Alabama Crimson Tide: Derek Kief

Room to improve: WR

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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Editor’s note: This is Part II in a weeklong series looking at Alabama’s top five position groups with room to improve.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They never caught much flack, which is understandable. Considering the numbers AJ McCarron put up at quarterback this past season (3,063 yards, 28 touchdowns passing), why pick on Alabama’s wide receivers? Their overall production wasn’t bad at all.

But considering all the talent Alabama has amassed at the position, shouldn’t they have been better? Shouldn't they have been more explosive? Alabama had 45 passing plays that went for 20 yards or more, which was squarely in the middle of the pack of the SEC, trailing the likes of Ole Miss, South Carolina, Missouri, LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M.

Granted, it’s hard to supplant entrenched veterans like DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell, but the way Nick Saban and his coaching staff have recruited the top talent at receiver in recent years, you’d think someone would have emerged who could stretch the field more vertically. In fact, not a single freshman -- redshirt or otherwise -- made a significant impact at the position in 2013.

Now we all know how talented and how explosive Amari Cooper has been in his first two seasons on campus. He’s been nothing if not an immediate success. But he can’t be the only youngster to stand out at the position. Not in 2014 when a new quarterback is under center and Norwood and Bell are off to professional careers. More will have to come from those further down the depth chart.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper is one of the best wideouts in the country and anchors the wide receiving corps.
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAmari Cooper is one of the best wideouts in the country and anchors the Bama wide receiving corps.
Battling for No. 1: No one is supplanting Cooper in the starting lineup. A healthy Cooper is among the best wideouts in the country. We saw as much late in the season when he began to look like himself against Auburn and Oklahoma. And chances are that White and Christion Jones, both seniors, will start alongside him once again. But with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin at the helm and some of the logjam at receiver erased with Norwood and Bell gone, there’s a chance we see some competition for the top few reserves off the bench.

Strength in numbers: Chris Black is no longer a young pup. Fans will remember that he was actually ranked higher than Cooper by most recruiting services coming out of high school. He was injured and redshirted his first year on campus, and last season he caught just eight passes. A speedy target with good hands, he’ll be among the leading contenders off the bench. He’ll be joined by a few others, though, as Robert Foster, the former No. 2-ranked receiver in his class, and Raheem Falkins, an impressive target at 6-foot-4, enter their second year in the program.

New on the scene: Cameron Sims will only add to the deep supply of young talent at receiver when he arrives on campus. The four-star athlete and No. 8-ranked wideout in the ESPN 300 has the height (6-4) and speed (roughly a 4.52 second 40-yard dash) to make an immediate impact. He’ll have to add some weight to his 190-pound frame, but strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran is well versed in tackling that challenge. Joining Sims in the 2014 signing class is Ohio native Derek Kief. The No. 26-ranked receiver is another big target at 6-5 and 198 pounds.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The paperwork is on all of Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class. And now that it’s official, it’s time to start the process of analyzing who each prospect reminds us of.

Potential is a dangerous thing, so keep in mind that these comparisons are looking at the best case scenario for each player. As always, everything depends on what happens when they get to campus and how they develop when they get there.

Yesterday we looked at the defensive players. Today it's on to the offensive signees.

OL Josh Casher
Projects as: With J.C. Hassenauer also vying for time at center, look for Casher to get a look at guard where he could remind many of former Alabama three-year starter Anthony Steen. Both lacked ideal height (well under 6-foot-5) but have great strength and above-average drive.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesA big QB who's tough to bring down? Sounds like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and David Cornwell have some things in common.
QB David Cornwell
Projects as: A strong-armed passer who isn’t easy to bring down, Cornwell is eerily reminiscent of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That said, the one hold up on Cornwell is his lack of experience having missed a lot of playing time in high school.

QB Jacob Coker
Projects as: He’s more Jameis Winston than AJ McCarron. Make no mistake, Coker is an athlete who can evade pressure and pick up yards with his feet. Throw in a strong arm and you’re looking at something similar to former Auburn signal-caller Cam Newton.

TE Ty Flournoy-Smith
Projects as: Not just because he originally signed with and played for Georgia, but Flournoy-Smith is similar to former Bulldog Orson Charles. In fact, they’re almost exactly the same size at 6-3 and 245 pounds, and both are primarily threats in the passing game.

OL J.C. Hassenauer
Projects as: If you’re drawing up a blueprint for a college center, you’re going to land on someone similar to Hassenauer, who has good quickness, good strength and the build (6-3, 292 pounds) to work in close quarters. Though he’s an inch taller and a few pounds lighter, he compares favorably to former USC center Ryan Kalil.

OL Dominick Jackson
Projects as: Get ready for another D.J. Fluker at offensive tackle, albeit a little lighter. Jackson, the No. 1 junior college tackle in the country, is enormous at 6-6 and 310 pounds. And like Fluker, Jackson is somewhat questionable in space and even played guard in junior college.

