Alabama Crimson Tide: Dominick Jackson
In January, Alabama welcomed eight early enrollees to campus for the spring semester.
Sure, it’s easier to play as a true freshman when you enroll early. A semester of school and 15 spring practices make a world of difference. But as players such as Jonathan Allen showed last season, sometimes the summer offseason program and fall camp are enough to show you can play early.
With that said, here’s a look at three summer enrollees, plus a transfer, who could give Alabama’s offense a boost as freshmen:
ATH Bo Scarbrough: He’s the wild card. Scarbrough, like Derrick Henry before him, has the ability to play almost anywhere on the field. He could fit in at linebacker or defensive end if he wanted to. In fact, he played some end and rushed the passer in high school. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he might not look like a running back, but that’s where he’ll get his shot. Don’t let his height fool you, he has good pad level and great burst. He can even catch the ball some, too. While it’s true that Alabama is absolutely loaded at running back, don’t count Scarbrough out. With his unique skill set, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will be tempted to use him at any number of positions.
K/P J.K. Scott: Man, oh man, is there a need for a kicker on Alabama's special teams units, both at placekicker and punter. If you saw A-Day, you know. Not many SEC programs win with a backup quarterback punting, and it doesn’t look like Adam Griffith is the rock-solid field goal kicker coaches so covet. Enter Scott, who could contribute in either fashion. The Colorado native is ranked as the No. 5 kicker in the country, and if you look closer at his scouting report you’ll read that “The ball explodes off his foot and he is a prototypical punter/kicker.”
OL Dominick Jackson: At the very least, Jackson is an insurance policy on Cameron Robinson. Robinson worked his way into the starting rotation at left tackle this spring, but he’s still a rookie fresh out of high school, even if he comes with five stars and looks nothing like a newbie. Jackson, on the other hand, has some seasoning from junior college. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he fits the mold of an offense tackle but could play guard as well. So maybe he’s an insurance policy on the line as a whole. The bottom line, however, is that if Nick Saban and the coaching staff didn’t think he could play right away they wouldn’t have signed him in the first place. With so few spots in each class, you can’t afford to waste one on a two-year player who needs development.
QB Jacob Coker: You didn’t think we forgot, did you? Just like Jackson, Coker wouldn’t be in Tuscaloosa if Saban and the staff didn’t think he could play. And after what we saw from the other quarterbacks at A-Day, what makes you think Coker isn’t the presumptive favorite to start under center? He has prototypical size at 6-5 and 230 pounds, he has above-average quickness, the maturity to handle the competition and comes from a system at Florida State that’s very similar to what Alabama likes to run.
What’s new: The coaching staff has gone under some serious reconstruction. In fact, it looks a lot like Nick Saban’s staffs of old with Kevin Steele as the linebackers coach and Bo Davis as the defensive line coach. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart moved back to coaching the secondary to allow for Steele’s return. And let’s not forget the one new face on the staff, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. You might have heard of him.
On the move: When Saban last spoke to the media a week ago, he said there was “no news on who’s playing what position and who the quarterback is.” But there will be movement. Look for some tweaking in the defensive backfield this spring. Much like last year,when Saban asked offensive players Dee Hart, Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones to try their hand at cornerback, he might ask someone like ArDarius Stewart to see if a return to defense is in order. Considering the lack of depth at cornerback and the departure of safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, the coaching staff might need to plug some holes in the secondary with some surprise players.
New faces: Aside from the handful of early enrollees fresh out of high school, there are four junior college transfers to watch, including the return of former Alabama defensive end D.J. Pettway. There’s also tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith, who was at Georgia once upon a time and could add to the passing game behind O.J. Howard; defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who could help plug the middle at 315 pounds; and offensive tackle Dominick Jackson, who was ranked as the No. 1 player at his position and could challenge to replace Cyrus Kouandjio.
