Alabama Crimson Tide: Trent Richardson
“Look out there on the field, and probably 20 of the 22 defensive starters will be playing in the NFL,” said Pendry, who was an offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans before ending his career in the college ranks.
Turns out, he might have undersold just how much talent was on the field, which in my 20-plus years of covering the SEC is unquestionably the gold standard for premium defensive talent on the field together at one time.
In that game alone, which LSU won 9-6 in overtime, there were 28 defensive players who played in the game -- 14 on each side -- who would get drafted. That includes 10 first-rounders.
The grand total of future draftees who played in the game was 42, and that doesn’t even count another handful of players who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.
“You don’t see that every Saturday,” said Phil Savage, former Cleveland Browns general manager and current executive director of the Senior Bowl.
“That’s why it was a tug-of-war in the middle of the field, all those future pros on defense. We call it a logo game. Neither offense could move the ball very far past the logo at midfield.”
Savage, the color man on Alabama’s radio broadcasts, remembers doing interviews leading up to that epic No. 1-versus-No. 2 encounter and estimating that 40 to 50 players from the game would end up playing in the NFL.
“It’s as close to an NFL game as you’re ever going to see in terms of a college matchup, with so many future NFL players on each side,” Savage said.
The two teams wound up playing twice that season. Alabama avenged its only loss by beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship in New Orleans. Alabama finished No. 1 nationally that season in scoring defense, and LSU was No. 2. Between them, they gave up 27 touchdowns in 27 games.
The only games in Savage’s recent memory that would come close to that Alabama-LSU affair in terms of producing NFL draft picks were the Florida State-Miami game in 2000 and the Miami-Ohio State BCS National Championship game to cap the 2002 season.
Miami beat Florida State 27-24 in 2000, snapping the Seminoles’ 26-game regular-season winning streak.
In the next three drafts, Miami produced 26 draft choices, although not all of those players played in that 2000 game. For instance, Willis McGahee and Jerome McDougle redshirted in 2000, and Clinton Portis was injured and didn’t play.
Florida State, over the next three drafts, produced 18 draft choices.
But in one game, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever see 42 future draft choices again on the field playing, and certainly not 28 on defense.
As a comparison, in that FSU-Miami game in 2000, there were a total of 17 defensive players who would end up being drafted.
Now, when it comes to one team, good luck in trumping Miami’s 2001 national championship team. The Hurricanes had 16 players from that team who would go on to be first-round picks.
Here’s a look at the draftees from that Alabama-LSU game in 2011:
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, first round
- C.J. Mosley, LB, first round
- Kevin Norwood, WR, fourth round
- AJ McCarron, QB, fifth round
- Ed Stinson, DE, fifth round
- Vinnie Sunseri, S, fifth round
- Dee Milliner, CB, first round
- Chance Warmack, OG, first round
- D.J. Fluker, OT, first round
- Eddie Lacy, RB, second round
- Nico Johnson, LB, fourth round
- Barrett Jones, C, fourth round
- Quinton Dial, DE, fifth round
- Jesse Williams DT, fifth round
- Michael Williams, TE, seventh round
- Trent Richardson, RB, first round
- Mark Barron, S, first round
- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, first round
- Dont’a Hightower, LB, first round
- DeQuan Menzie, CB, fifth round
- Courtney Upshaw, DE, second round
- Josh Chapman, DT, fifth round
- Brad Smelley, TE, seventh round
- Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, first round
- Ego Ferguson, DT, second round
- Jarvis Landry, WR, second round
- Lamin Barrow, LB, fifth round
- Alfred Blue, RB, sixth round
- Barkevious Mingo, DE, first round
- Eric Reid, S, first round
- Kevin Minter, LB, second round
- Bennie Logan, DT, third round
- Tyrann Mathieu, CB, third round
- Sam Montgomery, DE, third round
- Tharold Simon, CB, fifth round
- Lavar Edwards, DE, fifth round
- Spencer Ware, RB, sixth round
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.
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.
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.
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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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There goes the family vacation. Alabama fans planning their annual pilgrimage to Tuscaloosa for the A-Day scrimmage this Saturday were hit with some disappointing news when it was learned that fab freshman tailback Derrick Henry would miss the remainder of spring because of a fractured leg.
A-Day had been built as Henry's opening act. For months, we had heard how talented the former five-star athlete was: A 6-foot-3, 238-pound man-child with the shoulders of a linebacker and the feet of a tailback. Much of signing day was devoted to what position he would play at Alabama: running back, H-back, linebacker, something in between?
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So who is the fans' pick to occupy that spot? Check out the tweets below for a sampling of what TideNation had to say on the debate. Tweet @TideNationESPN to give us your RB pick or give us feedback on any of the other positions.
