Alabama Crimson Tide: Altee Tenpenny

SEC lunch links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Alabama, Auburn and Missouri will all hold their spring games this weekend. To get you ready for all the action, be sure to check out Friday’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Spring games galore this weekend! Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be in action on Saturday. But news isn't just on the field; there's plenty off the field, too:
Alabama running back Altee Tenpenny is due in court in North Little Rock, Ark., on April 10 to face charges for possession of a controlled substance.

Tenpenny, a former four-star recruit who was primarily a backup and special teams player for the Crimson Tide as a freshman last season, received a citation from North Little Rock Police at 2:21 a.m. on March 24. According to the incident report, Tenpenny was pulled over for having a faulty license plate light when the officer smelled what he believed to be marijuana.

The report states that Tenpenny told the officer he “smoked a blunt” with his older brother an hour earlier. The officer asked if there was any additional marijuana in the car and Tenpenny said there was not, according to the report. The officer searched the car and found a substance he suspected to be marijuana. The “whole drug quantity” was reported as two grams, to which Tenpenny allegedly said he was the owner, the report states.

Tenpenny was later released by officers, was given a citation and told to report to court on April 10 at 9:30 a.m.

"I’m aware of the situation with Altee and this is obviously not the kind of behavior we expect from our players," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "In addition to any punishment he may receive from a legal standpoint, we will have some internal discipline as well as education that he will be responsible for working through.”

The sophomore tailback has participated in spring practice at Alabama since the incident. He is expected to be one of a handful of backups to incumbent starter T.J. Yeldon in 2014.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- With the start of spring practice only a few weeks away, we’re spending this week discussing five players to keep an eye on when Alabama opens camp on March 15.

Because they’re unpredictable, we’ll avoid first-year players like Cam Robinson. If you want an idea of who could make an instant impact in 2014, we wrote about that shortly after signing day.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDerrick Henry showed what he could do in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
So instead, let’s start by taking a look at an athlete who made a splash late last season as a true freshman, creating big expectations for his sophomore campaign.

RB Derrick Henry
Sophomore
6-foot-3, 238 pounds

Credentials: Was he a running back or a linebacker? At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds -- all muscle, we should add -- it was hard to tell. We hadn’t seen him run the football yet, so for a while he looked like a project. Did he have the necessary speed and elusiveness to get through the holes up front and hit the second level of the defense? And then came the Sugar Bowl. Yes, it took Henry some time to work his way up the food chain at running back, but when he did, he was special. He got around the Oklahoma defense just fine in New Orleans, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in addition to taking a short pass 43 yards for another score. All told, the former five-star athlete ran for 382 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries as a freshman.

How he fits: And herein lies the rub. Henry, with what he showed against the Sooners, might be more explosive than Alabama’s incumbent starting running back T.J. Yeldon. Given Yeldon’s fumbling woes, many fans are clamoring for Henry to replace him as the lead back. But Alabama has been through this before. Both the Mark Ingram-Trent Richardson and Richardson-Eddie Lacy tandems were balancing acts, and this coming season should be no different. Except that there’s a third back, Kenyan Drake, also begging for carries. Talk about explosion and speed, and you’re talking about Drake, who can take the ball to paydirt any time it touches his hands. One thing is certain: Running backs coach Burton Burns will have a tough time sorting out the depth chart when the season rolls around.

Best case/worst case: We’ve made the mistake of assuming the depth chart order at running back before and have been burned. There’s a case to be made that Henry should start, which would be an intriguing outcome to say the least. But there’s another case, one based on seniority and experience, that could land him third or fourth on the depth chart. You know about Yeldon and Drake, but there’s also the veteran Jalston Fowler and the blue-chip newcomer Bo Scarbrough to consider. Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny are on campus too, remember? The good news for the bevy of Alabama tailbacks is that new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin shouldn’t be constrained by position titles. The former USC head coach is seen as something of an innovator on offense and could move players like Henry, Fowler and Scarbrough around to places like H-back and slot receiver to get them touches.

Dee Hart faces possession charge

February, 18, 2014
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Former Alabama running back Dee Hart was arrested Sunday for possession of marijuana and giving false information, according to reports.

Hart, who was a top recruit for Alabama in 2011, was supposed to head into the fall for his junior season on the field, but the school announced that he is no longer part of the football team. He hasn't been with the team since Alabama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Here's the statement from Alabama on Hart's status:
"Dee Hart has not been a part of the football team since the bowl game and has not participated in any of the offseason program. Hopefully he will learn from this mistake and continue to work toward completing his degree, which he is on track to do by the summer."

