Alabama Crimson Tide: D.J. Fluker

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The recruiting classes have all been spectacular since Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007. Simply put, there hasn’t been a better program in college football at gathering, signing and developing blue-chip recruits over the past decade or so.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/Greg TrottFormer Alabama tailback Trent Richardson was ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the Class of 2009.
But all we’ve done the past few days has led us to answer this difficult question: Which class was the best and most impactful of Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa? The 2008 class started it all with guys like Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, and the 2011 class had upward of nine future NFL players with potential first-round picks Cyrus Kouandjio and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. And all that goes without mentioning the three consecutive No. 1-ranked classes from 2012-14 that are still in the process of maturing.

So determining the best class, in that context, was not easy. Our Nos. 2 and 3 classes both had arguments for the top spot. But ultimately the decision was simple: The Class of 2009 was too talented and too deep to keep from coming out No. 1 on our list. Too many current and future professional players dotted the 30-man signing class to ignore.

There was not only the drama of Trent Richardson’s announcement (Saban was uncharacteristically “elated, ecstatic, happy and really pleased," when he signed), but there was also the risk of taking just one quarterback in the class. Obviously, that maneuver paid off as AJ McCarron became arguably the most decorated quarterback in SEC history.

“We thought AJ McCarron was an outstanding prospect in our state,” Saban told reporters way back on Feb. 4, 2009. “Once he committed to us, we felt like someone had to be at least as good as him or better if we were going to take another player at that position. I think that is just kind of how it worked out.”

As it turned out there wasn’t anyone better. And it's just one reason why the 2009 class should go down as the most impactful of Saban’s tenure at Alabama.

The stars: McCarron has the chance to go down as the best quarterback in Alabama history, surpassing Goliath's like Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler and Jay Barker. With two championships as a starter and a slew of passing records to his name, he’s clearly the headliner of the class. But he’s not alone, not by a long shot. Richardson was the No. 1 running back in the country and became the first back taken in the 2012 NFL Draft, going third overall. The second running back Alabama took -- the lesser known Eddie Lacy -- would get drafted a year later and become the Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Green Bay Packers in 2013. On the other side of the ball, Dre Kirkpatrick lived up to the hype as the No. 1 cornerback in the country, going in the first round of the draft to the Cincinnati Bengals. And Chance Warmack surpassed all expectations when he rose from a midlevel college prospect to the top offensive guard in the country to a first round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2013.

[+] EnlargeDre Kirkpatrick
AP Photo/David KohlAlabama signed three prospects ranked in the top 12 of the Class of 2009, including cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (No. 4).
The contributors: Anthony Steen was much more than a contributor, but considering how he came to Alabama as the No. 39 defensive tackle in the country it’s a wonder he developed into a three-year starter at guard and a hopeful NFL draft pick. His career was arguably more fruitful and definitely more consistent than that of D.J. Fluker, who went from being the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2009 class to a first round pick of the San Diego Charger’s in 2013. Along with Steen, signees like Nico Johnson, Ed Stinson, Quinton Dial and Kevin Norwood carved out nice careers at Alabama with the type of accomplishments that would land them on the radar of NFL executives.

The letdowns: Compared to other top classes, there were very few letdowns to come from 2009’s crop of signees. Really, all of Alabama’s top five prospects panned out. Had Johnson not had C.J. Mosley behind him, his career might have been looked upon with more favor, and still he was a solid SEC linebacker who would get drafted in the fourth round by the Kansas City Chiefs. But there were some misses as Kendall Kelly never really caught on, Tana Patrick never became more than a sub off the bench, and Petey Smith never stuck around, transferring to a community college in 2011. The biggest whiff of all had to be Darrington Sentimore, though, and not because he was a heralded prospect like the others. The No. 20-ranked defensive tackle wound up transferring to a junior college and then on to Tennessee where he developed into one of the more disruptive defensive linemen in the SEC.

The results: All told, 13 of Alabama’s 30 signees in 2009 are playing in the NFL currently or have futures in the league in 2014. As far as percentages go, that’s a success rate even the most accomplished programs can be proud of. Churning out NFL prospects is one thing, though. Taking five-stars and sending them to the league isn’t unheard of. No, the most impressive thing was the depth of the class as a whole. Not only did blue-chip prospects like Kirkpatrick, McCarron and Richardson pan out, so did developmental recruits like Warmack, Steen, Norwood and Lacy. To have that range of success is almost unheard of. Saban and his staff really did it all with the 2009 class, not only signing the top talent in the country, but also doing the more difficult thing by developing many of them into accomplished players.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban had plenty to be proud about with the signing class he assembled last Wednesday. It was talented, deep and met every need the Crimson Tide had heading into the 2014 season. It was, according to ESPN and every other major recruiting outlet, the No. 1 class in the country by a wide margin.

