Alabama Crimson Tide: Damion Square

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When Nick Saban was introduced as the head football coach at Alabama on Jan. 4, 2007, he mentioned recruiting some 10 times. Building the program from the ground up, Saban told reporters at the news conference that, “First of all, you got to have good players. You got to recruit well.”

And ever since, Alabama has been the pre-eminent recruiting powerhouse in college football. Saban’s first signing class wasn’t spectacular -- he had only weeks to work with -- but from 2008 on, he’s never had a group of signees that didn’t rank among the top three in the country, according to ESPN.

On Feb. 5, Saban and his staff wrapped up their third consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting class, signing one-third of all five-star prospects and 19 ESPN 300 recruits. Depending on how it plays out, the 27-man class could go down as the best in Alabama history.

But that’s a matter for another day. This week, we’re counting down the three most impactful recruiting classes of Saban’s tenure at Alabama, not including the Tide’s most recent class.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Chris Graythen/Getty Images2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was part of a 2008 class that helped make Alabama a top destination for high school recruits.
No. 2 on our list wasn’t the highest ranked class in Alabama history. It wasn’t even the No. 1- or 2-ranked class in the country that year. But to Saban, the 2008 signing class remains the most special.

“They had great team success here, won a national championship and came here when this was not the sexy place to be,” Saban said. “We were 7-6. So I guess that class is the one that’s closest to my heart because those guys bought in when they just believed that we were going to be able to be successful and they could make a great contribution to helping us be successful.”

The stars: Alabama wasn’t “sexy” in 2008. But it was about to be. By signing players such as Courtney Upshaw, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Barrett Jones, Marcell Dareus and Mark Barron, Saban brought the sizzle back to Tuscaloosa. Julio Jones was, by far, the star of the class as ESPN’s No. 2 overall player. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound athletic dynamo became an All-American receiver and first-round NFL draft pick with the Tide.

The contributors: Robert Lester was supposed to be the throw-in to land the commitment of Julio Jones. But the forgotten high school teammate developed into a three-year starter at safety for Alabama and even had significant playing time with the Carolina Panthers as a rookie in the NFL this past season. In addition to Lester, Michael Williams was a longtime starter at tight end and Damion Square was an unheralded anchor on the defensive line that won the national championship in 2011 and 2012.

The letdowns: Tyler Love, all 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds of him, had all the earmarks of a future NFL offensive tackle. But the top-50 prospect never panned out at Alabama, leaving the program in 2010 without ever breaking into the starting lineup. Love wasn’t the only miss, though, as uber-athlete Burton Scott transferred to South Alabama after appearing in just 15 games and heralded quarterback Star Jackson left for Georgia State after playing in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2009.

The results: More than 10 players from Alabama’s 2008 signing class went on to careers in the NFL. Four such signees were taken in the first round. But the lasting impact of the class, as noted by Saban earlier in this post, was the precedent they set. By choosing Alabama before the championships and before the nationwide fame, the class laid the foundation for years to come. Without the likes of Julio Jones and Ingram, Alabama might not have the reputation it has today. Saban needed to start with a bang in the 2008 class, and he did just that.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's a healthy dose of expectations and optimism surrounding the new-look Alabama defensive line this spring. Like its counterpart on offense, so much has changed in the trenches from a season ago: nose guard Jesse Williams is gone, along with starting defensive end Damion Square and former top reserve Quinton Dial.

[+] EnlargeJeoffrey Pagan
AP Photo/Dave MartinJeoffrey Pagan is hoping to provide Alabama a pass rush that it lacked at times last season.
But unlike the offensive line, which is seeking to replace three All-SEC starters, there's no hint of an expected of a drop off in production from the defensive front. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If there is an area on defense that's in need of the most improvement, it might be the defensive line, particularly the pass rush.

Alabama failed to finish in the top 25 nationally in sacks or tackles for loss last season, trailing eight other SEC teams in negative plays. With underclassmen such as Jeoffrey Pagan and Xzavier Dickson a year older, the hope is that those numbers will improve.