[+] EnlargeDee Hart
AP Photo/ Butch DillDee Hart never really got his career off the ground at Alabama.
It's unknown if Hart could return to the team beforehand, but this recent arrest certainly won't help him. Hart might have been a top recruit for the Crimson Tide a few years ago, but he was never able to really make much movement on the Tide's depth chart. Hart suffered season-ending ACL injuries in 2011 and 2012 and tried out at cornerback last year before moving back to running back.

Hart rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in 2013 and had 166 yards and a touchdown on 43 career carries with Alabama.

With the return of back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon and backups Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, it might have been tough for Hart to rise through the ranks at running back. Not to mention, rising sophomore Altee Tenpenny, a former ESPN 300 recruit, saw action last season and Tyren Jones, also an ESPN 300 prospect in 2012, redshirted last year. The arrival of highly touted five-star athlete Bo Scarbrough won't help either, with Scarbrough expected to start his Alabama career at running back.

Heading into the spring, it appears the top spot at running back is going to come down to Yeldon or Henry, who had a breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl. Hart might have a tremendous amount of athleticism and his work ethic was once thoroughly praised by coach Nick Saban, but the chances of him jumping those two was minimal. The chances of him pushing the others out of the way at this point in his career was going to be a mountain to climb as well.

Alabama will be fine without Hart, but here's hoping Hart lands on his feet soon.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
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It was just another day in the SEC on Saturday. It got started with Missouri's upset win at Georgia and finished with Texas A&M's game-winning field goal to hold off Ole Miss. Now it's time to hand out the helmet stickers for Week 7's top performers.

L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri: If it hadn't been for the injury, Missouri's James Franklin might have been the one on this list, but it was Washington who stepped up when his quarterback went out. With the lead cut to two and the Tigers in need of a big play, coach Gary Pinkel called on a trick play. Backup quarterback Maty Mauk threw a lateral to wide receiver Bud Sasser who then heaved it toward the end zone. Who was waiting on the other end? Washington. The 6-foot-4 receiver outfought the defender and hauled in the 40-yard touchdown pass. He finished with seven catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns on the day.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks had struggled in recent weeks, not putting teams away, but that wasn't the case Saturday against Arkansas. They thrashed the Razorbacks to the tune of 52-7, and Shaw played his best game of the season. The South Carolina quarterback finished 19-of-28 for 219 yards and three touchdowns through the air and tallied his fourth score on a 10-yard run in the third quarter. Shaw has been lights out since returning from a recent shoulder injury. He now has 10 touchdown passes on the season, but more importantly, he has yet to throw an interception after throwing seven a year ago.

The LSU defense: It has been only two weeks since LSU gave up 44 points in a loss to Georgia, but coach Les Miles never gave up on his defense. That confidence paid off Saturday. The Tigers defeated Florida, 17-6, in a good, old-fashioned slugfest, rare for the SEC this season. LSU didn't force a single turnover, but the Tigers held the Gators to just 240 yards of total offense. Tyler Murphy had looked impressive since taking over as Florida's quarterback, but he could get nothing going in Death Valley. The Tigers finished with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Linebacker Lamin Barrow led the team with 13 tackles.

T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama: It wasn't much of a start for Yeldon or Drake. Both running backs fumbled early, and the Crimson Tide failed to score in the first quarter against Kentucky as a result of the miscues. However, instead of dwelling on the fumbles, they both redeemed themselves in a big way Saturday night. Yeldon led the way with 124 yards on 16 carries, while Drake gained 106 on 14 carries. They each scored two touchdowns. As a team, Alabama rushed for 299 yards against the Wildcats. Freshman running back Altee Tenpenny got into the mix late with a 7-yard touchdown run, the first of his career.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It wasn't pretty at times. It was downright ugly with the two second-half turnovers, but in the end, Johnny did what he always does. He made just enough plays to win the football game. The Aggies gave up a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Manziel led them back and answered with a 6-yard touchdown run. After Ole Miss went three-and-out, Manziel orchestrated a flawless two-minute drill that resulted in the game-winning field goal. The Texas A&M quarterback finished 31-of-39 for 346 yards through the air and rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The month of October has been about working on the little things for the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Against a slew of unranked opponents, beginning with Georgia State this past weekend and continuing against one-win Kentucky on Saturday, the matter of remaining undefeated has taken a back seat to improving the product as a whole.

[+] EnlargeEddie Jackson
AP Photo/Dave MartinEddie Jackson is proving he has the speed and skills to step up in Alabama's secondary.
And that, more than anything, means adding to the team's depth.

The offense seems set in that department. Alabama's never had as deep a corps of receivers as it does this season. Chris Black, a seldom used backup this season, led the team in receiving against Georgia State. Even scout teamer Parker Barrineau got a catch. The running backs have gotten plenty of carries, too. T.J. Yeldon has given way to Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny, in addition to usual suspects Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart.