Question marks: We’ve detailed the problems in the secondary and hinted at the battle at left tackle, leaving a major unanswered question as to who replaces C.J. Mosley on defense. The former All-American linebacker was the heart and soul of the unit. We know Trey DePriest wants to take on the role, but is he ready? And who will play alongside him at inside linebacker? Reuben Foster was an immensely talented linebacker coming out of high school -- with a dramatic recruitment, no less -- but he played mostly on special teams as a freshman. He’ll have a lot of competition for playing time, with Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland hoping to emerge.
Key battle: Unfortunately, this one won’t be solved until the fall. But that makes the battle no less important. Alabama needs to find a starting quarterback to replace AJ McCarron, and until that’s resolved, it’s priority No. 1. Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer, won’t arrive on campus until May. So that leaves a bevy of unproven options under center. Blake Sims will get his shot after backing up McCarron last year, but it remains to be seen how the run-first athlete will do as a pocket passer. Beyond Sims, there’s rising sophomore Alec Morris and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod. If one stands out this spring, he’ll surely have the upper hand come fall and could challenge the presumed frontrunner, Coker.
Breaking out: It was a process started at the Sugar Bowl that many Alabama fans hope will continue right on into his sophomore season. Derrick Henry didn’t do much during the regular season, carrying the ball a total of 28 times. But all you’ll remember is the bowl game and his eight carries and one reception against Oklahoma, accounting for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He’s big (try 6-3 and 238 pounds) and he’s deceptively fast. With dreadlocks that stick out from under his helmet, picture a stretched out Trent Richardson. After losing a large chunk of practice last spring to a broken leg, he’ll have the benefit of a full offseason to climb the depth chart and nip at the heels of incumbent starter T.J. Yeldon.
Don’t forget about: Don’t sleep on Yeldon. He’s pretty darn good, with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons to start his career. But don’t forget Alabama’s depth at wide receiver. Whoever starts at quarterback will have plenty of receivers to throw to. Amari Cooper, who is among the best in the SEC when healthy, is just the tip of the iceberg. DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are two veteran pieces, and tight end O.J. Howard has the potential to be one of the disruptive offensive weapons in the league if he reaches his potential. Given the way Alabama has recruited of late, look for one or two blue-chip prospects to emerge. Chris Black has been waiting patiently, and Robert Foster seems poised to step up with a year of experience under his belt.
All eyes on: There’s going to be a quarterback competition, position battles and several new players will emerge. But keep an eye on Alabama’s attitude. Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa was shaken but not entirely derailed last season. Losing the final two games, to Auburn and Oklahoma, in such unspectacular fashion hurts. The question is how Alabama will respond. It worked out well after the 2010 season, but this isn’t the same team. There are quite a few leaders in need of replacing, and there might be something to McCarron’s criticism that a five-star sense of entitlement crept into the program. Righting the ship won’t be easy for Saban and his staff, but he will have the luxury of putting a gigantic chip on his players’ shoulders this offseason. How they respond is up to them.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s not going to be easy, but Cam Robinson is going to do it. The five-star prospect from Louisiana is still wet behind the ears, but that won’t stop him from claiming the left tackle position at Alabama. He'll be replacing another former highly-regarded recruit who played in his first eight games as a freshman before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Cyrus Kouandjio would recover and start 27 consecutive games as a sophomore and junior and is on pace to be taken in the first round of May’s NFL draft.
Whether Robinson develops into that successful an offensive tackle remains to be seen. Rather, today is reserved for the slightly less ambitious question of whether a true freshman can enroll early, beat out some stiff competition and start from Day 1 at a position that is widely considered the most pivotal on the offensive line. Robinson, who cuts an imposing figure at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, is the best equipped of Alabama’s eight early enrollees to answer with a resounding, “Yes.” And that’s saying something, if you take Nick Saban at his word.
“I’ve been really impressed with the eight freshmen that we have here,” the 62-year-old head coach of the Tide said last week. “I think that it's a huge advantage for them to be here. But they've all sort of done a nice job in the offseason program, are all guys that look like might be guys that can compete to help the team in some kind of way which I think is a real positive for us.”