"We've got some really talented guys and guys that work really hard on the defensive line, Pagan especially," Alabama tight end/H-back Harrison Jones said. "I see those guys really stepping up and filling the spots that were left open last year from guys leaving the team, big team leaders like Damion Square and Jesse Williams and guys like Quinton Dial.

"That's something that's going to be a big part of our team this year the defensive line stepping up and I feel like they're doing a good job of that so far."

Pagan, who has played as a reserve his first two seasons, admits the pass rush "struggled a little bit" in 2012. He said he welcomes the task of improving upon it as well as the personal responsibility of rising up the depth chart to a possible starting role. He added on five pounds from a year ago and wants to make his game more well-rounded, stopping the run and the pass.

"I've gotten better," he explained. "I've grown as a person, I've learned from great players."

Pagan credited Square for teaching him what coaches couldn't -- the intangibles of the game. And now that Square is gone, it's fallen on the broad shoulders of Ed Stinson to captain the defensive line. Stinson, the lone returning starter on the line, added 10 pounds to his already stocky frame and has developed into a leader among his peers.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They lined the sidelines three- and four-deep to watch pro day at the University of Alabama. Not scouts, not coaches, not general managers. The players, Alabama's underclassmen, showed up between classes to glimpse an event they hope will define the close of their careers in Tuscaloosa years from now.

[+] EnlargeJesse Williams
AP Photo/Butch DillAlabama nose guard Jesse Williams runs agility drills during pro day on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama has had arguably the most success in all of college football at putting players in the NFL. Coach Nick Saban has produced 24 draft picks since 2009, 11 of which were in the first round. With guard Chance Warmack, cornerback Dee Milliner and running back Eddie Lacy all first-round possibilities in April, that number will rise.

A total of eight former Alabama players worked out in front of personnel from all 32 NFL teams on Wednesday. Jesse Williams, a 320-pound nose guard who ran an eye-opening 4.9 second 40-yard dash, visited with a member of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Milliner didn't participate in drills because of a shoulder injury but still found time to speak with a representative of the New York Jets. On and on the list went, players working toward a future in the pros.

Underclassmen like defensive end Ryan Anderson and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson watched the convention of former teammates and NFL personnel unfold from a set of bleachers on the far sideline of the indoor practice facility. Quarterback AJ McCarron was joined by rising sophomore receiver Amari Cooper and early enrollee tailback Derrick Henry on a row of stationary bikes, pedaling aimlessly on the turf as they soaked it all in.

After the pro day wrapped up, it would be their turn to change into shorts and cleats and work through similar drills as part of an annual program for underclassmen. The NFL personnel who wished to stay and watch were welcome, getting a head start on some of Alabama's top pro talent for 2014 and beyond.

"I remember doing the junior day like we're about to do after this," Williams said. The 6-foot-3 Austrailian came to Alabama by way of junior college in Arizona, and after two short years he's positioned himself as one of the top interior defensive linemen prospects in the country. "It's been a long way since then, winning national championships and then coming back to do this all again. It's been good and it will be a good experience to keep going."

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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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SEC's DLs, LBs strong at combine

February, 21, 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: Defensive linemen and linebackers.

