Alabama Crimson Tide: Dre Kirkpatrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results: All told, 13 of Alabama’s 30 signees in 2009 are playing in the NFL currently or have futures in the league in 2014. As far as percentages go, that’s a success rate even the most accomplished programs can be proud of. Churning out NFL prospects is one thing, though. Taking five-stars and sending them to the league isn’t unheard of. No, the most impressive thing was the depth of the class as a whole. Not only did blue-chip prospects like Kirkpatrick, McCarron and Richardson pan out, so did developmental recruits like Warmack, Steen, Norwood and Lacy. To have that range of success is almost unheard of. Saban and his staff really did it all with the 2009 class, not only signing the top talent in the country, but also doing the more difficult thing by developing many of them into accomplished players.

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
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The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.

Multiple top 10 recruits no guarantee 

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As Michigan looks to add to a No. 1 recruiting class Insider that already includes No. 2 Jabrill Peppers, we look back at other schools that landed multiple top 10 recruits fared in those players' tenures. While Alabama hit a home run in 2009 -- landing future first-round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Trent Richardson -- others have seen mixed results.

[+] EnlargeJoe McKnight
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJoe McKnight never quite reached the lofty expectations placed on him as the No. 1 recruit in USC's stacked 2006 class.
2006

USC Trojans
Vidal Hazelton (No. 3 recruit) Taylor Mays (8), Antwine Perez (10)
The trio signed with a USC program that was coming off back-to-back BCS title game appearances, but their reality ended up being a pair of transfers and a final game for Mays in the Emerald Bowl. Perez played sparingly as a true freshman and then transferred to Maryland. Hazelton was the leading receiver for the Trojans in his sophomore year with 50 catches but transferred to Cincinnati after his junior year. Mays stayed all four years and earned All-American status before being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft by the 49ers. -- Garry Paskwietz


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Alabama Class of 2009 review 

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- As it turned out, 2008 was just the beginning. Alabama's 2009 signing class was one step ahead for Nick Saban and the coaching staff as it finished No. 2 in the country, highlighted by the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson, AJ McCarron and Eddie Lacy.

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
AP Photo/Dave MartinTrent Richardson and AJ McCarron get the headlines, but Chance Warmack became an All-American player from the 2009 class.
But those were just the headliners. Like many of the recruiting classes to come in the years since, the 2009 class was solid top to bottom. Chance Warmack, Anthony Steen and James Carpenter were all ranked in the second half of the class. Kevin Norwood, Darrington Sentimore and Quinton Dial also came out of the lower half of the class to become playmakers at the college level.

There's no doubt, though, who the star of the class was. Richardson, the No. 1 running back from Pensacola, Fla. in the country, was stolen right out from under the Florida Gators' nose. The 5-foot-11, 219-pound athlete was an instant impact player, rushing for more than 700 yards as a true freshman. Two seasons later he was in New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. A few months after that, he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns.

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Talkin' Tide, Irish with TideNation

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Notre Dame and Alabama are squaring off Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship, in case you haven't heard. With the matchup more than a month away, TideNation's Alex Scarborough and Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna go back and forth on a number of topics between the Tide and Irish.

AS: The other day Nick Saban called Notre Dame's front seven possibly the best in college football. How do you think it stacks up and what is it about the Irish defense that makes it special?

MF: One of the most overlooked pieces of Notre Dame's defense has been nose guard Louis Nix. He is a junior who came in overweight two years ago, dropped roughly 40 pounds, and then was told last year that he might not see 20 snaps a game. Injuries turned him into nearly a full-time starter last year, and he has taken his game to another level this year. His numbers -- five tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble -- simply do not do him justice. He regularly takes on two blockers at a time, freeing up athletic end Stephon Tuitt (12 sacks) and allowing the Irish linebackers to make more plays. The biggest question for me -- especially after the SEC title game -- is how much pressure can these guys get on AJ McCarron? Is this offensive line invincible?