But the defense, more importantly, has found some more pieces to the puzzle. The emergence of true freshman Eddie Jackson at cornerback, which began against Colorado State and continued against Ole Miss and Georgia State, is bolstering a secondary that struggled to defend the pass early in the season. The players who began the year as likely starters opposite Deion Belue -- John Fulton and Cyrus Jones -- have given way to Jackson.

Belue, who said with Jackson, the secondary found some chemistry that has been coming for a few weeks.

But Belue sees more in Jackson that just someone who fits in with the rest of the secondary.

"Oh man, he’s got the whole package," Belue said. "He has the quickness, the speed. He’s got the length, you know, his arms are long. So he brings everything that we need."

But Jackson isn't the only youngster emerging on Alabama's defense which ranks 12th nationally in yards per game (299.8) and third in touchdowns allowed (7).

With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix sidelined indefinitely -- UA head coach Nick Saban said Wednesday that, "Ha Ha's suspended until we make an announcement that he's not" -- true sophomores Geno Smith and Landon Collins have stepped up at free safety in his absence. Collins had two tackles against Georgia State and Smith was one of three defenders to break up a pass in the game.

But their development is an ongoing process. Smith played cornerback as a freshman and transitioned to safety during fall camp. Collins, who has played every spot in the secondary but free safety, took up the position only a week ago.

Said Collins: "It’s, I wouldn’t say easy, but it’s getting back to me and it’s becoming normal."

The youth movement hasn't been limited to the secondary, though. A'Shawn Robinson, a mammoth freshman defensive tackle at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, is currently tied for second on the team in tackles for loss (3) and is tied for the team lead in sacks (2).

"A'Shawn Robinson has really made a significant improvement over the last two or three weeks as an upfront guy, which is really important to us," Saban said.

It hasn’t been all good news. True freshman linebacker Reuben Foster has come along slowly. The former No. 1-rated inside linebacker prospect has played in four games this season and registered two tackles in the process.

"He's still got a lot of work to do, most of the younger guys do," UA starting linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "At the end of the day we like to see our guys still play to our standard and then did. They didn't give up a touchdown or a field goal [against GSU]. So we felt like at the end of the day they did what they had to do to play to the Alabama defensive standard."

Saban called Foster someone "we're hopeful can play for us down the road." But he's not the only one. As Saban said following the Georgia State game, now is the time for youngsters like Foster, Robinson and Jackson to step up because there's no telling when their number will be called in the weeks to come.

"We need those guys to get some experience, make some mistakes, so that they can learn from those things," he said. "I think it creates an awareness, especially with young players, of how important it is to prepare and pay attention to detail when you're getting ready to play, because a lot of those guys are one injury from having to play."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama did just about everything everyone expected it to. Playing an overmatched Georgia State, the top-ranked Crimson Tide dominated every area in their 45-3 win Saturday.

These games might be snoozers, but Alabama coach Nick Saban considers them valuable learning experiences and opportunities to clean up the little things that could cost the Tide in conference games.

[+] EnlargeKenyan Drake
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKenyan Drake was among the many Tide players to see action in Alabama's rout of Georgia State.
"We executed better, and our players made some improvement," Saban said.

While Georgia State clearly couldn't touch Alabama's talent pool, this was arguably Alabama's most complete game of the season, offensively and defensively. The Tide scored on their first seven possessions of the game. The defense gave up 1.9 yards per play in the first half and 3.9 for the game. Alabama started with five straight touchdown drives to take an early 35-0 lead before heading into the half up 38-0.

Georgia State's only points came on a school-record 53-yard field goal.

Quarterback AJ McCarron was lights out, going 15-of-16 passing for 166 yards and four touchdowns. He was out of the game before halftime even rolled around. Running back T.J. Yeldon looked like his old springy self, rushing for 51 yards on six carries before his early trip to the sideline. Wide receiver DeAndrew White made a circus catch for a touchdown late in the first quarter, and Alabama had 308 yards and 19 first downs to Georgia State's 41 yards and three first downs in the first half.

The second half was all about the youngsters, as Saban sat most of his starters to give reserves some valuable time before heading deeper into SEC play.

"The experience creates the best learning opportunity for every guy that got an opportunity to play," Saban said. "Some of those things got a little sloppy at times, but the benefit far outweighs the consequence in terms of the experience that guys were able to gain."

You knew the day was for the backups when Blake Sims replaced McCarron with 4:26 remaining in the second quarter. Saban said the idea was to let Sims, who entered the game with just two pass attempts on the year, run the offense. Saban didn't want any designed QB runs; he wanted Sims to take charge and throw.

It worked, as Sims completed 14 of 18 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Forget who the opponent was, that was a confidence-building performance that could go a long way the next time Sims gets into a game.

Seventy Alabama players played, including sophomore wide receiver Chris Black, who led the Tide with six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. It was the most time he had seen in a game during his career, after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury.