Alabama Crimson Tide


Alabama's front seven was rock solid and had a distinctive rock-n-roll flair in nose guard Jesse Williams. Though the Crimson Tide defense lacked a true superstar, Williams' Mohawk haircut, countless tattoos and colorful face paint made the unit stand out.
  • DT Jesse Williams (Position rank: No. 8)
    Strengths: Like his counterpart on the middle of the Alabama offensive line, Barrett Jones, Williams is nothing if not versatile. He played both defensive end and nose guard at UA and possesses the type of strength and quickness that would allow him to do the same at the next level.
    Weaknesses: While Williams is above average in defending the run and the pass, he's not superb at either. His production at Alabama was less than ideal, which can be attributed to the scheme on defense, but a lack of sacks and tackles for loss highlight an inability to consistently rush the passer.
    Comparable: In terms of versatility and athleticism, he is similar to Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
  • ILB Nico Johnson (Position rank: No. 8)
    Strengths: Johnson -- who no longer is scheduled to attend the combine -- has the look of an NFL linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds. He is a solid wrap-up tackler with good instincts. The fact that he has had no off-field trouble or injury concerns will only help his draft stock.
    Weaknesses: The emergence of C.J. Mosley hurt Johnson in 2012. When Alabama had to defend multiple-receiver looks, Johnson often came off the field in favor of Mosley. Johnson is built for run support, but his lack of athleticism hurts in terms of being an every-down linebacker.
    Comparable: Johnson looks and plays like New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Both are sure tacklers with good instincts getting between the tackles and getting to the ball carrier.
  • DE Quinton Dial (Position rank: No. 27)
    Strengths: Every so often an Alabama player doesn't hit his potential until he has left college. Dial might be one of those guys. The big, thick defensive end has the raw size (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) and skill to play at the next level and will likely do well in team workouts leading up to the draft.
    Weaknesses: A lack of production at Alabama will create a glass ceiling for Dial. While scouts can fall in love with measurables, they still want to see the talent on tape.
    Comparable: Dial could learn a thing or two from Baltimore Ravens defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who didn't blow away anyone at Georgia, but after being selected late in the seventh round has become a solid contributor. In terms of size, the two compare favorably, as Tyson comes in at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds.
  • Damion Square (Position rank: No. 29)
    Strengths: Square isn't going to light up the scoreboard with sacks or tackles for loss, but he's consistent. Under coach Nick Saban's watchful eye, Square developed into a solid defender against the run and pass, and understands the idea of gap-assignment football.
    Weaknesses: Simply put, Square doesn't possess the necessary athleticism to get drafted. If there is a player hurt most by missing out on the Senior Bowl, it's him.
    Comparable: N/A

Florida Gators


The heart of the Gators’ 2012 defense will participate in the combine today. DT Sharrif Floyd, whose stock is rising rapidly as he is projected to be taken as high as No. 3, had a fantastic season and anchored UF’s front. He dominated Florida State’s front, and his mixture of size, strength and quickness has scouts drooling. ILB Jon Bostic started every game the past two seasons and was UF’s leader on defense. Nobody was more dependable than Bostic. OLB Jelani Jenkins was limited in 2012 because of a broken finger, a strained hamstring and a broken foot, but when healthy he’s a solid player. OLB Lerentee McCray was forced into action at the buck position (hybrid end/linebacker) because of the injury to Ronald Powell. He didn’t produce big numbers but was a high-effort, high-motor guy.

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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's a lot of good that could be said about the Alabama defense of 2012. It was strikingly efficient and balanced. The Tide finished No. 1 against the run nationally and No. 7 against the pass. They gave up the fewest points per game in the country and put a bow on it all with a dominating performance against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship.
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. -- The heart of the defensive line is gone. So is its vocal leader. Its best backup is leaving, too. Three of the top four defensive linemen played their final game with the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night in South Florida.

This week marked the beginning of a new era on the defensive front at Alabama. Nose guard Jesse Williams and defensive ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial are all awaiting their heirs. The unit that garners little of the credit yet bears the brunt of the responsibility on defense is getting a makeover.

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Editor's note: Every day from now until kickoff in Miami, TideNation will break down the match-ups position-by-position. Today we'll look at the battle of the defensive line.

Alabama: There's not a whole lot of flash to the Alabama defensive line. Jesse Williams, the formerly mohawked Monstar, doesn't lack personality and neither does the oft-grinning Damion Square. But their play on the field, as a result of coach Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme, is usually understated. Square, Williams and Co. are there to take on blocks and free up the linebackers and defensive backs to make plays.

And by that measure, Alabama's defensive line has been one of the best in college football. Take sacks and tackles for loss -- the traditional measurements -- out of the equation and look at the bigger picture: UA ranks in the top five in passing, rushing and total defense. The Crimson Tide have given up the second fewest points per game in the country, trailing only Notre Dame. Creating negative plays is nice, but winning all four downs is what matters.

