), and has started to gain confidence in his mechanics. He was one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects in 2013 that registered 7,654 passing yards and 68 touchdowns at Cottonwood High School (Murray, Utah).
Blake Barnett, a freshman, is the guy all Alabama fans want to see on A-Day. He’s the highest rated quarterback Alabama’s ever signed, a consensus five-star prospect. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Barnett threw for a career-high 3,404 yards in 11 games at Santiago High School (Corona, Calif.) as a senior in 2014. He recorded 30 total touchdowns (23 passing, seven rushing) and was the most valuable player in the 2014 Elite 11 quarterback competition. He fits Kiffin’s system with his dual threat abilities.
Coach Saban said Alabama isn’t set at quarterback yet, but he mentioned Cornwell and Barnett have progressed well this spring.
Running Backs: Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Desherrius Flowers, Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Ronnie Clark.
Former Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon was a workhorse. He battled through injuries last season but still finished with 979 yards with 11 touchdowns on five yards per carry. His career at Alabama ended with 3,322 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns.
Derrick Henry, a junior, looks to the featured back in the Crimson Tide’s rotation next season. He was clutch in 2014, spelling Yeldon late in games. Henry appeared in all 14 games, posting 990 yards with 11 scores on 5.8 yards per carry. He’s improved as a blocker and pass catcher this offseason. Henry looked fluid going for 112 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in Alabama’s first spring scrimmage on Apr. 3, 2015.
Kenyan Drake, a senior, is an explosive athlete. He was amidst a breakout season that featured six scores in 2014 until a gruesome leg injury against Ole Miss sidelined him. Lane Kiffin wants to use Drake more in the offense as a receiver. He caught five passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns last season. He’s elusive in the hole as a running back, and can change speeds instantly. Drake averaged 7.5 yards per carry as a sophomore (2013) and 6.7 yards per carry as a freshman (2012). Alabama doesn’t have him cutting at full speed yet, but he will be turned loose on A-Day.
With Tyren Jones dismissed and Bo Scarbrough (knee) out, freshmen running backs Desherrius Flowers and Damien Harris will have to contribute sooner than expected. Flowers is a four-star recruit from Mobile, Ala., while Harris is a five-star prospect out of Berea, Ky. Ronnie Clark is still a mystery who is listed as a defensive back and running back, but will fit into Alabama’s back rotation with the injury to Scarbrough.
WR competition: Chris Black, O.J. Howard, Robert Foster, ArDarius Stewart, Raheem Falkins, Derek Kief, Calvin Ridley and Dayln Charlot.
Alabama loses its All-American wide receiver Amari Cooper and his two complements, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White to the 2015 NFL Draft. Cooper caught 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2014. He exits as Alabama’s all-time leading receiver with 228 catches for 3,463 yards and 31 touchdowns. White nursed a shoulder and a hamstring injury, but managed to total 504 yards and four touchdowns on 40 catches last season. He and Christion Jones ended their careers with 1,000 yards receiving.
Chris Black, a junior, was one of the nation’s most coveted receiver prospects in 2012 and will finally have a chance to prove it. Black is one of two veterans (O.J. Howard, 17 catches for 260 yards) returning to Alabama’s receiving corps. He saw action in 11 games last season, totaling 15 catches for 188 yards. Black has exceptional footwork and soft hands. He’s experienced as a slot receiver, but possesses the speed to be a deep ball target.
Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart are both sophomores. Both players have to step up in the absence of fellow sophomore receiver Cam Sims (knee). Stewart’s athleticism scratched him some playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2014. He caught 12 passes for 149 yards in 13 games last season. Foster, standing at 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds, displays good balance and body control, but lacks consistency catching the ball. Foster and Stewart both put in solid performances in Alabama’s first scrimmage. Stewart caught three passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Foster caught three passes for 52 yards.
Raheem Falkins, a junior, has been tabbed as Alabama’s next emerging star. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron raved about Falkins’s athletic ability, yet he couldn’t produce on the field in the fall. Falkins is the same size as former Alabama receiver Julio Jones (6’4”) with good hands, speed, and body control, but needs to show more consistency in practice. Falkins took a step forward in Alabama’s scrimmage game as he led the team in receptions (5) and totaled 88 yards.
Derek Kief (redshirt freshman), Calvin Ridley (freshman) and Daylon Charlot (freshman) add depth to Alabama’s receiving corps. All three players are athletic and can emerge in the summer and fall.
Returning offensive linemen: Ryan Kelly, Cam Robinson, Dominick Jackson, Alphonse Taylor, Grant Hill, Bradley Bozeman, Ross Pierschbacher, J.C. Hassenauer.
Alabama loses three seniors to the NFL Draft: Austin Shepherd, Arie Kouandjio and Leon Brown. Shepherd and Kouandjio were blue-collar offensive linemen. Kouandjio, the experienced left guard, guided Alabama’s backs to 206.6 yards rushing per game in 2014. RT Shepherd was solid in pass protection as he anchored an offensive line that allowed an average of 1.14 sacks per game, good for second in the SEC.
Ryan Kelly, a senior, returns to Alabama for his fifth season. He enters his third year as the starting center, and will be looked upon to guide a young, talented offensive line.
Sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson is coming off a stellar season in 2014. He started all 14 games, becoming the first true freshman to do so since Andre Smith (2006). Robinson dominated the left side, allowing three sacks in 861 snaps. Sporting News and Football Writers of America Association named him a Freshman All-American last season. With a year under his belt, his focus is winning a national title in 2015.