"I'm looking forward to improving, getting better and doing work," Black said.

Saturday was also a chance for Landon Collins and Geno Smith to get time at free safety, where the suspended Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played. It was the first time Collins had played in a game at free safety, and he said he was nervous for one play -- the first one.

It was a chance for offensive lineman Grant Hill to get in and prove that burning his redshirt for the season was worth it. And it was a chance for freshman Altee Tenpenny to carry the ball four times on Homecoming inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

These might look insignificant, but more learning experiences and more game action will go a long way for Alabama's youngsters.

"Coach isn't there to help them each and every step, like he is in practice, so it gives them more confidence," White said. "In the future, we're not going to be able to hold their hands the whole way. For us to get out of the game and them come in the game and we're not missing a beat, that's real good."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a few days before the start of the season and AJ McCarron was asked whether he was still planning on being the holder on field goals and extra points. It seemed, after all, like a legitimate question to ask. As Alabama's starting quarterback, he had a higher calling than making sure the football was placed on the turf just so.

There surely was another less vital player who could perform what seemed to be a menial task, right?

"No, Coach knows I don't care," is all McCarron said. "That's what he asked me to do and I'm going to do it. I'm not bigger than anybody else."

McCarron, a fifth-year senior and a Heisman Trophy contender, has been a part of special teams for years now. But he's not the only All-SEC talent playing on a unit usually reserved for rookies and lifelong backups. C.J. Mosley, Alabama's All-American linebacker, covers punts, and T.J. Yeldon, UA's leading tailback, does the same. Vinnie Sunseri and Trey DePriest, two starters on defense, made their bones on special teams.

They don't do it because they have to. They do it because there's pride involved. They do it because it's important.

"I used to look at it as one play," DePriest said. "It's one play, give it all you got for one play. You never know when you're going to be needed, and since special teams is a one play thing -- you run down there, do what you need to do and get off the field. And when the next special teams is up, you go out there and do it again."

Said Mosley: "We always treat special teams like a game-changing momentum changer."

Alabama's special teams play has been especially good this season, becoming arguably the most consistent part of the top-ranked Crimson Tide's game. Where the offense and defense have had their ups and downs, the third, lesser-known unit, has been steadily impressive, coming in eighth nationally in yards per punt (46.95) and yards per kickoff return (28.0). On kickoff coverage, Alabama is 20th nationally and second in the SEC, allowing an average of 17.73 yards per return.

Big plays have been a part of special teams, too. Sophomore linebacker Dillon Lee's blocked punt return for a touchdown against Colorado State marked the third special teams score and the fifth non-offensive touchdown of the year for Alabama, far outpacing any season in recent memory. Two interceptions have been taken to the house and return specialist Christion Jones already has a touchdown on a kickoff and a punt return.

"We practice every day, we focus on that," Sunseri said. "Coach Saban says to practice like you want to play and we hustle down field every day and want to make sure we don’t give up any plays in practice, because whatever you do in practice rolls over to the game. Doing those things right and getting full position is always huge."

There hasn't been a more overlooked part of Alabama's recent championship run than special teams. Year in and year out the play has been above average, thanks to rookies and veterans alike.

The way Alabama has recruited, hauling in top-three classes each year since 2008, there have been an abundance of four- and five-star talents ready to make a contribution right away. And rather than wait idly on the sidelines for a starting position to come open, they've turned to special teams. Derrick Henry, the No. 1 athlete in the 2013 class, is on kickoff coverage, along with four-star tailback Altee Tenpenny.

But the most impressive youngster has been Landon Collins, who came to Alabama as the No. 1 safety in the country a year ago. He has developed into a tackling machine on kickoff and punt coverage, earning praise from coaches and teammates alike.

"He was a monster," punter Cody Mandell said. "He was like a human cannonball, to be honest with you."

"You see him, he's crazy," safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. "He's a great player, great tackler. He gets down field and makes big plays."

Collins had a chance to start alongside Clinton-Dix at strong safety this season, but ultimately lost the job to the more veteran option in Sunseri. Instead of sulking, Collins has continued to give everything he has to special teams. As starting cornerback Deion Belue put it, "The only thing you can expect from him is 110 percent."

"A killer mindset," Collins said of how he approaches special teams. "It's a dog eat dog world, I say to myself. I want to make any play possible, regardless of the fact of what I'm doing."

And that, in a nutshell, explains why Alabama is so good on a unit that's so often overlooked. All-Americans and five-star talents don't view special teams as a burden, but rather as an opportunity. When Collins shoots downfield and blows up return men like a heat-seeking missile, it draws as big a celebration as any from the sidelines.

Even a veteran quarterback like McCarron understands the importance of special teams. He doesn't have to hold Cade Foster's kicks. No one would second guess a player of his stature staying on the sidelines for extra points and field goals. But McCarron doesn't shy away from the extra work and neither do his teammates.