[+] EnlargeDa'Shawn Hand
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIDE Da'Shawn Hand could make an immediate impact for Alabama in 2014.
But for Alabama, top recruiting classes are nothing new. It was the third consecutive year the Tide finished No. 1 in ESPN’s class rankings. In fact, no class assembled by Saban with the benefit of a full calendar year to recruit (since 2008) has finished lower than No. 3 overall.

There was something special about this class, apart from the record five five-star athletes and 19 ESPN 300 signees. This class of offensive linemen might be the most decorated in the program’s history. It is, at the very least, the best Saban has ever put together since arriving in Tuscaloosa.

According to Saban, solidifying the trenches was the goal.

“I think that was a point of emphasis early on when we started this, is that we needed to get quality people up front on both sides of the ball,” he told reporters at his annual signing day news conference. “We got six offensive linemen, and I think six defensive linemen. Even though three of those guys are junior college guys, we felt that it was important that we get some guys that had a little more maturity about them, a little more veteran experience.”

The defensive linemen could turn out to be just as special. Da’Shawn Hand, a dynamic athlete out of Virginia, was the second-best defensive end in the country, according to ESPN. Jarran Reed, a former Florida commitment, could make an instant impact after transferring from junior college, as could former freshman All-SEC choice D.J. Pettway. Johnny Dwight and Joshua Frazier could develop into solid contributors as well.

But make no mistake, the most impressive group of the class was the O-line, led by No. 1-rated offensive tackle Cameron Robinson of Monroe, La. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound athlete brings back visions of Cyrus Kouandjio, who was the No. 1 offensive tackle recruit when he came to Alabama only a few years ago. With a similar build and similar attributes to Robinson, Kouandjio started eight games as a true freshman before a knee injury caused him to miss the rest of the season.

Robinson isn’t the only impressive tackle, though. Dominick Jackson, the No. 1 junior college offensive tackle in the country, is ready to make a good first impression. At 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, no one is going to miss the towering product from College of San Mateo in California.

[+] EnlargeCameron Robinson
Miller Safrit/ESPNCameron Robinson, the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle, leads an impressive group of offensive line recruits for Alabama.
Josh Casher and J.C. Hassenauer offer a similar two-deep at the center position. Casher, from nearby Mobile, Ala., and Hassenauer, of Minnesota, were ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 centers in the ESPN 300, respectively.

Throw in Montel McBride, the No. 28-ranked offensive guard in the country, and Ross Pierschbacher, the No. 3 offensive guard in 2014, and you’ve got an offensive line class with both quality and depth.

In fact, both areas are unmatched in Saban’s tenure with Alabama. The six prospects averaged a scout’s grade of 84.17. Compare that to the previous high of 81.67 in 2011 when Kouandjio and three other offensive linemen signed with Alabama. Four O-line classes (2007-10, 12) had an average scout’s grade of 80 or lower.

At this point it’s important to remember that rankings aren’t everything. As coaches were quick to point out throughout the last week, whatever stars a recruit “earned” in high school vanish upon enrollment. It’s no longer about who you are as much as what you can do.

Case in point: Alabama’s offensive line, circa 2012. That line, featuring All-Americans Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack, was hailed as the best in the country and arguably the best in the history of the program, clearing ground for an offense that took to Tide to the BCS National Championship.

But if you judged that line based on each player’s recruiting rankings, it would have been considered middle-of-the-road at best. Jones was a C+ tackle prospect out of Tennessee (scout’s grade: 78) and Warmack was thought of in much the same way (scout’s grade: 79). Right guard Anthony Steen was a three-star prospect who wound up starting three years at Alabama. Big D.J. Fluker (6-7, 325 pounds) was the most highly regarded recruit of the bunch, the No. 1 tackle prospect in the 2009 class and the No. 12 player overall, according to ESPN.

Saban, for his part, wouldn’t be sad to see recruiting rankings fall off a steep cliff. We can talk about how great Alabama’s O-line class is today, but he’d like to see it judged three years from now when players have developed and have an opportunity to move on to the NFL.

