Alabama Crimson Tide: Alvin Kamara

SEC lunchtime links

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
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After this weekend, all the underclassmen who wanted to go to the NFL are officially gone. Now begins the hectic final push in the recruiting season. Nick Saban did the electric slide, Lane Kiffin sang karaoke and that's just the nonsense going on at Alabama to impress recruits. Signing day is Feb. 5, so strap in tight because things could get really weird before it's all said and done.
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.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
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It's Friday. Coast through the rest of your work week by catching up with what's happening around the SEC.
YeldonRandy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsSophomores T.J. Yeldon (pictured) and Kenyan Drake are established Alabama tailbacks, but the Crimson Tide are hoping that their four incoming freshman can provide immediate depth.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban is no stranger to managing a crowded backfield. Since he took over as head coach at Alabama in 2007, he's featured two lead tailbacks and a supporting cast of one or more every season. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy were the players fans across the country knew best, but they wouldn't have been as explosive as they were without help from the bench.

T.J. Yeldon understands that. The soft-spoken sophomore backed up Lacy in 2012 and was able to make a name for himself in the process, becoming the first UA tailback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his freshman season. All told the former four-star prospect from South Alabama ran for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on 12.5 carries per game.

"He's bright. He learns well. He understands the offense. He's a good blocker. He's a complete player. He's a really good receiver, and he's a good runner," Saban said of his Pre-Season All-SEC back. "And he understands what he's doing, and he's played enough that his knowledge and experience certainly helps him with the rest of the players."

Yeldon and his presumptive backup, Kenyan Drake, are givens, but the rest of the backfield is where things get sticky. Where will the rest of the Tide's cast of characters fit in?

In addition to veterans Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, Alabama signed four tailbacks in the 2013 class. Each rookie brings something different to the table: Derrick Henry is a physical freak at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, Altee Tenpenny is a bruiser with good lower body strength, Alvin Kamara is a scat-back type with good catching ability and Tyren Jones is a somewhere in the middle, a power back with good shiftiness and explosion. And according to those inside the program, all four not only are on track to play early, but are expected to do so this season.

Saban hinted as much at his signing day press conference when he scoffed at the notion of a "stacked" running back corps. He said then that good depth at the position meant five really good players, with three playing a lot. With Fowler practicing at H-back and Hart a question mark given his health concerns, the numbers add up.

On Tuesday, Saban updated the situation at tailback and praised his freshmen in the process.

"I think all the running backs are really good, the freshmen, and I think they'll all be able to contribute," he said. "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."

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said less than two weeks earlier that the most important thing for the young backs such as Tenpenny and Henry is to get the system down pat. Then and only then can they move on to the idea of playing time.

"So that's the biggest thing is to teach them once again the big picture -- how you get lined up, what kind of stance, what kind of footwork. Everybody focuses on the running back position about what the player does with the ball in their hands. There's so much more to it," he said. "You start talking about protection-type things. What we see from our defense every day, the complexity of blitzes and those type of things, it's very important that those guys grow in that area.

"[The coaches are] very, very pleased with the depth that we have there, really good players. Jalston Fowler, you know he missed most of last season. Dee Hart coming back off of injury. Kenyan Drake returning. And then we talked about Derrick and the young guys that are coming in. So we've got a lot of depth there."

Yeldon told reporters on Tuesday that the young backs have been leaning on him for advice while they learn the ropes during fall camp. Funny because it was only a year ago that he was doing the same thing, splitting carries as he studied under Lacy. Now it's Yeldon leading the charge as he wonders who will split carries with him as the team's feature back.

But who looks best so far? Yeldon can't tell.

"Every guy is different," he said. "They have different running abilities. All of them are looking pretty good."
Landon CollinsMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsFreshman O.J. Howard is already a load for Alabama, as the four-star tight end will most certainly see quite a bit of playing time for the Crimson Tide this season.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They haven't taken their first college class, but Alabama's freshmen have begun their education in Tuscaloosa. Fall camp, with all the difficulties and challenges it presents, is in full swing for the defending champion Crimson Tide and rookies such as Reuben Foster and Grant Hill are getting their first taste of what it means to compete in the SEC.

