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Thursday, February 14, 2013
Five Tide players emerging on offense

By Alex Scarborough

Cyrus Kouandjio
Cyrus Kouandjio should lock down the left tackle position for the Tide in 2013.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It took Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon no time become two of the biggest stars at Alabama. The pair of true freshmen stepped onto the stage and delivered, setting school records at their respective positions.

But they're the exception to the rule. For most athletes, it takes a bit of seasoning before they're ready to be thrown into the fire that is the SEC.

Coach Nick Saban's recruiting prowess is well understood, but so is his ability to develop and cultivate talent. Eddie Lacy took time to become a star running back. Chance Warmack didn't sprout up overnight. Sometimes these things take time.

As the world turns its attention toward the start of spring practice and the birth of another college football season, here are five players on offense who weren't superstars last season but could prove to become significant contributors in 2013.

Cyrus Kouandjio (Jr./LT)
Background: The former No. 1 offensive tackle in the class of 2011 has had the look of an All-Pro since the day he step foot on campus. An injury derailed his freshman campaign, but no such obstacles got in the way of this past season when Kouandjio emerged as one of the best young offensive linemen in the country.

Possible 2013 status: With Barrett Jones, Warmack and D.J. Fluker off to the NFL, the time for Kouandjio is now. As Saban put it, both Kouandjio and returning guard Anthony Steen will be guys that "people will be looking at as guys who probably will receive a lot of accolades."

Chris Black (Fr./WR)
Background: Cooper wasn't supposed to be the freshman receiver setting school records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns this past season. It was supposed to be Black, who was ranked higher by most recruiting services. And had it not been for a preseason injury to his shoulder, who knows how last season would have played out.

Possible 2013 status: Saban hinted at the possibility of Black coming back late in the year but thought better of it. With his shoulder healed, it's time to see what all the fuss was about. Black is a dynamo with the ball in his hands; he has good straight-line speed and quickness. Should he develop the way many expect, he could challenge Christion Jones at slot receiver.

Jalston Fowler (Jr./RB)
Background: Like Black, Fowler never got the chance to show what he could do last season. A knee injury sidelined the sturdy running back/H-back for the year. But before he went down, it looked as if the coaching staff was ready to make room for him within the offense, moving him to H-back where he could run, block and catch passes out of the backfield.

Possible 2013 status: Given the lack of production from the tight ends and H-backs last year (they recorded the fewest catches since 2007), combined with the deep stable of running backs already on the roster, it appears as if Fowler's best chance to contribute will be at H-back. Should he get back to 100 percent, he could become a weapon Saban has been missing since his days at LSU when he coached former SEC great Jacob Hester.

Ryan Kelly (RS Fr./C)
Background: Despite playing in just nine games as a backup center, Kelly did enough to earn a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team in 2012. Maybe it was the high praise from Barrett Jones who said Kelly was more talented than he'll ever be, or maybe it was the assumption that he would become the starter the following season. Whatever the reason, there was no backup offensive lineman with more buzz around a player than the former four-star prospect from Ohio.

Possible 2013 status: Kelly is the closest thing to a shoo-in as you'll see at Alabama. The 6-foot-5, 288-pound athlete is poised to replace Jones at center this spring, taking over arguably the most difficult position on the offensive line. Though he's smaller than Jones and lacks the experience, his teammates have confidence in his ability. Warmack said Kelly is, "An exceptional young player that catches on very fast with the scheme of things."

Alec Morris (Fr./QB)
Background: The former three-star quarterback from Allen, Texas, spent this past season carrying a clipboard and learning the ropes under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The staff chose to redshirt him and use Blake Sims and Phillip Ely as the primary backup quarterbacks, rather than waste a year of eligibility.

Possible 2013 status: With the redshirt off his back, Morris will have a chance to compete for the backup quarterback job behind AJ McCarron. On the practice field, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound athlete is arguably the most impressive looking quarterback of the bunch. He's sturdy, strong-armed and deliberate in the pocket. How that translates to live action remains a secret, but one we'll find out soon enough.