AS: The offensive line is about as invincible as it gets in one respect -- the running game. When Alabama commits to handing the ball off the Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, there's not much a defense can do. The job Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and Co. do pushing the line of scrimmage is remarkable. But in another respect, the line is somewhat vulnerable. Georgia showed it's not very difficult to get pressure on the backfield. It's why Alabama committed to the running game like it did in Atlanta. There wasn't much of a choice with Jarvis Jones harassing McCarron.

If there's a spot to attack Alabama's defense, it's the passing game. Georgia hit the Tide up for big play after big play on Saturday. Does Notre Dame have enough with Everett Golson to stretch the field and keep the defense honest?

(Read full post)

All of a sudden, Robert Lester is the veteran in the Alabama secondary.

It seems like yesterday that he was one of the unknowns trying to crack the rotation and prove himself.

“In 2010, I was that guy who hadn’t played yet,” Lester said. “I had been around the program, but I hadn’t really played. I was hungry to go out there and make my mark.”

[+] EnlargeRobert Lester
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesAlabama defensive back Robert Lester still sees the hunger in his teammates this offseason.
Lester did just that with a team-leading eight interceptions as a sophomore, and was playing in a secondary that included eventual NFL draft picks Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie.

It’s also a secondary that was gutted from the year before. The Crimson Tide lost seven defensive backs off their 2009 national championship defense.

Mental breakdowns plagued the Alabama secondary in 2010, and they were glaring in all three of the Tide’s losses.

“You’ve got to remember that we had three guys back there who had never really played in a game -- me, Dre and Menzie,” Lester said. “We were all inexperienced and pretty young, too.”

So when Lester is asked if he sees a lot of similarities between that secondary and the one Alabama will put on the field in 2012, he’s not necessarily ready to make that comparison.

Sure, the inexperience factor is there, but he also thinks this secondary will be ahead of the one in 2010 because the guys stepping in have been around the program longer and have a better understanding of the defense.

(Read full post)

2014 DB Humphrey talks Tide, camp 

July, 28, 2012
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Marlon Humphrey
Greg Ostendorf/ESPN.com2014 defensive back Marlon Humphrey is already getting tips from Alabama coach Nick Saban.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Over the weekend, rising junior cornerback Marlon Humphrey is trying to lock down his side of the field for Hoover High School at the National Select 7-on-7 tournament. He’s facing some of the top wide receivers nationally in the process.

“It’s a little bit better than what we’ve been going up against, but we’re playing up to the competition pretty well,” Humphrey said. “I feel like we should definitely be up there. We’re hosting, so we know these fields better than anybody else, so I feel like we should do well.”

It helps that Humphrey was recently in Tuscaloosa for the University of Alabama’s second prospect camp of the summer where he learned from one of the premier defensive back coaches in the nation, Nick Saban.

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On Thursday night, four former University of Alabama stars had their lives changed forever as they were chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. Millions of dollars are poised to flood into their respective bank accounts as they begin their professional careers around the country. But as we project their stardom at the next level, it’s also a good time to reflect on where they came from and how they got to where they are today.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Jerry Lai/US PresswireMark Barron was selected No. 7 overall by Tampa Bay in the 2012 NFL draft.
Trent Richardson
Recruiting ranking: No. 6 overall, No. 1 running back

What he looked like: He was grown before he put on the crimson and white, coming in at 5-foot-11, 219 pounds.

When we knew: Scouts knew Richardson was going to be special back when he graduated from Escambia High (Fla.) in 2009. It was just a matter of time until the rest of the world took notice. And his freshman year, they did. Still a backup to Mark Ingram, Richardson ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns in just his second game on campus.

Drafted: No. 3 overall, Cleveland Browns

(Read full post)

Lettermen and concerns return for Tide

April, 13, 2012
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Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Quarterback A.J. McCarron is one of eight offensive starters returning in 2012.

Spring is a time for renewal. In college football, spring is also the time to look ahead to fall and the upcoming season. Saturday, Alabama holds its annual Golden Flake A-Day Game (ESPN3, 3 ET), which will give its fans a first look at the defending national champions.

Alabama captured its record-breaking ninth national championship of the major poll era in January. Once again, the Crimson Tide are expected to be one of the best teams in the country in 2012. But the Tide have been here before. Will history repeat?