With a full week of practice already in the books, Alabama's No. 1-ranked signing class has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Veteran defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said there are some potential impact players in the class, saying of the group: "They're really smart, they're fast, they're big."

Ed Stinson, another established player on the defensive line, said the newcomers don't even look like freshmen.

"They're some big boys," he said. "They're strong."

Nick Saban, meanwhile, wasn't nearly as complimentary. That's to be expected, as the seventh-year head coach has had impressive looking players before. What he cares about is how they put those talents to use.

"You can look at that glass as half empty or half full," Saban said earlier in the week. "You see some players who can do it and you see some players who struggle to do it. I'm not disappointed. You make players aware of it. You point it out to them. 'Are you giving the kind of effort that you need? Are you having the kind of focus to execute the technique we need to have you execute?' I don't think there's any player who doesn't want to do it. It's just building the maturity and mental toughness to sustain it. That's part of the development of every player. The older players can do it because they've been through it before and can understand it. It's a process that the younger players have to go through so that they can develop those qualities and characteristics."

Saban wouldn't say who has disappointed and who has impressed. That's not his way. But this reporter has no such qualms. In this week's edition of Alabama Intel, we look at which freshmen have stood out so far.

Alabama camp primer: Who to watch 

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's time. After months and months of waiting, the start of pre-season camp is finally upon us.

Alabama players report today and begin practicing under the direction of coach Nick Saban and the staff tomorrow. To get you ready for all the action, here's a piece-by-piece look at some areas and players to watch.

Making their move


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It’s Rankings Week at TideNation. Every day we’ll rank some aspect of the Alabama football program heading into the 2013 season. Today we’re ranking the top 10 UA rookies with the chance of making the biggest impact in the fall. On Friday we’ll rank the Tide’s top needs in recruiting for the Class of 2014, as well as give you the top players the staff are pursuing at those positions.

Rookies with the best chance of making an impact

[+] EnlargeO.J. Howard
Miller Safrit/ESPNO.J. Howard is expected to make an immediate impact at tight end.
1. TE/H-back O.J. Howard: He's big, he's tall and he's fast. Really, he's unlike any tight end Alabama has had in the Nick Saban era in that he can make plays on his own because of his athleticism. Howard, the former No. 2 tight end prospect in the country, enrolled early and showed why he's viewed as a game-changer at the position. As teammate Brian Vogler put it, "He's a whole new dimension to the offense."

2. RB Derrick Henry: He'll play running back. Let's get that out of the way right now. At 6-foot-3 and some 240 pounds, Henry doesn't look like your prototypical ball-carrier, but that's what he'll be as a freshman. And watch out. Teammates marveled at his strength, saying he looked like a taller version of Trent Richardson on the practice fields. A broken leg caused him to miss A-Day, but he's expected to be back to 100 percent before the start of fall camp.

3. WR Raheem Falkins: As the No. 41-ranked receiver in a signing class that featured No. 2-ranked Robert Foster, it's understandable why Falkins wasn't on many people's radar coming into spring camp. But the tall, rangy wideout from Louisiana enrolled early and showed he's more than just a project. He was quick, smooth and graceful with the football, belying his size. But it's his size that gives him an edge. At 6-foot-4, he'll be the tallest receiver on the roster and thus a good option in the red zone.

4. OT Leon Brown: Don't count Brown out of the race at right tackle just yet. Veteran Austin Shepherd has the lead, but Brown isn't so far behind that he can't catch up. The former No. 2-ranked juco offensive tackle enrolled early this spring and transitioned well to the college game under new position coach Mario Cristobal. He could hit his stride this fall after a full offseason in the weight and film rooms.