“The challenge for all these young men [who] got recruited [on Wednesday], wherever they're going, is to be able to stay focused on what they need to do to improve as players and do the things that they need to do to become very effective college football players,” Saban said. “Maybe the biggest challenge of all, maybe even more so going from college to the NFL, I think is having the maturity to be able to stay focused on the things they need to do to develop as players and keep a positive attitude toward the goal they have, understand what it takes to accomplish the goals they have and then have the discipline they have to execute it every day.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's offensive line represents the ultimate failure to manage expectations, to live in the world as it is as opposed to the world as it might become.

This season's line wasn't the same as its predecessor, but it was expected to have the same type of production. Just look at Ryan Kelly. He was no Barrett Jones, yet he was hyped as a possible improvement over a player with more accolades than any in Alabama history. How crazy was that?

[+] EnlargeRyan Kelly
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsRyan Kelly and Alabama's offensive line have gotten better with each game.
Looking back, it's easy to spot the lunacy. That's no knock on Kelly, who could very well end up being a more talented center than Jones by the time his career is over. But come on. You don't replace Jones' Outland and Rimington trophies overnight. You can't quantify what his experience and leadership meant over four years as a starter at guard, tackle and center for the Crimson Tide.

At the same time, you don't sneak Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker out the back door and expect no one to notice. Those were two first-round NFL draft picks. You could have run a rusty wheelchair behind them and picked up first downs. Granted, Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd were talented replacements, but they hadn't started a game in their careers. We didn't even know if Kouandjio could stay healthy for an entire season, for goodness sake.

In other words, we should have seen Alabama's early-season struggles on the offensive line coming. We should have expected the performances vs. Virginia Tech and Colorado State when the line didn't get push, AJ McCarron was pressured, and the running game never materialized. We shouldn't have thought the success of 2012 would transition into 2013 without so much as a blip in the radar. It doesn't work that way.

All they really needed was time and more realistic expectations.

So it's no wonder we've seen such a dramatic improvement from Alabama's offensive line over the past few weeks. The line hasn't allowed a single sack since the third quarter of the Ole Miss game on Sept. 28 -- that's a streak of 17 quarters for those keeping score at home -- and the running game is suddenly potent again. The offense has begun to click on all cylinders, jumping up to No. 35 nationally with 462.8 yards per game.

Coach Nick Saban touted their improved chemistry and trust with one another, saying how important experience has been to their development.

"They have played well," he said. "They've run blocked well these last few weeks. The last four weeks we thought played well on the offensive line. I think that's important to us, especially with AJ. If he doesn't get pressured in the pocket and we get people open, he's pretty accurate throwing the ball and makes good choices and decisions.

"I think it's a key to us being successful that they continue to improve and play well up front. We'll play against some good defensive linemen and some good defensive teams down the road."

By "down the road" Saban meant this Saturday's game against LSU. Though the 13th-ranked Tigers' defense has been up-and-down this season, they still possess some of the country's best talent on the defensive line. Tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson are monsters at 309 and 294 pounds, respectively.

LSU currently ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense (24.8 ppg), sixth in passing efficiency defense (131.9) and have accounted for the fifth-most sacks (20) in the league.

Had Saturday's game come earlier in the season for Alabama, there might be a full-blown crisis among Tide fans over the state of the offensive line. We'd be hearing questions about whether they could handle the pass rush and if that would mean the offense as a whole wouldn't score enough points to win.

But instead, we're hearing next to nothing. Luckily for Alabama, the offensive line has found its stride in the nick of time. It's almost as if the early struggles never happened. The names of Jones, Warmack and Fluker aren't forgotten in Tuscaloosa, but they're not as agonized over as they were in the first few weeks of the season.

"The past three or four games we were clicking on all levels of the run game and pass game," said right guard Anthony Steen, "and right now we’re just trying not to lose the beat and stay on top of things.”

Steen, a veteran presence with more than 30 starts under his belt, didn't know about the line's streak without allowing a sack until a reporter told him. He wasn't focused on that, he said, and neither were his teammates. Rather than getting to up or too down, he's tried to keep everyone even-keeled.

What's been said and what's happened this season won't matter when LSU comes to town this weekend, and Steen knows that. He said the Tigers' defensive line "will be the most physical line we'll see all season" and that's the only challenge he's worried about.