Williams is the anchor of the unit at nose guard. The converted defensive lineman has held the point well this season, rotating with Brandon Ivory depending on down, distance and general fatigue. Square and Ed Stinson have served as the primary defensive ends, but Quinton Dial, Jeoffrey Pagan and D.J. Pettway have all played significant snaps. The key for the unit as a whole is size and gap discipline. All three starters come in at more than 280 pounds and have at least three years experience.

Notre Dame: The Golden Domers may operate the same 3-4 scheme as Alabama, but they get different results. Coach Brian Kelly's defense has produced a pair of stars on the defensive line in end Stephon Truitt and nose guard Louis Nix III.

"He’s a high-energy player," UA left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said of Truitt, who comes in at 6-foot-6, 303 pounds. "He’s talented, of course, and it will be an honor to play against him."

With starting defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame averages 311.6 pounds across the front.

Said UA guard Chance Warmack: "They're just really physical, really big up front."

Defensive ends Sheldon Day (6-foot-2, 286 pounds) and Tony Springmann (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) figure into the rotation, along with nose guard Kona Schwenke (6-foot-4, 290 pounds).

Final Verdict: The defensive line may be one of Alabama's biggest weakness as their inability to generate a consistent pass rush has allowed quarterbacks like Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and Johnny Manziel to run wild. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's d-line is arguably its biggest asset. Truitt, Nix and Lewis-Moore have combined for 20 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. By comparison, Alabama has 33 total sacks, 7.5 coming from Williams, Square and Stinson. While the ability to rush the passer is not the end all be all, it could be one of the keys to the outcome of the game.

Alabama goes back to the basics

December, 20, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In many ways, the start of bowl practice resembles spring and fall camp. While there aren't as many position battles going on, there is a return to an emphasis on fundamentals. The thought of facing Notre Dame hasn't quite set it. Alabama is focused on Alabama, and shaking the rust off from a few weeks away from the football field.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireNick Saban's singular focus on "The Process" has allowed Alabama to be successful in bowl games under his watch.
"It can accumulate in two days," said guard Chance Warmack. "That’s how football is. If you don’t do it every day, it starts to get really hard to getting back to how you were."

So while the world measures the tale of the tape, weighing the Alabama offensive line versus the Notre Dame defensive line, running backs versus linebackers, wide receivers against defensive backs, and so on, the University of Alabama campus does not participate. The hive mentality exists even as Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban prepares to lead his team to Miami for the BCS National Championship.

If there's anything particular that Saban is emphasizing in practice and team meetings, he's keeping it quiet.

"If there was, I wouldn't be telling you," Saban said with a smile on Tuesday night, his first news conference since beating Georgia in the SEC title game Dec. 1. "What we want to do is do the things that we do well and get back to doing those things well. We've done a lot of work on the quality control of things that we need to improve on the season, so those things will certainly be points of emphasis for us."

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Tracking the Tide: Damion Square

December, 13, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Alabama's date with Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship, we will review the season for a key Crimson Tide player or coach and attempt to project what’s next for him. Today we’ll look at defensive end Damion Square.

No. 92 Damion Square
Defensive end
33 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks

[+] EnlargeDamion Square
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDamion Square moved between defensive end and defensive tackle as a senior.
Role in 2012: Square was a versatile player on the defensive line, spending most of his time at defensive end while mixing in some snaps at nose guard to spell Jesse Williams and Brandon Ivory.

The good: The senior was an understated success. While he didn't come away with the sack and tackle for loss numbers you'd like from a defensive end, he did find a way to pressure the quarterback, leading the team with nine quarterback hurries. He did so while maintaining the most important part of the Alabama defensive scheme -- gap assignment. Because of that, UA was stout against the run and the pass, finishing in the top 10 nationally in both categories.

The bad: Alabama struggled to find consistency getting to the quarterback all season, and some of that burden falls on Square. The lack of a solid pass rush was evident against Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M, not surprisingly the most successful offenses against Alabama this season.