OL Montel McBride
Projects as: Alabama fans will remember that Chance Warmack wasn’t the most highly regarded prospect coming out of high school. Like McBride, he wasn’t a top-15 player at his position nationally. McBride has a similar thick build at 6-4 and 349 pounds.

OL Cameron Robinson
Projects as: He’s Cyrus Kouandjio 2.0. Both were No. 1 at their position, in the top 10 overall and had expectations to compete from Day 1. Really, both had the look of All-SEC linemen the minute they stepped on campus. Robinson fits the bill as a rock-solid 6-5 and 330 pounds.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesBo Scarbrough will be a RB first at Alabama and has the look of a big back like Steven Jackson back when he was with the Rams.
ATH Bo Scarbrough
Projects as: Alabama coach Nick Saban insisted that Scarbrough is a “running back first” despite his ability at receiver. His 6-foot-2 frame will catch some off guard as being too tall, but so is Falcons’ running back Steven Jackson, who was a similar one-cut explosive back early in his career.

WR Derek Kief
Projects as: With his size (6-5, 198 pounds), Kief has the chance to be a real threat inside the red zone. The top-20 receiver doesn’t have the out-of-this-world Larry Fitzgerald athleticism, so look at him as a potential Mohamed Massaquoi from Georgia, who gradually developed into an NFL prospect in Athens.

WR Cameron Sims
Projects as: The comparison to Alshon Jeffery is fitting. But since it’s been thrown around plenty, let’s go another direction and throw another former SEC receiver out there, this time Brandon LaFell. Both were tall, rangy athletes with good feet and good burst.
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The rich continue to get richer in recruiting. Alabama, which recently took over the No. 1 spot in RecruitingNation's class rankings, added a commitment from ESPN 300 wide receiver Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita) on Saturday.

Sims announced his decision on ESPNU, choosing the Crimson Tide over Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Southern University, where he has family ties, among others.

At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, Sims is a taller, more physical wide receiver -- a trend Alabama has been moving towards recently. The Tide already have a commitment from Derek Kief, a 6-5 wide receiver ranked No. 202 overall. But don’t be fooled. Sims is surprisingly quick and runs well for his size.

Alabama now has 19 commitments in its 2014 class, including 13 in the ESPN 300. The staff still hopes to finish strong, specifically in the state of Louisiana, and Sims could be the first piece of that puzzle. The Monroe, La., native is close with five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) and the nation's No. 2 safety Laurence “Hootie” Jones (Monroe, La./Neville).

"We're real close," Robinson said. "I grew up with Cameron. Growing up, we lived maybe 30 seconds away from each other. He was like my little brother. We played basketball and football together growing up. I talk to him almost every day."

Robinson, Jones, and the nation's top player, RB Leonard Fournette, are all among the top targets still remaining on the Tide's board. Although LSU never offered Sims, the Tigers are hoping to keep the other trio of prospects in state.

The decisions of Fournette, Robinson and Jones could go a long way in determining who has the No. 1 class come February. For now, Alabama further strengthened its grip on the top spot.

Summer recruit wrap: Alabama 

July, 23, 2013
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The summer is almost over. The majority of camps are complete as schools have turned their focus to the beginning of the season. For Alabama, the camp season resulted in a handful of new commitments as well a plethora of new scholarship offers extended to 2014, 2015 and even some 2016 prospects.

This week, we take a look at the top 10 storylines and trends from the summer and look ahead to what’s next for the Crimson Tide.

[+] EnlargeCameron Robinson
Tom Hauck for Student SportsAlabama is battling for OT Cameron Robinson who put on a dominating performance at The Opening.
1. Camps focus on rebuilding the line

The camp season affects all positions, but the best evaluation comes from the 1-on-1 drills between the offensive and defensive linemen. Alabama used its camps to find talent up front as the staff looks to rebuild both lines. ESPN 300 offensive guard Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) committed to the Tide in late May before the camps began. Since that point, Alabama has added three more offensive linemen including center prospect J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge), one of the stars of The Opening. On defense, Johnny Dwight (Rochelle, Ga./Wilcox County) was one of the top performers from the first camp. He earned an offer and committed on spot.



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The defending national champions are preparing to host their final camp of the summer next week, and some of the top 2014 and 2015 prospects nationally are expected to descend on the University of Alabama. The camp runs Sunday through Wednesday.

Here are five storylines to watch as the Crimson Tide's camp plays out.

Addressing the OL


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Alabama’s 2014 class is beginning to take shape. After a busy June, the class has moved up to No. 2 nationally in the latest class rankings. But the defending champs are not just bringing in talent; they’re also filling needs.