"We know it’s going to be a tough game," he said. "We know it’s probably going to come down to two or three plays. If they have two good plays and an 80-yard pass and an 80-yard run, then we might lose. But if we have two or three good plays then we might win.

"It’s going to be that type of game. We know that, and we know it’s going to come down to the end."


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- He'd like to talk about football. Period. Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't care about hype or allegations or outside distractions. He simply doesn't want to hear it. If it were up to him, life would operate in a bubble that measures 360 feet by 160 feet. There's chalk inside that box, lines every 5 yards and a bright yellow goalpost on either end.

Saban's singular focus has no room for what happens out of bounds. Leave the rest to the administration to sort out. When reports like the one that broke Wednesday afternoon occur, he stays away. In fact, he doesn't even read them. Less than 72 hours away from No. 1 Alabama's date with No. 6 Texas A&M, he wants to talk about the Aggies and nothing else.

[+] EnlargeFluker
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWhatever D.J. Fluker did or didn't do occurred in the past, and Nick Saban would prefer it stay there.
"If you want to talk about the Texas A&M game, I'd be glad to talk about it," Saban said after back-to-back questions about the report. "That's what I'm here to do. I'm here to coach our players, talk about our team."

It has been a long week already for the Crimson Tide, and the scathing report was the imperfect cherry on top. Alabama lost to Texas A&M and its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel at home a year ago. The players have been asked repeatedly since then how they'll get their revenge. And time and time again, they've said it's not about revenge or retaliation, that they don't buy into the hype and won't participate in the media build-up. Like their coach, they wanted the focus to be on the game and nothing else.

But it's hard to tune out the outside noise once it reaches a certain pitch.

Saban can say again and again how outside influences won't be distracting, but his body language said something different on Wednesday. Earlier in the week he talked about the value of playing without emotion in raucous environments like the one his team will face Saturday, but from the podium he was showing just how hot under the collar he can become.

"As I said before, I made a statement," Saban said. "Don't ask me any more questions about this!"

It was a rare instance where an exclamation point was deserved, as Saban shouted at a room full of reporters.

"It hasn't been distracting for me, because I don't read about it," he said. "I'm focused on what we need to do to play a game. That's what's fair to our players. That's what we owe our current players. So this has not been a distraction for me."

C.J. Mosley called the news involving former teammate D.J. Fluker disappointing, but was sure to add that it was in the past and that's where he was intent on keeping it. UA's All-American has been busy all week trying to figure out how to handle stopping Manziel. As Mike linebacker, he'll be tasked with spying the fleet-footed quarterback.

Junior wideout Christion Jones was similarly flip about the allegations. He wasn't worried about what allegedly happened a year ago. His focus was on Saturday.

"I don't really get involved with that," Jones said. "Our compliance does a great job teaching us about all those things and staying away from agents and stuff like that. We can talk about A&M and leave it at that. I don't really get involved with that."

It was easy to say, but it will be harder to put into practice. The question now is whether the distractions have reached a breaking point and whether it will have any influence on what happens on the football field come Saturday.

Knowing Saban, it will be kindling on an already intense fire, a burning source of motivation for a team already looking to prove something against Texas A&M. Getting back at the Aggies was enough. Now, players can take the "us against the world" mentality to heart.

Saban was defiant Wednesday night. He wanted to talk about football, not media reports. After three questions about off-the-field matters, he'd had enough. When no one followed up with an actual question about preparing for Texas A&M, he walked off, but not before adding his sarcastic thanks to the crowd.

"Appreciate your interest in the game," he said.

And that was the last anyone will hear from him publicly until after Saturday afternoon's game in College Station, Texas. Then, maybe, he'll be able to talk about what he wants: football.
During the summer, TideNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Alabama roster -- excluding the Tide's 2013 recruiting class -- in our Crimson Countdown series. Starting with No. 1 Dee Hart, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Brandon Ivory.

No. 79 Austin Shepherd
Redshirt junior offensive lineman

Former Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker's Twitter account caused quite the stir early this week.

The controversial tweet from Fluker's account read: "Yea I took $ n college so wat. I did wat i had to do. Agents was tryin to pimp me so I pimped them. Cast da first stone."

It was quickly deleted and Fluker later claimed that his Twitter account was hacked. His agent, Deryk Gilmore, also said that he knew who was responsible for the tweet.

“We know who did this,” Gilmore said. “This is totally fiction, but I’m waiting to get some proof. I’ve been on the phone with Twitter."