Crystal ball: Square is likely to be either a late-round or free agent pickup in the NFL when his playing career is done at Alabama. While he has a solid record of production at a major college football program, he lacks the measurables to attract pro scouts. What the Crimson Tide lose in experience with Square's loss, they'll pick up in athleticism. Jeoffrey Pagan and D.J. Pettway seem to be the prime candidates to step in at defensive end. Other options include Ed Stinson, LaMichael Fanning, Korren Kirven and Dalvin Tomlinson.

The 2008 signing class turned the Tide

November, 21, 2012
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The bulk of Alabama’s 2008 signing class is gone, but a few key contributors remain.

Center Barrett Jones, tight end Michael Williams, defensive end Damion Square and safety Robert Lester are the four holdovers, and they have a chance to do something that no other class in SEC history has done.

Win three outright national championships.

Jones, Williams, Square and Lester will be among the nine Alabama seniors saying farewell to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. They came in as part of the 2008 class, but all four redshirted that first season.

It’s a class that also included the likes of Julio Jones, Mark Barron, Mark Ingram, Marcell Dareus, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw.

Alabama coach Nick Saban didn’t hold back Wednesday when asked what that class has meant to the program.

“It’s probably the best recruiting class I’ve ever been associated with or a part of assembling,” Saban said. “The evaluation was good, and the development of the players was really good. Lot of good people in that class.

“Obviously, the amount of success they’ve had indicates the competitive character they have and the kind of people they are as well as their ability.”

Going back to their redshirt freshman season in 2009, Jones, Williams, Square and Lester are 46-5 with two national championships and a third victory in the Capital One Bowl.

“(The 2008 class) was the key to getting things turned around here,” Saban said.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Texas A&M has always lived in the state of Texas when it comes to recruiting. Every year, the majority of the Aggies’ class comes from the Lone Star State, and with the wealth of talent in their own backyard, why look anywhere else?

[+] EnlargeDamion Square
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDamion Square was committed to Texas A&M in the 2008 recruiting class before switching to Alabama.
With Texas A&M and the other Big 12 powers who reside in Texas, it’s hard for any outside school to come in and steal a recruit away, but if one school could do it, it would be the University of Alabama. However, even the Crimson Tide have to had to pick and choose their battles.

Since Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, he has only signed seven players from the state of Texas. The most notable recruiting battle with the Aggies came while Saban was putting together his first full recruiting class in 2008.

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Film study: Alabama vs. LSU 

November, 5, 2012
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An analysis of three key plays in Alabama's 21-17 victory Saturday over LSU:


Waltz to paydirt



Bill Haber/AP Photo

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Alabama defensive end Damion Square looks ahead to Saturday's game against No. 5 LSU, how quickly the new faces on defense have jelled, AJ McCarron's development at quarterback and more. Listen here Listen
Alabama SidelineKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri's no-huddle offense is going to make it important for Alabama coaches and players on the sideline to relay plays and personnel into the game quickly.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Playing against no-huddle offenses has become almost the norm in college football, much to the chagrin of Alabama coach Nick Saban, who wondered aloud last week whether the NCAA should consider legislation to slow down the pace of the game.

The inability to substitute, he said, caused issues for the defense and could lead to injuries.

"It's obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and we're averaging 49.5 points per game with people who do those kinds of things, so more and more people are going to do it," he said. "I just think there has to be some sense of fairness, in terms of asking is this what we want football to be?"

The comments came on the heels of a 33-14 win over Ole Miss. It was the first game since the season opener where the Alabama defense gave up two touchdowns, both on drives where the Rebels pushed the tempo and got the Tide out of position in key moments.

This week, Alabama gets more of the same. Missouri comes calling on Saturday with its no-huddle spread attack.

"You know we play against no-huddle all the time, and I think it’s just a part of the world that we live in now," Saban said. "I think the more you play against it the more your players sort of develop a conscious awareness of how they need to focus and what they need to do to play that pace in the game."

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