"He's the best there is," said UA kicker Cade Foster. "For him to be able to drive us down there and get us in position and still be able to focus on a hold blows my mind. Really thankful that he can do it because I wouldn't want anyone else."

SEC lunchtime links

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
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We're closing in on Week 6 in the SEC. Find out the latest rumblings in Thursday's sampling of news and notes from across the league.

Five things: Alabama-Colorado State

September, 21, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's been a while, Tuscaloosa. For the first time this season, Bryant-Denny Stadium will be put to use, as No. 1 Alabama hosts Colorado State for its home opener.

Here's what we'll be watching when the Crimson Tide kick off on campus.

Secondary seeking answers: They've heard the criticism all week after getting their doors blown off by Texas A&M this past weekend. The Aggies cut through the UA secondary like hot butter as Johnny Manziel bought time in and out of the pocket before inevitably finding a receiver downfield for a big gain. Mike Evans, by himself, amassed more than 250 yards receiving against a carousel of cornerbacks. In response, Alabama coach Nick Saban called for something of an open competition at defensive back with youngsters like Bradley Sylve, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Smith and possibly Eddie Jackson getting looks against CSU. The Rams aren't near the passing threat of Texas A&M, but they're nonetheless the next challenge and the next opportunity to right the ship.

Running back rotation: We might have to wait until the second quarter to see UA starting tailback T.J. Yeldon, who will reportedly be suspended for a quarter for the unsportsmanlike penalty he received last week against Texas A&M. But even so, the timing couldn't be better as Alabama looks to sort out its running back rotation. Saban said in the offseason that he wanted a five- or six-deep group of backs, and so far we've seen plenty of Yeldon and lead backup Jalston Fowler, but the rest of the backfield hasn't been showcased much. Dee Hart should get some carries, and we'll likely see true freshmen Altee Tenpenny and Derrick Henry get their chances against CSU as well. But how the carries are distributed and whether fellow rookie tailback Tyren Jones sees the field remains to be seen.

Is Amari Cooper in a slump? He's dealt with a number of nagging injuries this year, but he hasn't missed any games because of it. And, according to Saban, defenses aren't do anything different to keep him in check. So why exactly is Alabama's top receiver suddenly not himself? The former Freshman All-SEC selection hasn't had the impact on the game we became accustomed to last year and he hasn't been as sure-handed either, dropping a number of passes against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M. He's tied for the team lead with six receptions, but he's only racked up 72 yards and no touchdowns in the process. Getting Cooper back on track in time for the meat of the SEC schedule will be vital for Alabama's offense.

Continuing progress on the O-line: Alabama's offensive line responded in a big way this past weekend after being abused by Virginia Tech in the season opener. Cyrus Kouandjio and Co. helped open big holes in the running game and protected AJ McCarron beautifully against Texas A&M, enforcing its will much in the same way we saw from Alabama's line a year ago. But will it continue? We'll see against the Rams, who admittedly don't offer much in the way of All-American defenders. Keeping last week's momentum going might be difficult, though, if starting right guard Anthony Steen is unable to play after injuring himself against the Aggies. Kellen Williams, who filled in admirably in his absence, could be called on to give Steen a rest early if the pain he experienced last weekend returns.

Championship fatigue: It's been written about a good deal -- Alabama fans getting tired of winning. After three championships in four season, would anyone blame them? Alabama winning football games has become something of a ho-hum affair of late. Setting aside the time and money to see the Tide play in Bryant-Denny Stadium isn't quite as appealing when you know the outcome of the game ahead of time. Heck, some students would rather stay home and watch the game on TV with the luxury of being able to channel surf when the score inevitably gets out of hand. If fans truly are getting tired of going to games, we'll see the effect in the bleachers against nonconference cupcakes like Colorado State.

Planning for success: Alabama

September, 19, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Don't exhale too much after No. 1 Alabama's thrilling win over No. 10 Texas A&M this past weekend. The Crimson Tide get right back at it against an eager Colorado State team at home on Saturday night:

The Crimson Tide will win if …

If Alabama plays like it did against Texas A&M last weekend, this game will be over by the end of the first quarter. Against the Aggies, UA rediscovered its offensive identity -- between-the-tackles running, play-action passing -- and a reenergized offensive line deserves the bulk of credit for that. Though Texas A&M's defense was porous, Colorado State's won't be much better, if at all. The Rams gave up 41 points to Colorado in their season opener and followed that up with a 30-point performance against Tulsa. So long as Alabama's defense doesn't encounter another Mike Evans-Johnny Manziel type combination in Colorado State, it should be fine.

The Rams will win if ...