Robinson gave up his final semester of high school -- prom, graduation, etc. -- to come to Alabama early and compete. It wasn’t a tough decision, he said, because it would give him the leg up he was after.
“I had to think about the long run, how it would benefit me when I get to college,” he told reporters on signing day in early February. “So it wasn't a tough decision at all.”
Coaches have told him he’ll play left tackle, he said, which is obvious when you look at his tape. He might be big, but he’s more than athletic enough to play on the outside. As his ESPN scouting report notes, he has “good initial quicks off the ball, ankle flexibility and the strength to deliver a jarring initial pop.” There are plenty of colorful adjectives one could use to describe the way he hits the second level of the defense.
“Of course I wouldn't mind starting,” Robinson said, “but that's something you have to ask coach about.”
For now, Saban isn’t saying. He wouldn’t put the pressure on a player like that. And Mario Cristobal, who is in charge of the offensive line, isn’t allowed to speak to the media.
That said, Robinson seems like he has humbled himself to the challenge of competing at Alabama. When asked what he needs to work on, his answer was very much to the point.
“Everything,” he said. “I need to work on everything. SEC man, with these defensive linemen, it's crazy. These guys are freak athletes. I'm working on everything I can to just get better overall.”
He’ll have challengers, but none with the upside he possesses. Leon Brown should figure into the competition, along with Brandon Greene and Brandon Hill. Dominick Jackson, who was the No. 1 offensive tackle in junior college last year according to ESPN, wasn’t signed by Alabama to sit and watch. He’ll push Robinson as much as anyone.
But there are already rumblings coming out of Alabama that Robinson will play as a true freshman, and spring practice hasn’t even begun. If his work ethic matches his physical tools, then the job very well could be his.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Kouandjio was talked about much in the same vein prior to his arrival in 2011. Had he enrolled early, he might have done more than play in eight games as a true freshman -- he might have started.
It’s going to be a tall task for Robinson to win the job and start from Day 1. That challenge will begin on Saturday when Alabama opens spring practice in Tuscaloosa. How Robinson fares over those 15 practices will either propel him to a starting role or set him on a course for later development. But given the landscape of things, bet on the more ambitious goal.
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at which programs compiled the nation's best overall position classes in 2014. For the full top position classes series, click here.
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating up-tempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.
Nationally (and SEC)
Not only did Alabama put together the best offensive line class in the 2014 cycle, but it's also one of the best in recent memory. The Crimson Tide inked early enrollee and five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe) and also got top-ranked junior college offensive tackle Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo). On the interior, the nation's top two centers, No. 168 overall Josh Casher (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul’s Episcopal) and No. 190 J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge) signed, as did No. 3 guard Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls). A second guard in the class is three-star Montel McBride (Plant City, Fla./Plant City), who could also play nose tackle at the next level.
The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best offensive line class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:
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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.
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.
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.
But the 62-year-old head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide does allow himself a respite from the pain of constantly looking ahead at least one day during the year. He is in his element more than ever on signing day. And despite the media hubbub that surrounds the counting of stars and the faxing of paperwork, Saban appears happy, relieved even. A smile shows on his tanned face and he looks like a man who genuinely loves his job no matter its obligations. At least for a moment, he’s willing to take a deep breath and reflect.
Christmas in July? Try Christmas in February, at least in Alabama.
Jacob Coker, a highly sought after quarterback from Florida State, signed his paperwork to transfer to Alabama weeks earlier. By the time signing day was over and all the faxes had rolled in, Saban counted up five five-stars, 17 four-stars and the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the third consecutive year.
“Certainly great to see everybody here again,” Saban said that afternoon, giving the media assembled for his annual news conference a knowing, sarcastic smile. “I’ve missed you all since Jan. 1. I think you know how much.”
Sporting brownish slacks, a crimson coat and a matching crimson and cream tie, Saban looked the part of a proud University of Alabama salesman, a veteran campus recruiter ready to give a campus tour on the spot.
