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Insider

Freshmen could be key to filling holes

10/1/2012

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's true freshmen have wasted no time getting on the field and contributing in 2012. All told, a dozen first-year players have seen action through five games.

Given the news of starting wide receiver DeAndrew White's season-ending knee injury, coupled with the loss of backup running back Dee Hart to the same fate, prepare to hear more from the teenagers on campus.

Amari Cooper had already begun to take on more of a role at receiver, as have T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake at running back. The losses of White and Hart make their rise on the depth chart official.

Cooper, a former top-10 wide receiver prospect, has come along in recent weeks -- showing off good hands and an ability to make yards after the catch. His progress was realized last weekend when he caught two touchdowns passes.

Athlete Cyrus Jones could help replace White or Hart. Jones has so far taken all his snaps at wide receiver. With Alabama down to three scholarship running backs, would the staff consider moving Jones to running back? The former four-star recruit, still listed as an athlete on Alabama's roster, took some snaps at tailback during fall camp.

WR/DB Eddie Williams, one of the Tide’s most talented recruits, started out at wide receiver for Alabama. But after injuries to the secondary, he moved to safety. He still needs time to learn the position, but once he gets it down, he could be a star.

WR Chris Black was not supposed to redshirt this season, but a shoulder injury that’s causing him to miss three to four months has made Alabama reconsider its original plan.

As for running back, no rookie came on the scene faster than Yeldon, signed as the top-rated running back in the state. The 216-pound back became the first freshman to rush for 100 yards in his debut, doing so against Michigan. He's already being hailed as the next great Alabama running back, following a trail set by Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

No player benefits more from Hart's injury than Drake, who despite averaging a whopping 9.7 yards per carry, still came in fourth on the depth chart. He now sits just behind Yeldon and could see an increase in the number of carries he receives.

Here's a look at how the Crimson Tide's No. 1-rated 2012 signing class has played out thus far at other positions, along with who is expected to redshirt this season:

Already contributing

DL Darren Lake: Lake is another freshman to benefit from a thin depth chart, but his luck came naturally. The mammoth rookie at 315 pounds has spelled starting nose guard Jesse Williams for many a second half this season.

S Landon Collins: The Crimson Tide's top-rated recruit has been brought along slowly by a coaching staff wary of doing too much too soon, in terms of stretching him out at multiple positions. However, he has seen the field on special teams and some on defense late in games.

CB Geno Smith: Smith didn't waste any time learning coach Nick Saban's complex defense, sliding in on Week 1 as an option at the inside cornerback position in dime. He's already played in four of five games.

LB Denzel Devall: The logjam at linebacker hasn't stopped Devall from making his mark. The 6-foot-2, 243-pound Louisiana native has played in four games this season and registered his first career sack.

LB Tyler Hayes: Like so many freshmen, Hayes has contributed as a player on special teams. The speedy linebacker has parlayed that into mop-up duty on defense. Hayes currently has the most tackles of any true freshman.

LB Dillon Lee: The heralded linebacker from Georgia quickly let Alabama fans know what he's capable of, hauling in an interception in the season opener. But his playing time has waned since; he has played in just three games.

LB Reggie Ragland: Ragland's playing time has been cut short too, but only because of a sprained ankle. The Tide's second-highest-rated linebacker coming out of high school has made "really good progress" according to Saban. He should be back on the field as the No. 2 middle linebacker when he's healthy again.

Coming soon