In 2010, Alabama was preseason No. 1 in both The Associated Press and Coaches polls with 11 combined offensive and defensive starters returning from the team that had won the 2009 national title. The problem was the retention breakdown. Bama lost eight starters from a defense that allowed the second-fewest yards (244.1) and points (11.7) per game in the bowl subdivision. With QB Greg McElroy, the RB tandem of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and WR Julio Jones, the belief was that the Tide would score points and win games through their offense while buying enough time for their defense to jell.

(Read full post)

SEC newcomers to watch

April, 3, 2012
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Newcomers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are freshmen newcomers, junior college transfers and regular transfers. Regardless, they all come in with the expectations of playing immediately. JUCO standouts and transfers maybe more so than rookies, but the days of automatically redshirting true freshmen are over. Like, dead.

Last year, the SEC saw a few newcomers make immediate impacts. A great example is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred from USC back in 2010, but didn't play until last fall. All he did was lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. There was Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who came from the JUCO ranks to be one of the Hogs' most productive linebackers.

Freshman Isaiah Crowell had an up-and-down season, but was sixth in the SEC rushing, and was named the SEC's freshman of the year. His classmate, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, wasn't too bad, either. You also can't forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was seventh in the SEC with eight sacks.

So, as spring practice begins to wind down around the conference, we're taking a look at five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2012. Some are on campuses, some aren't. Some are obvious choices, and you could be surprised by a couple. Top newcomers can be top league players, or players who will make big impacts on their teams at a position of need.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here's our list:

(Read full post)


ATLANTA -- Geno Smith hasn't had much of a problem dealing with attention.

Whether it was being the nation's No. 2 cornerback in the 2012 class, according to ESPN recruiting services, consuming all the hype and excitement surrounding his Alabama commitment, or feeling the wrath of angry Twitter followers, the former Saint Pius X Catholic High (Atlanta) standout thinks he's handled things pretty well.

Of everything, the Twitter engagements were probably the thing that helped him the most when it came to dealing with pressure and negativity. What started out as fun when he was basically a free agent, turned into quite the ordeal at times when he committed to Alabama in August. He received his fair share of craziness through the Twittersphere.

"Oh, there have been a lot (of crazy messages)," Smith said with a laugh. "A lot of inappropriate tweets. A lot of funny tweets, especially from Auburn fans."

(Read full post)

Dont'a HightowerMatthew Emmons/US PresswireAlabama's Dont'a Hightower (30) had 1.5 tackles for loss and forced this fumble. "I don't know any feeling in the world that could top this one," he said.

NEW ORLEANS -- When Alabama senior linebacker Courtney Upshaw addressed his teammates earlier this week, he kept coming back to one word.

Legendary.

“What I told them was, ‘Let’s be legendary,’ ” Upshaw recounted. “And that’s all they heard from me over and over again during the game.”

Upshaw had a feeling what was coming. He said he even dreamed about it.

So it’s no coincidence that he was one of the catalysts for what will go down as a legendary defensive performance by Alabama in a 21-0 strangulation of LSU on Monday night in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Not only was it a legendary performance, but it’s a defense that will invariably evoke comparisons to the most revered defense in school history.

That would be the 1992 defense, which paved the way for Alabama to win a national championship with a dismantling of Miami on this same Superdome turf nearly two decades ago.

History will ultimately be the judge of how good this Alabama defense was, but some of the Crimson Tide’s players think they already know.

“We’re a group of guys who wanted it … with the best group of coaches in the world, and we wanted to finish,” Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “That was our main thing. We didn’t finish anything we did the first time we played these guys. We were going to finish this time.”

Kirkpatrick didn’t blink when asked how this Alabama defense would be remembered 15 years from now.

“The greatest defense in the world … the greatest defense to ever touch the field,” Kirpatrick beamed.

Granted, he was still basking in Alabama’s second national championship in the past three years, and that’s a dizzying label to put on any defense.

But in the realm of the best college defenses in modern times, it’s going to be hard to top this bunch.

