Alabama Crimson Tide: Dee Milliner

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Amari Cooper is nonchalant about most things. Still just a fresh-faced sophomore, it's hard to tell whether the enormity of his young career, the one that took off like a rocket last season and ended with consensus All-American honors, has sunk in. Has he felt the impact he's had the Tide? Or the SEC?

Alabama hasn't had a playmaker at wide receiver like him since Julio Jones. He's not as physically intimidating or as wildly popular, but his impact is approaching that of Jones. Cooper set nearly every rookie receiving record at Alabama last season, passing his dreadlocked predecessor and others in the process. And he did all that without starting a game until Week 6.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper, Damian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsThe go-ahead score against Georgia in the SEC title game, was one of many big plays for Amari Cooper during his 11-score freshman season at Alabama.
"My life hasn't changed," Cooper told reporters on Wednesday night, less than 72 hours removed from the season opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Last December he was there and he was anything but understated when he spiked his foot into the ground to help sell a play-action pass in the fourth quarter. Georgia's Damian Swann nearly fell down when Cooper broke left, and 45 yards later Cooper was in the end zone with the game-winning score to give the Tide the SEC Championship. "On the football field I just try to get better every day, so not much changed there either."

At the end of his signature play in the Georgia Dome, Cooper didn't even break his stride to celebrate. He put one hand up and barely recognized the crowd on his jog back to the sidelines. Meanwhile, quarterback AJ McCarron pumped his fist and waved his arms like a wild man all the way to the back of the end zone.

Nothing seems too big for Cooper; no moment, no situation. Whether it's a defense trying to beat him up in man coverage -- "They're saying their guys is better than you" -- or the pressure of living up to the past -- "I don't feel like I did a whole lot last year" -- there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of stress on his shoulders.

His only expectation: "To have a better year than last year."

"Now I'll be starting the first game this year," he continued. "I didn't start the first game last year. We'll see if I have a better year than last year."

Make no mistake, though, Cooper is confident in his abilities. During his first time speaking with the media in Tuscaloosa this spring, he slipped up and said he only had two years left in school, meaning he intends to enter the NFL draft as an underclassman. The sports information director on hand quickly corrected him and Cooper added "at least" a second too late.

"He can be as great as he wants to be," former UA cornerback Dee Milliner said last October, before the rest of the world had caught on to Alabama's rookie phenom. "He can be one of the greatest receivers we’ve had at Alabama. He does a lot of things you really don’t see freshmen do with his speed, his hands, and his quickness that he got. He can be one of the great receivers in years to come."

Doug Nussmeier didn't hesitate to call Cooper one of the game’s best earlier this month. It wasn't just his 59 receptions, 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns that impressed the second-year offensive coordinator. Instead it was Cooper's savvy.

"Amari, and what he did, from where he started to his progression through the season, we felt that towards the end of the season, he was playing as good as anybody in the country at that position," Nussmeier said. "He continues to develop … he's still learning. He's really starting to focus on the little things that are going to take his game to the next level."

Up and down the roster there's respect for Cooper, who added 7 pounds and cut his 40-yard dash time from 4.4 seconds to 4.3 this offseason. Fellow wideout Kenny Bell marveled at Cooper's growth, saying he could be even more explosive this year. Junior tight end Brian Vogler said he "really loves the game," praising his hard work and dedication.

John Fulton has had to go up against Cooper countless times during practice. The senior cornerback said that some of the stuff Cooper does, Fulton has "no idea where he learned it from, but he's absolutely amazing."

"He has this thing he does off the line," Fulton said. "I'm kind of catching onto it now, but he's going to develop something else to mess with my head. He'll take two steps outside, shake inside, shake outside and then shake back inside for a slant and its under .5 seconds. It's so fast, you can't time it. It's crazy."

Defenders around the SEC understand. Coaches do too. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer took a second to connect Cooper with the game film during a conference call on Monday, but when he did he compared him to a two-time, first-team All-American receiver in his conference.

"I know who he is," Beamer said. "In our league he reminds you of Sammie Watkins there at Clemson. A guy that's just athletic, can go. They've got a good group of wide receivers, but certainly Cooper is a guy who is hard … It's hard to cover that guy."

Scouts: Roberts has big upside 

April, 25, 2013
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On the eve of the NFL draft, when former Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner will likely be selected early in the first round, the Crimson Tide picked up a commitment from CB prospect Stephen Roberts (Opelika, Ala./Opelika).

See what our Scouts think of the newest pledge in Alabama's 2014 class:
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- There was a suspense in the air at the Carver High School Auditorium on Wednesday as the crowd on hand waited for ESPN Watch List linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton to make his college decision. Would it be Alabama, Auburn or Tennessee?