5. LB Jonathan Allen: It's no secret that Alabama needs help rushing the passer, and Allen is a talent in that respect. The former No. 3-ranked defensive end in the country got after the quarterback well in high school, and the native Virginian will be asked to do the same in Tuscaloosa, albeit from a hybrid linebacker position. He already has the size at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, it's just a matter of taking to a new position.

6. DL Dee Liner: Nabbing Liner away from the Auburn Tigers late in the recruiting season was a home run for the Alabama staff. The No. 4-ranked defensive tackle in the ESPN 150 has the quickness Alabama is looking for in its defensive linemen, as well as the versatility to play multiple spots on the field.

7. RB Alvin Kamara: Like Falkins, Kamara will have an edge on his competition in that he'll have a niche role. Unlike all the other Alabama tailbacks that are generally one-cut power runners, Kamara is a guy with the shiftiness to get outside the tackles, make multiple cuts and run away from the defense. He's got good hands, too, meaning he could be a weapon on third down and in passing situations if he shows he can block effectively.

8. CB Maurice Smith: Alabama needs depth at cornerback, and Smith is the highest-rated defensive back in the Tide's 2013 signing class. More importantly he's a physical corner which Bama coach Nick Saban will like, and he's a guy who is used to competition having come up through the Texas high school football ranks. But be warned, his transition to college will take time. It's no easy task for a freshman to learn Saban's way of playing corner. It took Geno Smith until nearly the end of his first season to figure it out.

9. LB Reuben Foster: The tattoos and backstory now fully behind him, it will be interesting to see what Foster does with a fresh start. Say what you will about his personality, but his talent is undeniable. As the No. 1-rated inside linebacker in the ESPN 150, he has the strength, size and speed to be a force at the next level.

10. LS Cole Mazza: In all honesty, Mazza could be at the top of this list if it were "Who is the most likely to play as a freshman?" Instead it was a question of impact, and measuring the potential for impact is debatable given the position he'll play. We could see the long-snapper playing from Day 1 seeing as he's the only player Saban has ever awarded a scholarship at his position. He's the heir to Carson Tinker, who played in 38 career games.


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There goes the family vacation. Alabama fans planning their annual pilgrimage to Tuscaloosa for the A-Day scrimmage this Saturday were hit with some disappointing news when it was learned that fab freshman tailback Derrick Henry would miss the remainder of spring because of a fractured leg.

A-Day had been built as Henry's opening act. For months, we had heard how talented the former five-star athlete was: A 6-foot-3, 238-pound man-child with the shoulders of a linebacker and the feet of a tailback. Much of signing day was devoted to what position he would play at Alabama: running back, H-back, linebacker, something in between?

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The last month has been a productive one for the University of Alabama in terms of recruiting.

Sure, the Crimson Tide still have just three commitments for 2014 -- far less than they’ve had at this time in years past -- but since the beginning of spring practice, they have hosted some of the nation’s top recruits. If the talent on campus this spring is any indication, Nick Saban is well on his way to another No. 1 recruiting class.

With just a week until A-Day, TideNation breaks down the recent visitors, position-by-position, beginning with the offense Thursday.


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Will Carter continue Alabama pipeline? 

March, 11, 2013
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SUWANEE, Ga. – There is never a shortage of highly coveted football prospects in the state of Georgia. While it remains to be seen if anyone in the 2014 class will be rated as highly as 2013 standouts Robert Nkemdiche or Montravius Adams, there are already a couple defensive recruits that can stake claim to being recruited by just about every prominent program in the country. Raekwon McMillan is one, and Lorenzo Carter is the other.


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The O-zone: Grading the 2013 class 

February, 13, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Last week, the University of Alabama inked the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for the second year in a row. The class was made up of prospects from 13 different states and featured a combination of skill players and interior linemen.

This week’s O-zone takes a closer look at the class, breaking down its strengths and weaknesses, and singling out a few players who could stand out when they get on campus.