In the last month, they have added depth up front on both the offensive line and defensive line. They also found their quarterback in this class and a punter who will likely take over right away. Still, with more than 10 spots left in the class, there are needs to be addressed.

In this week’s top 10 list, we look at the top five positions of need for the Crimson Tide between now and signing day.

Offensive tackle

Alabama landed a potential instant impact player last week when junior college offensive lineman Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo) committed to the Tide. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound prospect has the ability to play either tackle or guard when he gets to Tuscaloosa. However, the staff is still looking for that prototypical left tackle to replace current starter Cyrus Kouandjio if he decides to go to the NFL early. The top option is five-star Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), who has already narrowed his list to Alabama and LSU. If Robinson stays in state, the Tide could also look at ESPN 300 offensive tackles Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) or Roderick Johnson (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood).

Outside linebacker

It’s no secret that Alabama wants at least one impact pass rusher in this class. The Tide struggled to get to the quarteback at times last year, and they want to continue to address that need. Five-star defensive ends Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) and Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) currently top the list. Carter would play outside linebacker for Alabama; Hand could either play on the line or at the Jack linebacker position. The staff is also high on former Florida commitment Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) and ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell). The latter recently visited Tuscaloosa and put the Tide in his top eight.

Safety


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Editor's note: Each week the TideNation staff will address an issue surrounding the Alabama football program. Today's question: How much does an event like The Opening effect Alabama recruiting?

Alex Scarborough's take


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After a slow start to the 2014 class, Alabama has hit its stride. Since May, the defending national champions have reeled in eight commitments, including four ranked in the new ESPN 300.

The biggest reason for that success is that it’s camp season. The staff has been able to bring in and evaluate the top targets on campus. They have also found some potential gems who have stood out against the competition. The Crimson Tide’s next camp isn’t until July, but they’re hoping to carry the momentum through the summer.

NEW COMMITMENTS


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It’s never a surprise to see Alabama football near the top of any ratings. Nick Saban has a proven track record on the field. That has translated to the recruiting trail as he has pulled in top classes year in and year out, finishing in the top three in recruiting in each of the past five years. He's had the top class for the past two seasons.


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Top 10 Alabama recruiting targets 

June, 18, 2013
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The new ESPN 300 rankings came out Monday, and to go with the them, we looked at the top remaining Alabama targets and ranked the top 10 based on who's most likely to commit to the Crimson Tide.


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Since an outstanding performance at the Memphis NFTC, center J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge) has been considered one of the most under-recruited prospects in the country. Only Minnesota and Vanderbilt offered.

Then Hassenauer camped at Alabama, and word got out that the Tide loved what they saw and offered. Now, the under-the-radar lineman is an Alabama commitment. The three-star center and his father both confirmed the commitment to ESPN.com. It was rumored he committed this weekend.

“I have committed,” Hassenauer wrote in a text message.

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It should come as no surprise that the University of Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class is littered with recruits in both the ESPN 150 and the new ESPN 300 rankings as the Crimson Tide are coming off back-to-back national championships. But the class received its biggest boost yet with a pair of commitments over the weekend.


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WR Derek Kief commits to Alabama

June, 16, 2013
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The University of Alabama found its quarterback of the future on Friday when ESPN 150 selection David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) committed to the Crimson Tide. Two days later, they reeled in a target to help Cornwell down the road, four-star wide receiver Derek Kief (Cincinnati/LaSalle).

The 6-foot-5, 198-pound Kief announced his commitment via Twitter and his website. He had narrowed his list to Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio State, but the two-time defending champions won out.

"I love everything about it. I love the coaches, the offense, everything. They will develop me as a football player as well as a person," Kief said Sunday.

Last week, Kief and his family made a second trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where they spent time around the program, with the coaches and with several of the current players. Kief first visited Alabama in March during spring practice.

“It’s all business,” he said after that trip. “They’re very disciplined, and it shows if you do that, it’ll help you win.”

As a junior, Kief had 65 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns. He set a school record for receptions in a season and was named first-team all-district in Ohio.

"They said they can see me playing in multiple receiver positions," Kief said Sunday. "I run good routes for my size, and they said I'll be a red-zone weapon."

With the addition of Cornwell and Kief this weekend, Alabama has 12 commitments for 2014, a group that now includes eight four-star recruits. Kief becomes the first wide receiver taken by the Tide in this class.
Alabama, Ohio State or Kentucky will know by Sunday evening if their recruiting classes increase by one.

Wide receiver Derek Kief (Cincinnati/La Salle) confirmed he will announce where he will continue his academic and athletic future on his personal Twitter account on Sunday.


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CINCINNATI -- Derek Kief will have a lot of time to ponder his recruitment next week. He has close to a four-hour drive to Atlanta and then a flight back home to Cincinnati.


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