Then, to everybody’s surprise, former Crimson Tide cornerback and potential top-10 draft pick Dee Milliner walked through the doors before the announcement.


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videoMONTGOMERY, Ala. -- As Shaun Dion Hamilton (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) picked up scholarship offer after scholarship offer, he continued to wait for one from the University of Alabama. Finally, the Crimson Tide offered the ESPN Watch List linebacker in February, and it completely changed his recruitment.

When Hamilton sat in his high school’s auditorium Wednesday with three hats in front of him, it was an easy decision. After reaching for each hat, he pulled an Alabama hat and gloves out of a bag, signifying his commitment to the Tide.

“It was just the program,” Hamilton said. “It’s a great program. Coach [Nick] Saban, he’s a great coach. They’re known for winning championships. You know they’re going to be in a BCS bowl every year. I just love Alabama.

“Coach [Kirby] Smart and I, we have a great relationship. We’ve been talking on and on. I’ll be ready to play for them and try to help them compete so we can win national championships.”

The other two hats on the table belonged to Auburn and Tennessee. Hamilton, who had over 25 offers, made two late visits to Auburn, but it wasn’t enough to sway the in-state star.

“It was real hard,” he said. “There were a lot of great schools out there who gave me opportunities. Auburn is right down the road. I have a teammate who signed with them, but at the end of the day, my heart was with Alabama and I had to do what’s best for me and my family. It was a business decision.”

Hamilton becomes the Tide’s fourth commitment for 2014, joining running back Bo Scarbrough, and defensive backs Kalvaraz Bessent and Chris Williams in the class. The Carver High School linebacker plans to graduate early and enroll at UA in January.

“Whenever you can be on the weight program for a whole semester in front of everybody else, know the playbook, learn the playbook, it’s worth it,” Hamilton said. “I saw that with my friend Dee Milliner. He went in there in January. He started as a freshman. He was an All-American. Now he’s about to get drafted in the top five.”

Milliner, a former Alabama cornerback, was on hand for Hamilton’s commitment. He flew back from a meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs to attend the event.

Video: Dee Milliner on draft, Saban 

April, 12, 2013
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Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless talk with Dee Milliner about the NFL draft and playing for Nick Saban.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's a good problem to have, losing players early to the NFL draft. Alabama coach Nick Saban knows all too well what it's like to watch talent walk out the door, especially from the secondary. In two of the last three drafts he's seen at least one of his defensive backs get taken in the first round. This year will be no different as Dee Milliner is likely to go among the top 10 picks.

"We keep losing first-round picks back there," Saban told ESPN on Wednesday afternoon. "For guys to step up on a consistent basis is the biggest concern I have."

Not a rebuilt offensive line, a thin linebacking corps or a defensive line replacing two of three starters. It's the secondary that worries Saban most.

[+] EnlargeDee Milliner
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireDee Milliner stepped in and became an immediate impact player in Alabama's secondary. Now that he's NFL-bound, who's next for the Tide?
"Even though we have a lot of guys back at safety, we don't have the depth or quality corners and experience at corner that we've had in the past," he said, "so that's the challenge."

With top reserve cornerback John Fulton out all spring recovering from a turf toe injury, the depth in the secondary has been left wanting. As a result, Alabama opened camp with three offensive players trying their hands at cornerback: running back Dee Hart and wide receivers Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones.

It was an experiment, Saban said, one he hoped would yield at least one player who could make the move to defense full time. And after 10 practices it appears he's found his man. Cyrus, who caught four passes as a reserve wideout last season, has practiced every day at corner and has even spent some time with the first unit at nickel back.

"The first couple weeks out there, it felt weird because [Cyrus] used to be right next to me, running routes with me," said UA receiver Kenny Bell, "but he took ownership of the position."

Bell went on to say that Cyrus has become a "great player" on defense, a spot he's familiar with from his time at Gilman School in Baltimore. Cyrus was the No. 4-rated athlete in the 2012 class and could have played on either side of the ball, according to scouts. It just so happens he would play both in his first two years on campus.

"He picked up on it fast and he comes out there and competes," Bell said.

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Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at quarterback AJ McCarron.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- What do you do for an encore when you've already won three national championships? How do you follow up a historical season where you write school records and lead the country in passing efficiency? How do you make a senior year special when the previous three have already yielded so much?

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/John BazemoreAlabama quarterback AJ McCarron has already won two straight national titles as a starter. He's returning to make it three in a row.
These are questions AJ McCarron has already pondered. If he hadn't, he wouldn't have decided to announce his intention to return to school for a final season way back in December. He was on his way to another title game and had the option to turn pro and test the NFL waters. Instead, he thought there was unfinished business to be attended to at Alabama.

"I feel like I can still grow," he said. "Hopefully be able to showcase my talents a little bit more next year. And just grow as a quarterback and a leader."