Before gushing over his prized signees, he allowed himself to look back on the process as a whole, calling the day “an accumulation of a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent by a whole bunch of people.” His laundry list of thank-yous included everyone from the president of the university to the athletic director to the academic support staff. He even thanked fans who come out to games and events, such as A-Day.
It was as though he had to go around the table once and say a few words before digging into a holiday feast. He didn’t want to leave anyone out on a day like this.
“We had a good class and we sort of identified our needs,” Saban said. “I think the key to that is that we satisfied our needs because we identified those needs early on in the recruiting process and evaluated the players we thought fit in best for what we want to do. I think that we did a good job of going out and getting a lot of those players.”
Alabama needed a quarterback. So it went and got Coker to go along with David Cornwell, the No. 4-rated pocket passer in the country.
Alabama needed a couple of cornerbacks. So it signed Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, two five-stars.
Alabama needed help on the offensive line. So it put together maybe the best O-line class in school history with not only Robinson, but Dominick Johnson, the top junior college offensive tackle.
“One of the goals we had was to get a little more fast-twitch, quicker-body-type guys to play on the edges for us,” Saban said. “We're playing against a lot more spread. I feel between the outside backer types we got, as well as some of the more athletic kind of defensive ends we got, that maybe we satisfied that need as well.
“We also needed a punter and we feel good about the punter we were able to attract in this class.”
Whatever Saban needed, he got. Prospects were just waiting for him under the tree as if it were Christmas morning. His haul turned out to be the envy of every program in the country.
But why was Saban so happy? It wasn’t that he won signing day or that he had all the best toys when it was over. No, he has had plenty of wins in his career. He’s not one to bask in a trophy, real or imagined.
Rather, he was pleased because this is what he does year-around. This is what he works for and what the NFL could never offer him: a chance to develop relationships. Getting to know recruits, establishing trust and convincing them to come to his program is the first step in his life’s calling as a college football coach. It’s Part 1 in his beloved “Process” -- the second step being to develop his players and win games. But even winning means recruiting to Saban, who famously said after winning the national championship in 2013 that it took time away from talking to prospects.
He could smile on signing day because it’s the end of something challenging. He can laugh and poke fun at the media because there’s not something dreadful that lies ahead. Instead, signing a recruiting class is both the end and the start of something special.
Top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference is recruiting better than any conference in the country. Thirteen of 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the recruiting rankings, including six schools ranked in the top 10. Here's a closer look at which SEC school has the top recruiting classes at each position.
Strongest class: Alabama
This is the hardest position to determine who has the strongest class. Four of the top-five quarterbacks in the final Elite 11 rankings -- Sean White (Auburn), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), Will Grier (Florida) and Jacob Park (Georgia) -- are committed to SEC schools. Alabama, however has the top-ranked quarterback, David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) in the ESPN 300. The Under Armour All-American is the 32nd-ranked player in the nation. At 6-foot-5, 241-pounds, Cornwell has a big-time arm and ideal size for the position.
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Each year college coaches prioritize their recruiting needs. Whether it's offensive or defensive linemen or skilled positions, there always seems to be an area that needs more attention than others. Here's a closer look at the most important position for each SEC team in recruiting this year.
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No. 79 Austin Shepherd
Redshirt junior offensive lineman
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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.
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).
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.
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On Tuesday, Nick Saban and the UA coaching staff got a bit of good news from the West Coast where junior college offensive tackle Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo) flipped his verbal commitment from the UCLA Bruins to the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound prospect has the potential to be an instant-impact player for the Tide, which will likely have to replace two starting offensive linemen in 2014.
The potential for turnover no doubt aided in Jackson's decision. The Northern California native doesn't have to be an NFL general manager to look at Cyrus Kouandjio and see a top-10 pick in next year's draft, regardless of his underclassmen status. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. already has the Tide's athletic starting left tackle for UA as his fourth-best prospect overall. Barring a surprise decision, the anchor position on the line will be wide open for Jackson to come in and compete at either in the spring or fall of next year when he enrolls.
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Saban vs. Meyer
3:10 1st Qtr Utah State 0 UTEP 3 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State