He also added: “I’ll tell you, of course, this wasn’t him. It was [expletive], and it’s a shame. And anyone who believes it was him and wants to believe the worst, you go ahead and do it."

On Wednesday, Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked about the tweet on the SEC coaches teleconference and said that Alabama's compliance was still looking into it, but added that he and his staff are very involved in teaching players what's right and wrong in the off-field world of college football.

"We're trying to do things the right way," Saban said. "We've tried to do everything we can to educate our players to do things the right way when it comes to selecting an agent or being involved in the NFL draft."

Saban also said that staff members will even do in-home visits with parents to help educate them as well. He's also very adamant about agents and those associated with agents not contacting players before they've used up their eligibility. Saban said he's been "very involved" with the NFL's Players Association and the NCAA to create some sort of new rules and "cause-and-effect" consequences for those who do attempt to contact players early.

"We want to do anything that we can to prevent any sort of circumstance or situation that could get a player in trouble or an organization in trouble and to get people to manage things the right way."


Sport Science: Force is with Fluker

April, 1, 2013
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video

Sport Science examines the force that draft prospect D.J. Fluker can generate on any given play.
Cyrus KouandjioKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCyrus Kouandjio might have a secure spot on the O-line, but not many others do.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At a certain point, there's too much work to be done on the football field. So much so that the idea of competition goes out the window. With three vacant starting positions on the Alabama offensive line this spring, the idea of actually battling for playing time is unthinkable, at least to left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.

The depth chart, he noted, is still open.

"Everybody is just working," Kouandjio said following Wednesday's practice. He and guard Anthony Steen are the only two returning starters on the line. "At this time, we're not even thinking about competition."

They might be the only ones, though.

If Alabama is going to have anywhere near the success it had last season, the offensive line must come together, and in a hurry. Kouandjio might have the luxury of feeling good about his position on the depth chart, but he's the exception to the rule, as Alabama must replace three NFL-caliber offensive linemen in Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker. That's not to mention the other seven former starters now plying their trade elsewhere.

At least Kouandjio would admit that practice felt different without his former teammates around.

"It feels weird," he said. "I've been with those guys for a long time."

But he's been with his brother, Arie, longer. And with Warmack gone, Arie has a chance to start alongside his twin at left guard. He'll have to fend off Kellen Williams for the spot, but so far he's the favorite to win the starting nod.

Chemistry, the glue of any good offensive line, is already set on the left side. After playing together in high school, the Koundajios don't have to say a word to communicate to one another.

"It's my brother" Cyrus said, "of course we already have camaraderie. We already understand each other.

"I love playing with my brother. He's always pushing me, and I'm always pushing him."

The camaraderie of the line as a whole won't come from either Kouandjio, though. Ryan Kelly, the man charged with replacing Jones at center, is looking to make his stamp as the leader of the unit now. And as Cyrus put it, he brings a lot to the table, rivaling Jones in at least one respect.

"He's the most professional person I know," Cyrus said of Kelly. "He's really serious, and that's the perfect center right there. Most centers have to be really tough, and I trust him 100 percent. I trust him as much as I trusted Barrett Jones last year.

"I think things are looking good for him."

Cyrus also singled out rising sophomore Brandon Greene for his improvement this offseason. He, Williams, Isaac Luatua, Alphonse Taylor and newcomers Leon Brown and Brandon Hill have added depth to the offensive line.

"He's doing so much better from last year," Cyrus said of Greene. "He got so much better over the break. His hands are where they're supposed to be, his footwork is good, he is where he's supposed to be right now."

Head coach Nick Saban, for his part, downplayed the transition taking place on the offensive line. He said new position coach Mario Cristobal is doing a "really good job" at coaching and connecting with the players.

"He’s done a good job teaching them," he said. "He’s got good energy and enthusiasm. He brings some new ideas. That’s always welcome when you have new coaches join the staff. So everything about this so far from a transition standpoint has been positive."

And like everything with the offensive line, Saban's remarks came with a caveat.

"But that's a work in progress, too," he said.
With two days of testing down and two more to go, many of Alabama's 10 representatives at the NFL combine in Indianapolis have already been put through the ringer. The early results for some are in, but check back throughout the day for the latest.