Jim McElwain's Rams catch Alabama sleeping, which isn't out of the realm of possibility after a difficult, draining game on the road the previous week. With Ole Miss to follow, this might be something of a trap game. A quick score and a few turnovers could put Colorado State in the driver's seat early. That said, it's hard to imagine UA coach Nick Saban won't have his players ready for this game. Alabama might have escaped Kyle Field with a win, but it also learned a lot about its own flaws. Because of that, the Tide should come out with something to prove, especially on defense.

Colorado State players to watch

QB Garrett Grayson: The junior quarterback had one of the best games of his career last week, throwing for 297 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-17 win over Cal Poly at home.

WR Chris Higgins and Jordan Vaden: Alabama's secondary was exposed by a tall wide receiver in Evans a week ago. This time UA must face a pair of sizable receivers in 6-foot-2 Rashard Higgins and 6-foot-3 Jordan Vaden. The two have combined for 17 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns.

LB Shaquil Barrett: The senior All-Mountain West linebacker is fourth on the team in tackles (21), but he's been the best at getting into the backfield with seven tackles for loss and two sacks.

Alabama players to watch

CB Cyrus Jones: His first foray into meaningful action at cornerback had its good and bad last weekend. He struggled to stop Evans -- so did everyone else who tried -- but his end zone interception was arguably the turning point in the game. With Deion Belue banged up and Alabama in search of answers in the secondary, Jones could cement his place in the rotation, if not the starting lineup.

WR Amari Cooper: Through the first two games of the season, it's fair to call 2013 a sophomore slump of sorts for Cooper. The former All-SEC wideout has just six receptions and no touchdowns, but it's the drops that are bothersome. Injuries are likely partly to blame, but he's missed on some very catchable balls.

Running back corps: We heard all offseason and preseason that the running back corps would go five or even six deep, but so far we haven't seen much of that depth play itself out. The Texas A&M and Virginia Tech games didn't provide much of a venue to use everyone effectively, but Colorado State should be that opportunity to see how the back end of the rotation will work. Will Altee Tenpenny continue to be the leader of the freshmen backs? Or will Derrick Henry take the reins? And let's not forget Tyren Jones, who could play a part as well.

Key stats

6.3: The difference between Game 1 and 2 for Alabama's offensive line was like night and day. After averaging 3.5 yards per rush against Virginia Tech, Alabama came back against Texas A&M and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Yards before contact improved as well, shooting up from an average of 1.1 yards to 3.9.

12.9: An improved running game brought back Alabama's play-action attack as AJ McCarron went from completing 3 of 8 such passes for an average of 2.6 yards per attempt against the Hokies to completing 7 of 10 play-action attempts for two touchdowns and an average of 12.9 yards per attempt.

20: Alabama has won an impressive 20 games in a row against nonconference opponents. During Saban's tenure, the Tide is 27-3 in nonconference games, outscoring those opponents 1,145-333.

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this article.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- University of Alabama starting nickel back Geno Smith and backup running back Kenyan Drake are back in good standing and ready to go against No. 7 Texas A&M, according to coach Nick Saban. The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide is currently on a bye week before the highly anticipated Sept. 14 trip to College Station, Texas, to face the Aggies.

But whether the pair of sophomores will play is anyone's guess. Smith was reinstated this week after being suspended for Week 1 after his arrest for a DUI, had Jarrick Williams play well in his absence against Virginia Tech this past weekend, helping limit Logan Thomas to 59 yards passing in the season opener. And though Alabama struggled to move the ball on the ground against Bud Foster's defense, the rotation of tailbacks didn't appear to be left wanting with T.J. Yeldon leading the way, followed by Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and Altee Tenpenny.

"We have other players that played in the game in their place," Saban said, "So it's up to them to sort of prove that they're better than those players and can do a better job."

For Smith, his seeing the field next Saturday could end up being a result of the numbers game going in his favor. The former four-star prospect is one of only a few experienced cornerbacks on the roster, and against Texas A&M, the Tide will need all the help it can get as Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin likes to spread out on offense with multiple receivers. Johnny Manziel picked apart the Alabama secondary early in last year's game, scoring two touchdowns through the air in the Tide's lone loss of the season.
Drake's status, though, is still uncertain. Many have wondered how someone who was expected to be the No. 2 tailback entering fall camp would suddenly drop to scout team and not travel for the season opener, but sources inside the program indicate the move was the result of a deeper pool of running backs with the addition of four talented backs in the 2013 recruiting class.

"I think all the running backs are really good, the freshmen, and I think they'll all be able to contribute," Saban said on Aug. 13. "Some of the guys who are showing a little bit more maturity and learning and being able to sustain performance, which I think is going to help their development and it's going to help them be able to contribute and play.

"Derrick Henry being here in the spring obviously helps his (chances). Altee Tenpenny seems like he's a guy that seems to get it and is pretty well rounded and has been able to grasp things and sort of learn quickly. But the other guys have done a good job as well."

