Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Final Alabama 10: O-linemen deserve credit
By Alex Scarborough
The 2012-13 season is in the books. There are no more position battles to be won and no more jockeying for position in the battle to become the most valuable player for Alabama. Now we can look back and evaluate who were the best athletes to suit it up for the Crimson Tide this season.
1. LG Chance Warmack: If NFL scouts and general managers can recognize it, so can we. Warmack -- yes, a guard -- was the best player on the football field every time he suited up, and not just because of the captivating half-shirt he wore all year revealing his rather large belly. A national television audience saw just how dominant he could be against Notre Dame, as he was in on nearly every key block to spring Alabama's 265 yards on the ground. Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o was neutralized largely because of Warmack's efforts getting to the second level. The All-American left guard will likely go early in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, leaving behind a legacy few can touch.
2. QB AJ McCarron: Speaking of legacies, McCarron has already sealed his. He's the only quarterback to repeat as a national champion and he holds the all-time passing touchdowns record at Alabama. All that with a year of eligibility remaining. The junior from South Alabama took a major step forward as a quarterback and as a leader this season. He finished just 77 yards shy of 3,000, completed better than 67 percent of his passes and threw a whopping 30 touchdowns to three interceptions to lead the country in passing efficiency. The scary thought? Just how good he and an improved receiving corps can be next season.
Nose guard Jesse Williams (54) deserves more praise than most, as most Tide defenders wouldn't have achieved what they did without him.
3. LB C.J. Mosley: The junior was without a doubt the MVP of the defense in 2012. He became the first Alabama player to break the century mark in tackles since Rolando McClain, and he did it without the benefit of being a full-time starter. Next year he won't have that problem. He'll be an every-down linebacker and the over-under on total tackles will likely start at 100. He was the heart and soul of the defense, albeit a quiet one. He was in on big play after big play, showing off a sideline-to-sideline speed that maddened the Notre Dame attack in South Florida. He finished things off with eight tackles Monday night, capping a season where he was in the top three in tackles in all but two games.
4. WR Amari Cooper: None of Julio Jones' records are safe. His freshman records for receptions and receiving yards have been commandeered by Cooper. Next up are the career marks. The true freshman from South Florida returned to his home triumphant Monday night with six catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. It took him a while to get going this season, but once he did he couldn't be stopped. The former four-star prospect dominated defenders with his unique blend of speed, size and deceptive strength. When he went up for the ball, he was the only one coming down with it. He's the key building block in a receiving unit that will be loaded with talent next season as he's rejoined by injured players like DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell. Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, Cyrus Jones, Chris Black and Marvin Shinn round out the receivers returning to action.
5. C Barrett Jones: The tiff with McCarron late in the game aside, Jones played a spotless game. And here we thought he might be limited with a sprained ankle. As it turns out, it wasn't a sprain at all. It was a tear -- multiple tears. The redshirt senior joked with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi about the injury after the game, asking whether any of the reporters believed his white lie. Even if they did, what he did against Notre Dame's hulking defensive line was special. If there was a lifetime achievement award to be handed out, it would be for Jones in a landslide. Monday night ended a career that saw him start and win three national championships at three different positions on the offensive line.
6. CB Dee Milliner: Most everyone who watched the game against Notre Dame had to wonder why the heck Everett Golson kept throwing the ball Milliner's way. Hadn't he seen tape of Milliner brutalizing Denard Robinson and Michigan in the season opener? Hadn't he seen the lack of tape since that game after every other coach was smart enough to warn his quarterback against throwing the ball to his side of the field? Hadn't someone told him Milliner was arguably the best cornerback in the country, likely the first of his position off the board in the upcoming draft? Judging by what we saw in Miami, probably not. Golson and Notre Dame tested Milliner, and failed. In an Alabama secondary that struggled at times, Milliner was a consistent bright spot, shutting down half the field a game at a time.
T-7. RB Eddie Lacy: Remember, this is the "Final" Alabama 10, and not a single-game reflection. Because of that, Lacy isn't No. 1, though he certainly looked the part against Notre Dame. A national audience saw glimpses of what we've seen all season from the junior tailback -- a man with the strength of a bulldozer and the feet of a ballerina. He was a grown man spinning like a washing machine, churning his way 140 yards on the ground in South Florida. The only bad news for Alabama fans? He may have sealed his fate with such a strong night. Even though he's had injury concerns in the past, what he's done in the past handful of games likely put him over the fence to pass up his senior year and enter the NFL draft. And with the guy waiting behind him, who can blame him?
T-7. RB T.J. Yeldon: Yeldon is "the guy" we're referring to. The fab freshman was a revelation from Day 1, becoming the first Alabama rookie to rush for 100 yards in his debut. Since then, he has shown off the talent that made him Mr. Football in the state of Alabama as a high school senior a year ago. He's a back that plays well beyond his years: patience, vision and balance are his game. As he joked after the game, the spin move is all Lacy's, he's a downhill runner. That's exactly what Alabama coaches want to hear from him. The rookie ran for well more than 1,000 yards this season and the only one standing between him and the Alabama record books is himself.
9. NG Jesse Williams: What would this list be without the Mohawk-ed, tattooed Aussie? "Not much" is the answer. Maybe it's time to set aside the theatrics of Williams' game and appreciate it for what it was. The former junior college transfer was the lynchpin to the Alabama defense at nose guard. He took a beating day after day and game after game, and still found a way to get back up. He didn't lead the team in tackles or sacks. His contribution cannot be found in a stat sheet. It's on the tape, where he ate up two and three blockers at a time, freeing up his teammates to get all the glory. For all one sees when looking at Williams -- the over-exaggerated eye black and the beaming smile -- it's what you get on the football field that defines his unselfish nature.
10. RT D.J. Fluker: There was a temptation to put punter Cody Mandell here in the final spot. The rebound he made this season to become Alabama's unsung hero on special teams was nothing short of remarkable. But the play of Alabama's offensive line and Fluker dictated a third lineman be in the top 10. Fluker had his down moments early in the year where he struggled in pass protection, but the rebound he made in the second half of the season cannot be underscored. He held his own in pass protection against three of the best defenses in all of college football -- LSU, Georgia and Notre Dame -- and he did even more in the run game. He was the vocal leader of the offense and backed up his words on the field, playing with an energy to rarely see from 335-pounders.