Alabama returns its two most important positions on the offensive line, center and left tackle. Saban and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal will plug and play with everyone else. Dominick Jackson is pushing for right tackle and Ross Pierschbacher has his eyes on right guard.
- DEFENSE -
Returning Defensive line: A’Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Da’Shawn Hand, Dalvin Tomlinson and Josh Frazier.
Alabama returns a lot of talent and experience to its defensive line, despite losing Brandon Ivory (graduation), Xzavier Dickson (NFL Draft) and Jonathan Taylor (domestic violence, dismissed).
DT A’Shawn Robinson finished 2014 strong. He finished seventh on the team in tackles (49) with 6.5 for loss, three pass breakups, one forced fumble and a blocked kick. Defensive end Jonathan Allen finished second on the team in tackles for loss (11.5). He totaled 5.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries last season.
Jarran Reed led all defensive linemen in stops with 55. He had 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack and five pass breakups. D.J. Pettway, defensive end, totaled 23 tackles, two sacks, three pass breakups and five quarterback hurries in 2014.
Former number one overall recruit Da’Shawn Hand and Josh Frazier both got their feet wet last season. Alabama has a lot of depth at defensive end, and looks to increase its sack total in 2015.
Returning Inside Linebackers: Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Keith Holcombe
Alabama loses Trey DePriest, but Reggie Ragland fills the void. He put in 95 tackles with 10.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and an interception last season. Saban said Reuben Foster has had a good spring and has avoided injuries. Foster saw action in 11 games in 2014, totaling 22 tackles and a sack.
Sophomore Shaun Dion Hamilton played in all 14 games as a freshman, assisting on three tackles. He is an instinctive player that is absorbing the system quickly. Redshirt freshman Keith Holcombe did much observing last season, but will look to be more involved in 2015.
Returning Outside Linebackers: Ryan Anderson, Denzel Devall, Tim Williams, Dillon Lee, Rashaan Evans, Christian Miller and Jamey Mosley
Ryan Anderson, a junior, was an unsung hero in 2014 at outside linebacker. He recorded 25 stops with eight for loss, three sacks and nine quarterback hurries. Anderson slide into Xzavier Dickson’s role at jack linebacker. Tim Williams, a junior, collected five tackles and 1.5 sacks in 12 games last season. Dillon Lee, a senior, was a solid contributor as a freshman and sophomore, but was limited as a junior because of a leg injury. He posted 24 tackles in 14 games. Fully healthy, Lee looks to be a staple at linebacker.
Denzel Devall, a senior, will miss spring practice (leg), but is well experienced as a pass rushing linebacker. He’s posted 59 career tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks. Rashaan Evans, a sophomore, has been tabbed as Alabama’s next big time linebacker. He saw action in 13 games last season, accounting for 15 tackles, a sack and three quarterback hurries. Evans is explosive off the edge, and continues to grasp the system.
Returning Cornerbacks: Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, Tony Brown, Marlon Humphrey, Bradley Sylve and Anthony Averett.
Cyrus Jones, a senior, will miss spring practice (hip), but his performance from last season should lock him into a primary role. Jones finished eighth on the team in tackles (46) and posted a team-high 13 pass breakups.
Eddie Jackson, a junior, battled back from a knee injury he suffered in the spring of 2014, but struggled against physical receivers. He finished with 41 tackles, a sack, six pass breakups, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Jackson needs to improve his footwork in coverage. Tony Brown, a sophomore, saw action last season in 13 games. He recorded 10 tackles, seven solo stops, a pass breakup and a blocked extra-point. Marlon Humphrey, a redshirt freshman, has size and speed, but needs a chance to prove it. He will be featured a lot as a slot cornerback next season. Bradley Sylve, a senior, is one of the fastest players on the team (4.38s, 40-time). He struggles facing the ball in coverage, but delivered a quality performance against Auburn’s receiver Sammie Coates. Sylve had to pass breakups and was involved on a play with Quan Bray that should have been called an interception. He had eight tackles in 2014.
Returning safeties: Geno Smith, Maurice Smith, Laurence “Hootie” Jones and Jabriel Washington.
Alabama loses All-American safety Landon Collins along with Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams to the NFL Draft. Collins led the team in tackles (103), while totaling seven pass breakups and three interceptions. Free safety Nick Perry put in a solid year, recording 80 stops, six pass breakups and two interceptions in 2014.
Geno Smith, a senior, is back practicing with the team after being suspended for his second DUI. He ended last season with 56 tackles and a pass breakup. Smith will be used in certain situations because of his experience.
Maurice Smith, a junior, has size and range to be a free safety. He appeared in 14 games last season, collecting 10 tackles, seven solo stops, 0.5 sacks and a pass breakup.
Laurence “Hootie” Jones, a sophomore, had two tackles in 2014. Jones, standing at 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds, is a hard hitter and has exceptional ball skills for a strong safety. Jabriel Washington, a senior, is under-sized (5’11”) to be a strong safety, yet he has range and playmaking abilities. He totaled 17 tackles and an interception last season.
Freshmen defensive backs Ronnie Harrison and Deionte Thompson are turning heads in spring practice. Harrison, who stands at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, already looks the part as a strong safety.
Alabama gained success last season under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but failed to achieve its ultimate goal. Now with key losses on offense, it will be on Kiffin and a handful of new faces to fill in for the missing production. It fell short against Ohio State in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, yet remained among the nation’s elite. Returning talent and experience, the Tide can’t afford injury and complacency. The spring game is set for Sat, Apr. 18, 2015 at 2:00pm CT inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
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