Tenpenny and Henry both took snaps in the season opener. Tenpenny ran the ball six times for 31 yards, while Henry, the No. 1 athlete in his class, carried it just once for 3 yards.

On Tuesday, Saban scoffed at a reporter's question about the young running backs getting playing time against Virginia Tech, saying that he didn't see enough to take Yeldon, Fowler or Hart out of the game.

"I saw that they have ability and potential and they need time to develop so that they're comfortable and confident in doing what they're supposed to do and they can do it fast," he said. "They did make good contributions on special teams, both of them. And we need guys to be able to do that, and running backs are great guys to do that because they have size and speed and they're athletic."

How that translates to Drake getting carries is up for debate, though him playing on special teams is a strong possibility. Should Alabama stick with a three-man rotation at running back, it could prove difficult for Drake to break through considering how far he's dropped.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban didn't like the idea of doing it, but he did his duties and released a depth chart.

"If I were you, I wouldn't make to much of the depth chart we released," Alabama's head coach warned during Monday's news conference. "It's a chore for me to do that, it really is. I know it's important to you so we wanted to provide you with something. But don't ask me questions cause I'm telling you now, it's for you. The depth chart isn't for our team, it's for you so you can have it, write about it and talk about it. You made me do a depth chart when I didn't want to do one. So that's how I'm going to answer you."

[+] EnlargeKenyan Drake
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireKenyan Drake, Alabama's third-leading rusher in 2012, wasn't included in the 2013 depth chart released on Monday.
Try all he like, Alabama's depth chart did mean something.

Kenyan Drake, the team's third-leading rusher and a top candidate to back up starting tailback T.J. Yeldon this fall, wasn't even on it. Instead, Jalston Fowler was listed as the No. 2 back with Dee Hart, Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny listed as co-No. 3 at the position. Why Drake was missing is anyone's guess. Saban hasn't said a word on the subject and because the depth chart was handed out after his regular Monday press conference, no one could ask.

"T.J. certainly is a guy that has played a lot and has experience," Saban said. "I think Jalston Fowler is another guy who's played a lot and had experience. He's going to play a dual role in this game. He'll play some running back, some H-back. Dee Hart is a guy that's played some who will have some situational playing opportunities in this game as well.

"I think that there's probably two of the freshmen that have sort of -- I think they're all good. Kamara had an injury, so he missed a while. He'll be back practicing today, but it's hard to get him ready to play this game right now. Tyren Jones did a good job in the last scrimmage, but really Altee and Derrick Henry have gotten the most reps and are probably the most prepared to be able to play right now."

The offensive line came in as expected with Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle, Arie Kouandjio alongside him at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center and Anthony Steen and Austin Shepherd at right guard and right tackle, respectively.

AJ McCarron was the obvious first-team quarterback and Blake Sims his assumed second in line, but it was curious that Alec Morris was not listed as the third option off the bench.

Former starter Xzavier Dickson will share his starting duties with true sophomore Denzel Devall at Jack linebacker, but that move was expected with Dickson spending some time at defensive end this fall.

The rest of the starting linebackers remained the same with C.J. Mosley at Will, Trey DePriest at Mike and Adrian Hubbard at Sam.

Vinnie Sunseri ultimately won the starting job at strong safety opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on paper, but the move was mostly superficial as both Landon Collins and Jarrick Williams will spend time there as well. Nick Perry, one of two seniors in the secondary, is slated to back up Clinton-Dix at free safety.

All told, 11 true freshmen made the two-deep, though none are projected to start: nose guard A'Shawn Robinson, defensive end Jonathan Allen, linebacker Reuben Foster, cornerback Maurice Smith, offensive tackle Grant Hill, tight end O.J. Howard, receivers Raheem Falkins and Robert Foster, long snapper Cole Mazza and tailbacks Henry and Tenpenny.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They all look the part: long, lean, athletic. It's easy to see why they arrived in on campus with four or five stars assigned to their names.

On the practice field, Alabama's freshmen hardly look green. The country's No. 1-ranked class hasn't disappointed the eye test. Throughout fall camp, you could see their potential.

More importantly, though, you could begin to see where they might fit into the defending champion Crimson Tide's plans.

This year, not the next or the year after that, some Alabama's 25 scholarship freshmen will be called on to contribute, whether it's on special teams or in a more meaningful way on offense or defense.

Last season, 10 true freshmen played for Alabama. Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon headlined the group, but players such as Denzel Devall, Darren Lake and Geno Smith made a difference as well. Kenyan Drake carried the ball 42 times at tailback and Cyrus Jones totaled 364 all-purpose yards between playing wide receiver and returning punts.