He said he considered the NFL but felt like it wasn't going anywhere. Also, by staying another season he could see his brother develop at tight end for Alabama. Corey, a rising junior, hasn't played in two seasons at UA but might have an opportunity in 2013 with both the tight end and H-back positions up in the air.

What isn't up in the air is AJ McCarron's legacy. After all, that's what he will be playing for in 2013. If he stays on track and doesn't miss any significant time, he very well could wind up the most decorated quarterback in school history. His name is already being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender, an award only one other Alabama player has won.

As he's told reporters, another season on campus also means another year to improve his draft stock. Winning games and setting records is one thing, but impressing NFL types is something different entirely. On that front, his resume isn't already complete. There's always more to prove when it comes to courting future employers.

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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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DBs from SEC blanket combine

February, 22, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites took a look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins today in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Click here to read the entire predraft series. Today: Defensive backs and special teams.

Alabama Crimson Tide


It's hard to imagine that the Alabama secondary in 2011 yielded five NFL prospects. Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and De'Quan Menzie were all drafted a year ago. Dee Milliner and Robert Lester stuck around and won one more ring before hanging it up in 2013.

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The SEC's best 25 players: No. 7

February, 15, 2013
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The crimson parade continues in our countdown of the SEC's best 25 players, which might explain why Alabama won the national championship ... again.

No. 7: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama, Jr.

2012 summary: Milliner led the SEC with 22 passes defended and 20 pass breakups. He tied for fourth on Alabama's team with 54 total tackles and had two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick. One of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football, Milliner was also a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the national defensive player of the year. He was a unanimous first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC selection.

Most recent ranking: No. 22 in the 2012 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Milliner: The Crimson Tide just keep churning out premier defensive backs. Milliner projects as the fourth Alabama defensive back to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft in the past four years. He's everything you're looking for in a cornerback. At 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds, he's big enough and physical enough to match up with bigger receivers and is also excellent in run support. And when it comes to matching up with speedy receivers, he has the cover skills to stick with those guys as well. Go back to the Discover BCS National Championship when Notre Dame tried him deep a couple of times, and Milliner was right there to make the play every time. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart relied on Milliner to be his stopper in the secondary and put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. The term "shutdown corner" is thrown around a lot in football circles, and there's been some debate on whether Milliner would fall into that category. What's not debatable is the impact he had Alabama's defense this past season, his instincts to be in the right place at the right time and the way he defended his side of the field. After playing in the shadow of Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie the season before, Milliner developed into the league's most complete defensive back in 2012.

The Rundown

The One Who Got Away: Keenan Allen 

January, 31, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When Keenan Allen committed to the University of Alabama, he said he could hear the joy in coach Nick Saban's voice. He told reporters it was the happiest he'd heard the coach in all the times he had spoken with him.

"He just told me welcome to the Alabama family and that he hoped I was ready to go to work," Allen said at the time of his commitment.

The former four-star athlete's word didn't hold long, though.


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Where they ranked as recruits: Defense

January, 30, 2013
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Now that we’ve examined where the offensive players on the 2012 Associated Press All-SEC team ranked as high school recruits, we look next at the defensive players.

Whereas only four of the 12 offensive players (counting the all-purpose player) on this season's All-SEC team were ESPN 150 prospects, nine of the 11 defensive players made the ESPN 150 cut as high school recruits. Eight of the 11 were ranked among the top 10 prospects nationally at their position.

The only two who weren't ESPN 150 prospects were Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore and Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.

Here's a look back:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsSouth Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney was ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 150 in 2011.
DEFENSE

DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina -- A five-star prospect and ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 150 in 2011. Received a grade of 95 and described by some analysts as one of the most talented and physically impressive high school prospects to be evaluated since the advent of recruiting rankings.

DE: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M -- A three-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 48 defensive end prospect nationally. Six of the top 15 defensive end prospects that year signed with SEC schools -- No. 4 Corey Miller (Tennessee), No. 5 Adrian Hubbard (Alabama), No. 9 Corey Lemonier (Auburn), No. 10 Chris Martin (Florida), No. 14 LaDarius Owens (Auburn) and No. 15 Justin Maclin (LSU).

DT: Sharrif Floyd, Florida -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 25 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 3 defensive tackle prospect nationally. The No. 1 defensive tackle prospect that year was Florida teammate Dominique Easley. The Gators also signed a third top 10 defensive tackle prospect -- Leon Orr -- in that 2010 class.

DT: Sheldon Richardson, Missouri -- Ranked No. 107 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 8 defensive tackle prospect nationally. There were three tackle prospects ranked ahead of him that year who signed with SEC schools -- No. 2 Gary Brown (Florida), No. 4 Josh Downs (LSU), and No. 7 Chris Davenport (LSU).