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron was almost giddy when he spoke with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi on the morning of national signing day. Alabama's junior quarterback has won two national championships as a starter, and he broke all kinds of passing records this past season. And despite all he has accomplished, the steely, strong-armed veteran had something to get worked up about, something to look forward to next season.

McCarron wasn't smiling because of the big board of recruits being filled up in the Alabama football offices. He checked out of the recruiting game the minute he signed his own national letter of intent. The quarterback instead went flush when Rinaldi asked what excited him most about the upcoming season.

[+] EnlargeHoward
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackNewcomer O.J. Howard, an H-back, will bolster an already multitalented group catching rockets from AJ McCarron in 2013.
"My receivers," McCarron answered, laughing nervously. "I look out there and see the explosive guys out wide that can make plays."

McCarron won't lack for options in the passing game in 2013. All of his starters return, including fab freshman Amari Cooper. Cooper, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones will be joined by a talented group of backups: DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell, Chris Black, Marvin Shinn and Cyrus Jones. Throw in the two wideout prospects and one tight end signed on Wednesday and the list of targets goes up. Robert Foster, the No. 2 receiver in the ESPN 150, and O.J. Howard, the second-ranked tight end/H-back in the country, will make an impact sooner or later.

"We have different types of receivers -- bigger guys, smaller guys that are fast," McCarron told Rinaldi. "It's going to be a fun year for our offense."

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ESPN 150 RB Kamara signs with Bama 

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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NORCROSS, Ga. -- The rich get richer.

ESPN 150 running back Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) has been well aware of the running backs on campus at Alabama, as well as the three other ESPN 150 prospects slated to vie for carries in the Crimson Tide backfield this fall. But the No. 32 prospect in the country still chose to sign with Alabama on Wednesday, choosing the back-to-back national champions over in-state University of Georgia.

Simply put, Kamara is not afraid of competition. He said as much Monday night during a tweetchat feature at RecruitingNation.

“I feel like I can go into camp, do what I am supposed to do on the field and off the field, make an impact, give my team a chance to win a national championship, make some plays and hopefully get on ESPN,” Kamara said.

Georgia was thought to be the leader for Kamara last year, and some felt the Bulldogs would land the 5-foot-11, 192-pound running back by the end of the summer. But Kamara held off on committing, and Alabama made it a two-team race for the next six months.

Recruiter of record Kirby Smart was the first to start recruiting Kamara in the spring after his sophomore season, and the two built up a strong relationship over the next two years. After several trips to Tuscaloosa, Ala., Kamara felt more and more comfortable with the campus and the team, and the Tide emerged as the leader late in January.

What is the impact of Kamara's decision?


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The O-zone: Signing day predictions 

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- ESPN 150 linebacker Reuben Foster kicked off signing day week with a commitment to Alabama on Monday night. However, the real fun begins on Wednesday when the recruits sign and fax their letters of intent to the schools they choose.

Alabama already has 23 commitments for 2013, but the Crimson Tide are expected to finish strong. Who else will they add on signing day?

In good shape

RB Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross): It’s always been Alabama and Georgia for Kamara. UGA is the hometown school, but he’s more than comfortable with the Tide’s program. Kamara spent nearly a week in Tuscaloosa in August during fall camp. He has visited multiple times, including a surprise trip this past weekend with Foster. He says the potential depth chart at running back are a non-issue, and Alabama plans to utilize him in a variety of ways.
Prediction: Alabama
Announcement time: 2:35 p.m. CT


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Alvin Kamara: TweetChat 

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
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Running back Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) will decide between Alabama and Georgia on signing day, announcing his decision at 3:35 p.m. ET on ESPNU. While it was thought that the Bulldogs were the team to beat several times last year, it seems the Crimson Tide are sitting pretty to add a fourth ESPN 150 running back in the 2013 recruiting cycle.

On Monday night, he consented to answer some questions that were submitted by fans on Twitter using the hashtag #AskKamara. Be sure to follow him at @A_kamara6.


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