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanEddie Lacy won't partake in drills at the NFL combine, but will perform at Alabama's pro day.
RB Eddie Lacy
Combine results: N/A
The latest: For the next week or so until Alabama holds its pro day, NFL general managers and scouts will have to rely on game film when breaking down the top-rated running back in the draft. A small tear of the hamstring kept Lacy from participating in drills in Indianapolis, but he made the trip all the same to weigh in and take part in team interviews. ESPN's John Clayton believes there wasn't a first-round running back on the field Sunday, which could be good news for Lacy. A strong pro day -- tentatively set for March 13 -- could be the final push Lacy needs to separate himself from the rest of the class and solidify his first-round status.

OT D.J. Fluker
Combine results: 5.31 second 40-yard dash, 21 bench press reps
The latest: Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago says Fluker could be a target for the Bears with the 20th overall pick. That's how far the former Alabama right tackle has come since concerns about his weight and athleticism. Coming in at a trim 6-foot-4 and 339 pounds in Indianapolis helped nearly as much as his performance during on-field workouts. While it's still not clear whether he ends up at tackle or guard, teams are clearly interested.

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Impact early enrollees in the SEC

February, 21, 2013
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Enrolling into college has become a growing trend in college football. Missing prom and Senior Skip Day has become a regular for a lot of high schoolers these days.

In the SEC, getting a high number of early enrollees is becoming more and more of a priority for coaches. This year, all 14 SEC teams had players from their 2013 classes enroll in school early. Georgia leads the SEC with 13, Alabama has nine, and Florida and Texas A&M both have eight. In fact, 73 players from this year's recruiting class enrolled early at SEC schools in this year.

ESPN colleague Travis Haney unveiled his top impact early enrollees Insider from around the country Wednesday, and of his five players who made the cut, three came from the SEC. Well, four, because he said defensive backs Tray Matthews and Reggie Wilkerson would make immediate impacts at Georgia.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who was the nation's No. 1 running back, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was an ESPN 150 member, also made the list.

Those all make sense. Georgia is basically replacing its entire secondary outside of cornerback Damian Swann, so the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get in the secondary. Florida proved that it could survive -- for the most part -- on a very strong running game last fall, but workhorse Mike Gillislee is gone, so the Gators will need help for Matt Jones and Mack Brown. Taylor is an elusive, physical back who could find himself getting a boatload of carries this fall. And Howard is a real difference-maker at tight end. The Alabama coaches are very excited about his big-play ability and his ability to create a lot of mismatches for defenders.

Haney also gave Tennessee wide receiver Paul Harris the honorable mention nod. Harris comes in at a position of great need, and it will only benefit, well, everyone, having him on campus early.

But what other players who decided to trade in their prom tuxes for shoulder pads could make immediate impacts in the SEC? Glad you asked, because here are some other guys I think you should all keep an eye on:

True freshmen

Christian LaCouture, DL, LSU: With LSU losing starters at both end spots and one at defensive tackle, LaCouture has a chance to get immediate playing time. He can play inside or outside for the Tigers.

Christian Morgan, TE, Ole Miss: The Rebels lost three senior tight ends from last season's team, and the returning players lack experience, so Morgan could step right into a starting spot with a successful spring.

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: The Gators need receiving weapons, and Robinson might be the most versatile of the bunch on campus right now. He's the play-making type this offense desperately needs.

Junior college transfers

Leon Brown, OL, Alabama: Three starting offensive linemen are gone, which means Brown could find himself playing a lot this fall. He could be in line to take the vacant right tackle spot left by D.J. Fluker.

Justin Cox, DB, Mississippi State: Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are gone, and Cox is already impressing people around the program. Word is he's already one of the fastest guys on the team, and could come in and start immediately at cornerback.

Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: With all the late movement in UK's class, Smith might have been overlooked, but Mark Stoops is very excited about him. He's been a monster in the weight room and could play right away this fall.

OLs from SEC can thrive at combine

February, 20, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Offensive linemen.

Alabama Crimson Tide


It's only fitting that the best offensive line in college football would produce some of the most intriguing prospects in the NFL draft. Alabama will likely have three offensive linemen taken in the first few rounds in April, further proof of the talent that resided in Tuscaloosa this past season.

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Brown, Hill ready to compete at RT

February, 12, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The practice fields on the University of Alabama campus will be a much quieter place in a few months when spring practice begins.

[+] EnlargeLeon Brown
Courtesy of Lamar CarterLeon Brown will have a chance to battle for the right tackle spot in 2013.
Former right tackle D.J. Fluker has left for NFL riches, leaving a crater where he once stood tall on the offensive line. The jovial big man from South Alabama was the vocal leader of the Crimson Tide offense, a constant source of motivation as he hooted and hollered in practice and during games. If Fluker was jumping up and down, that meant the Tide were rolling.