LB: Jarvis Jones, Georgia -- Ranked No. 59 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Originally signed with USC before transferring to Georgia. Ranked as the No. 6 outside linebacker prospect nationally. The No. 1 outside linebacker prospect in that class was Manti Te'o. Jones was ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect in the state of Georgia in 2009. Future Georgia teammates Branden Smith (No. 2) and Chris Burnette (No. 6) were ranked ahead of him.

LB: Kevin Minter, LSU -- Ranked No. 133 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 11 outside linebacker prospect nationally. Counting Jarvis Jones, eight of the top 15 outside linebacker prospects that year either signed with an SEC school or wound up at one. Florida got two of them -- No. 2 Jelani Jenkins and No. 8 Jon Bostic.

LB: C.J.Mosley, Alabama -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 99 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 7 outside linebacker prospect nationally. The only outside linebacker prospect to sign with an SEC school ranked higher was Georgia’s T.J. Stripling at No. 5.

CB: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State -- Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 27 athlete nationally, one spot behind eventual LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Banks, who grew up in the tiny town of Maben, Miss., only received the one scholarship offer from Mississippi State.

CB: Dee Milliner, Alabama -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 16 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 2 cornerback prospect nationally. Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner was ranked as the country’s No. 1 cornerback prospect that year. Florida signed three of the top 10 cornerback prospects in 2010 -- No. 3 Josh Shaw, No. 5 Jaylen Watkins, and No. 7 Cody Riggs.

S: Matt Elam, Florida -- A five-star prospect and ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 2 athlete nationally. The No. 1 athlete that year was eventual Florida teammate Ronald Powell. Auburn signed three of the top 10 athletes in 2010. Two of them, Antonio Goodwin and Shaun Kitchens, were part of the 2011 armed robbery of a trailer and kicked off the team. The third was receiver Trovon Reed.

S: Eric Reid, LSU -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 71 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 7 safety prospect nationally. Reid was one of two top 10 safety prospects the Tigers signed that year. The other was Tharold Simon, who wound up playing cornerback. The No. 1 safety prospect in 2010 was Jonathan Dowling, who signed with Florida and was kicked off the team during his freshman season by Urban Meyer.

The Uncommitteds: Vonn Bell 

January, 30, 2013
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Vonn BellMiller Safrit/ESPNESPN 150 defensive back Vonn Bell brings explosive ability that the Crimson Tide and his two other finalists, Ohio State and Tennessee, covet.
Editor's note: From now until signing day, TideNation will examine the remaining uncommitted prospects still considering the University of Alabama. Today, we look at ESPN 150 safety Vonn Bell.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For talented safety Vonn Bell, Alabama is simply Alabama. The championships, the draft picks and the defense need no further explanation.

"Alabama speaks for itself," he said.

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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. -- The departing junior offered some insight. Dee Milliner, another in a long line of Alabama underclassmen to bolt for the NFL, knows a thing or two about being the man on deck. He played the part of understudy to Dre Kirkpatrick a year ago. Before that, Kirkpatrick was the heir to Javier Arenas. Year over year under coach Nick Saban, the factory of defensive backs has continued churning along without fail.

"You’ve got to be prepared and ready at any time," Milliner, a potential first-round pick in April's draft, said. "It’s just buying into what you’re supposed to do and trying to be your best. We always talk about that. You’re competing with yourself, because you’re competing to be the best within yourself. We try to do that each day we get on the field, and I think that plays a role in high draft picks each year."

Alabama will have a new crop of defensive backs to incorporate next season as both Milliner and safety Robert Lester step away to the NFL.


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The 2012-13 season is in the books. There are no more position battles to be won and no more jockeying for position in the battle to become the most valuable player for Alabama. Now we can look back and evaluate who were the best athletes to suit it up for the Crimson Tide this season.

1. LG Chance Warmack: If NFL scouts and general managers can recognize it, so can we. Warmack -- yes, a guard -- was the best player on the football field every time he suited up, and not just because of the captivating half-shirt he wore all year revealing his rather large belly. A national television audience saw just how dominant he could be against Notre Dame, as he was in on nearly every key block to spring Alabama's 265 yards on the ground. Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o was neutralized largely because of Warmack's efforts getting to the second level. The All-American left guard will likely go early in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, leaving behind a legacy few can touch.

2. QB AJ McCarron: Speaking of legacies, McCarron has already sealed his. He's the only quarterback to repeat as a national champion and he holds the all-time passing touchdowns record at Alabama. All that with a year of eligibility remaining. The junior from South Alabama took a major step forward as a quarterback and as a leader this season. He finished just 77 yards shy of 3,000, completed better than 67 percent of his passes and threw a whopping 30 touchdowns to three interceptions to lead the country in passing efficiency. The scary thought? Just how good he and an improved receiving corps can be next season.

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