In shutting out LSU, Alabama’s defense went all 13 games this season without allowing more than 14 points in any game (Georgia Southern scored 7 of its 21 on a kickoff return). The Crimson Tide also became just the second team in history to finish the season ranked No. 1 statistically in all four major defensive categories -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Oklahoma was the only other team to do it in 1986.

“I don’t know where our place is in history, but this should answer a lot of questions about this season,” Alabama safety Mark Barron said. “We got tired of hearing about how we shouldn’t be here and that somebody else should.

“We didn’t want to leave any questions.”

LSU came into the game unbeaten and leading the SEC in scoring at 38.5 points per game. The Tigers played eight quarters and an overtime period against the Crimson Tide this season and have still yet to score their first touchdown.

In Monday’s title game, LSU crossed midfield just one time, and that came in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were held to 92 total yards, and the reality is that the two teams could have played 10 more quarters and LSU still wouldn’t have scored a touchdown.

“We had the Saban factor on our side,” Alabama junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “You can’t give coach (Nick) Saban 45 days off and not expect him to come up with something. We were ready for everything they threw at us tonight.”

As it was, LSU didn’t have much to throw at Alabama, at least anything that worked.

The Tigers wouldn’t (or couldn’t) go downfield in the vertical passing game. They didn’t pound the middle with the running game like Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was expecting, and they persisted in trying to get outside to no avail with the option.

Smart said LSU hardly did anything Alabama was expecting and almost sounded perplexed that the Tigers didn’t take any shots down the field.

“They got in different personnel groupings and in different formations,” Smart said. “They tried to change everything, at least everything they’d done in every other game, and our guys responded.”

Upshaw, named the game’s Defensive MVP, said the Crimson Tide were determined not to let Jefferson hurt them running the ball. He had some success on the ground back on Nov. 5.

“Watching film on those guys, we saw where we ran upfield and got ourselves blocked and let Jefferson break out,” Upshaw said. “We wanted to come in with another game plan, to close the pocket, let the DBs lock down on their man, get some pressure on Jefferson and try and make him a passer.”

Jefferson finished 11-of-17 with an interception, but mustered just 53 passing yards. He was sacked four times.

“If they tried it, we were on it,” said Hightower, who had 1.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble in one of his better all-around games of the season. “I don’t know any feeling in the world that could top this one.”

But topping this defense?

Saban hates comparisons, and he was asked Monday if this was the best defense he’s ever coached.

The closest he would come to answering that question was this: “I can’t tell you what defense was the best. I can just tell you this was one of the most enjoyable teams to coach.”

And going back to that iconic 1992 Alabama defense, it’s worth noting that the Crimson Tide surrendered an average of 9.2 points per game that season. This Alabama defense, bolstered by Monday night’s shutout, gave up just 8.2 points per game.

The Tide Nation will make the final call.

But there’s no denying one thing: Two different times, Alabama’s defense ran up against the No. 1-ranked team in the country in 2011, and the Crimson Tide didn’t give up their end zone on either occasion.

That’s truly the stuff of legends.

Maybe too much was made about Tyrann Mathieu's hit on Dre Kirkpatrick.

At the time, it looked out of line. Dirty, even. But when asked about the play in which it looked like Mathieu clotheslined Alabama's cornerback on a punt, Kirkpatrick said he wasn't bothered by the play. Even though Kirkpatrick suffered a concussion after his head hit the ground, he said he feels no ill will toward Mathieu and doesn't consider him or his play dirty.

"That's just being a football player," Kirkpatrick said of the hit. "He was just being a football player trying to make a play."

Mathieu was flagged for his actions and later apologized to Kirkpatrick via Twitter.

Kirkpatrick said the two haven't spoken since, but people shouldn't read too much into that, either. He doesn't care to bring it up with Mathieu, and probably won't.

Because of the exposure the play has received, Kirkpatrick said it will be running through his mind during Monday's Allstate BCS National Championship Game, but he won't lash out at Mathieu. And he won't look to get any sort of revenge on LSU's cornerback if the two are once again on the field together.

With how quiet Kirkpatrick can be, Mathieu might not hear anything from him.

"If I see him, I might throw my hand up at him," he said. "I'm not a vocal guy like that. I'll see you on the field."

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