Now, the voice and the jersey are gone, and two rookies are poised to compete for the spot he vacated when the redshirt junior decided to leave school early and enter the NFL draft. In his place are two newcomers, Leon Brown and Brandon Hill. Neither are your typical rookies. Brown came to Alabama after spending two years at a junior college in New York and Hill arrived by way of Hargrave Military Academy, a well known preparatory school.

Both offensive tackle prospects called their experience prior to signing with Alabama necessary.

"Brooklyn was very, you know, needed," Brown said last week. "I needed to get the experience of getting a higher level of college football in. It prepared me very well to be here right now."

Said Hill, who wasn't cleared by the NCAA to enroll last year: "The military part was tough, but the football part was the same. You just worked out, and I had set things planned in and we were practicing every day. We made it each other better, but going up north, it was kind of hard to adjust to people, and it prepares you for college and being around a different culture.

"Now I’m back south where I’m home again."

(Read full post)

Forecasting the Tide: Offensive line 

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
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Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the offensive line.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was never a secret that D.J. Fluker would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. Alabama's hulking right tackle put his four years in and decided it was time to go. Coach Nick Saban even said way back in November on his weekly radio show that Fluker was a "a guy who is probably going to go out for the draft."

But Fluker is just one loss on an offensive line many considered the best in all of college football. Center Barrett Jones is leaving the Capstone as one the most decorated football players in the school's history. His three national championships playing three different positions on the offensive line is unprecedented. Winning the Outland Trophy as a junior and then switching to center and winning the Rimington Trophy is mind boggling.

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Anthony SteenScott Kane/Icon SMIAnthony Steen (61) said he's anxious to return to Alabama's offensive line to help lead the group in 2013.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At least one key junior is returning to the University of Alabama next season. Right guard Anthony Steen announced he would come back for his senior season on Wednesday, citing a need to improve his draft stock, according to the university.

"Returning in 2013 will give me a chance to improve my draft status," he said in a news release, "while also providing the opportunity to enjoy another season with my teammates, coaches and our fans."

Steen was part of an offensive line that was arguably the best in the nation, producing two 1,000-yard tailbacks and accounting for more than 3,000 yards on the ground. The 6-foot-3 Mississippi native will be joined by sophomore tackle Cyrus Kouandjio on the line next season as it's likely junior right tackle D.J. Fluker will turn pro. Center Barrett Jones, the Rimington Award winner, and All-American guard Chance Warmack were both seniors this season and are likely NFL draft picks.

"We are glad that Anthony has decided to return and he'll be one of the senior leaders of our offense," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He's done an outstanding job for us as a starter at guard on the last two championship teams and I think he can become an even better player and improve his status for next year's draft with another season here."

Saban said that while most people spoke about Jones, Fluker and Warmack this season, he expects to hear a different tune in 2013.

"I think Anthony Steen and Cyrus are two guys that have played very, very well all year long, and their time is coming," he said. "They're going to be the guys who get featured next year as being the most experienced guys, who have the most starts, who have played with the most consistency, that people will be looking at as guys who probably will receive a lot of accolades. I don't think that just because you don't get media attention or make some team that it doesn't mean you haven't been very effective as a player. A lot of times, people do a numbers count on how many guys are from this this team -- you can only submit so many guys for these teams -- but Anthony's done as good a job as anyone on the offensive line."

Steen, who has started 25 games in his career, came to Alabama as the No. 39 prospect at defensive tackle, according to ESPN.

"I enjoy Tuscaloosa and our fans way too much to leave early," Steen said. "We are also losing two great seniors this year and this will give me the chance to help get players ready for their new roles in 2013."
Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There was no more dominant an offensive line in college football than Alabama's. In fact, it's hard to recall a line in recent memory that performed as well. But what made the Crimson Tide's front five so solid -- its talent and experience -- will take a serious hit next season as center Barrett Jones and left guard Chance Warmack graduate to lives in the NFL and junior right tackle D.J. Fluker likely follows their lead and strikes while the iron is hot.

With three-fifths of the offensive line gone, where does coach Nick Saban turn? Who will offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland prepare as their replacements? Will it be an incumbent or a rookie who wins the jobs of tackle, center and guard?


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