Starting Saturday, we'll begin to see how many members of Alabama's 2013 signing class make a similar impact. After watching them develop over the past few months, here's our best guess.

Ready now

[+] EnlargeReuben Foster
Miller Safrit/ESPNFreshman linebacker Reuben Foster is getting more reps in practice.
WR Raheem Falkins: He's more than just the tallest wideout on the roster at 6-foot-4. The former three-star prospect from Louisiana has been a vacuum catching the football, impressing coaches and players alike. AJ McCarron said he's liked what he's seen. With his size, he could become a favorite target in short-yardage and red-zone situations.

ILB Reuben Foster: Saban has lauded the blue-chipper's progress throughout camp, noting a "tremendous amount of progress." He's been rewarded with increased reps to help cut down on the learning curve, and it looks as if he's made the most of it. Though he'll likely start out on special teams, don't be surprised if he makes his way into the rotation at inside linebacker early on.

TE/H O.J. Howard: He's shown signs of promise in the passing game, but the staff wants to see more. The 6-6, 237-pound Howard has all the gifts athletically to terrify defenses with his wide receiver speed and a power forward size. Even if he's a ways off in terms of his comfort level with the playbook, as Saban has indicated, it's hard to see the staff keeping him off the field.

OG Grant Hill: His name has consistently come up among those who have made an impression on his teammates. And he hasn't disappointed on the field, either. The former No. 1 offensive guard in the country has played some tackle, backing up Cyrus Kouandjio on the left side. Though he won't start, you have to expect injuries will happen in the SEC. Should Kouandjio or another lineman go down, the staff could be tempted to put Hill in.

LS Cole Mazza: With long-time snapper Carson Tinker gone, the specialist role is all Mazza's. On field goal attempts and punts, he'll be the one delivering the football.

Freshmen tailbacks: Not one or two, but all four of Alabama's coveted freshmen tailbacks are expected to play as rookies. Derrick Henry is likely the group's ringleader and is the most ready to contribute, but Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones have impressed as well. When Alvin Kamara returns from injury, he could be an added dimension to the offense, a scat-back type who can catch the ball out of the backfield or split out at wide receiver.

Coming soon

WR Robert Foster: He could be the best player to not see the field for Alabama this season. The former top-five wide receiver prospect came to camp at the last moment but never looked like he missed a beat, showing off tremendous athleticism and good hands. Because of the Tide's depth at the position, he shouldn't be needed this season. But if injuries occur, he could be called on.

OL Brandon Hill: No player made better progress physically from the spring to the fall than Hill, who is listed at 6-6 and 385 pounds and shed somewhere around 50 pounds during the course of the offseason. Though he's still not the ideal weight for a tackle, you can see now why the staff was so high on him. He's big, obviously, but he's got good quickness and strength, too. Like so many of this year's starters, he could come off the bench late in games as part of the second-team offensive line.

S Jai Miller: He's no rookie at nearly 30 years old, not to mention he's 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds. Miller, who spent a decade playing professional baseball, has experienced something of a learning curve since walking on at Alabama and only recently have we started to see where he might establish a role for himself. He's shadowed Landon Collins at money (dime) defensive back of late and could be a real spark for the Tide on special teams.

DLs Jonathan Allen, Dee Liner and A'Shawn Robinson: Senior defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan called the Tide's group of rookies the smartest he'd ever seen. Saban followed up that comment by saying all three have the ability to contribute this coming season. In need of pass-rushers, Allen and Liner could come off the bench to provide that spark. And Robinson, a mammoth of a freshman at 320 pounds, could give depth at nose guard, where Brandon Ivory is coming off an injury.

CBs Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson: The battle for a rookie to play cornerback at Alabama is so steep, most don't make it. Geno Smith's late ascent to the starting lineup last season was rare. Though Smith and Jackson fit the bill physically as 6-footers with good size, the learning curve will be difficult with Saban handling the position himself. With the Tide thin at corner, they could make an impact late in the season if they play their cards right.

A ways off

CBs Jonathan Cook and Anthony Averett: There's time left to jockey for position, but it looks like Smith and Jackson have passed fellow rookies Cook and Averett on the fast track to playing time.

LBs Tim Williams and Walker Jones: It's hard to see either Williams or Jones playing much as rookies. Jones has too much ahead of him and Williams, who has made strides during camp and looks like a young Adrian Hubbard, isn't there physically yet.

WR ArDarius Stewart: He came in as an athlete who could have played on either offense or defense. Ultimately the staff put him at wide receiver, where he's looked good, but he'll need time to adjust to playing there full time.

QBs Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio: Ideally, all three will redshirt the season and retain full eligibility heading into next season, when the Tide will figure out who AJ McCarron's successor will be. With Blake Sims and Alec Morris dueling it out for No. 2 now, expect the rookies to ride the bench and learn the ropes in 2013.

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