Saban, considered by many to be the best recruiter in the game right now, knows that as well as anybody. He has always assembled his staff with coaches who know how to recruit and who put an emphasis on bringing the top talent to Tuscaloosa.
With that in mind, TideNation looks back at the top five recruiting victories for Saban and his assistant coaches in the last seven years.
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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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With the way they continuously beat up defenders, that might be intimidating enough. When they carry the rock, someone is going to get smacked in the jaw, and most of the time it isn’t one of them.
“Every time we get the ball, whether it’s T.J. or myself, we want to hit them,” said Lacy, who finished the regular season second in the SEC with 1,182 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. “We want to initiate the contact.
“T.J. and I have the same mindset: To hit us is going to be physical, too. To have two people running like that, it only wears the defense down.”
It's plain to see that these two have helped numb the loss of Heisman finalist Trent Richardson, and plenty of defenses found that out the hard way.
Lacy, a junior, and Yeldon, a true freshman, became the first two players in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Yeldon currently has 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. They’re the first two backs in the SEC to each rush for 1,000 yards on the same team since Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones did it in 2007.
Both are averaging more than 6.4 yards per carry, and both average in the double digits when it comes to carries per game. Lacy might have the starter label, but it really is more like a 1A, 1B situation.
Lacy is more of the pounder, grinding out extra yards with defenders on his back like it’s nothing, while Yeldon packs both a punch and boosters. As center Barrett Jones puts it, Yeldon is a “freak specimen” who can run over defenders or cut right past them on a dime.
It makes blocking for each that much easier, Jones said. More often than not, Jones said, linemen don’t even know which back is in the huddle, and most of the time they aren’t concerned with knowing.
“The reason we don’t worry is because we have so much confidence in both guys,” Jones said. “We might be worried if there were a severe drop-off from one to two.”
Early on, Jones wasn’t sure whether that lack of a drop-off would exist. He was impressed with Yeldon during the spring, but wasn’t sure it would carry over to the fall. And Lacy, who has always dealt with nagging injuries, missed all of spring after undergoing surgery.
There was concern, but as players started to realize just how talented Yeldon was as he trudged through fall camp like a grown man, the fears surrounding the running game diminished.
“During camp practices, he never slowed down,” Lacy said of Yeldon.
With Lacy still not 100 percent to start the season, Yeldon raised eyebrows again, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Michigan. Since then, the two have become a wrecking crew in Alabama’s backfield.
And they’ve done so without egos getting in the way. It would be easy for either to pout about sharing carries, but Lacy said sharing the rushing duty has made them better players by creating friendly competition and keeping them fresh.
In a league dominated by physical abuse, recovery is key, and that makes sharing carries that much more important for Alabama’s duo.
“Whoever you play, they’re coming to play, and they’re going to hit you,” Lacy said. “Limiting the carries limits those hits and allows your body to recover.”
That became very obvious in the SEC championship game against Georgia. Those four fresh legs churned out 334 of Alabama’s title-game record 350 rushing yards. The two embarrassed Georgia’s front and left the Bulldogs gassed.
And that’s what the two hope they do against No. 1 Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. While the Irish own the nation’s No. 4 rushing defense, there’s no doubt this will be a very tall task for that unit.
Thanks to a punishing persona, Alabama is averaging an SEC-best 6.2 yards per carry on designed runs and 4.2 yards before contact. Tide rushers have made it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 35.1 percent of their designed runs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
On designed, downhill runs up the gut, Alabama averages 6.6 yards per carry with about one in every five attempts going for at least 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Those are gaudy numbers for the Tide, and Jones can’t help but snicker at the thought of opponents having to face that tandem for 60 minutes.
“It’s an embarrassment of riches in our running backs room,” he said.
The Mayans were right. The reckoning is upon us and all that's left to do is read this lousy obituary. We're all goners: you, your neighbors, that guy at the supermarket who remembered your preference of paper over plastic. Even Alabama football is gone. It's a shame really, with the national championship just 17 days away. Would there have been a better place to ride out the end of days than Miami?
That's what we're here to document. We've got the Crimson Tide. Leave the rest to the vultures.
Was Paul "Bear" Bryant the best college football coach of all time? He was third on the wins list, but had a higher winning percentage than the two coaches ahead of him.
Was Nick Saban the best active coach? He was poised to win a fourth national championship after all. Some argue he was a machine anyway. Maybe he'll survive all this and hit the recruiting trail after the NCAA's dead period ends.
Who was the best player of all time? The best running back? The best quarterback? Was Trent Richardson better than Mark Ingram? What about Shaun Alexander? Would T.J. Yeldon have gotten the better of them all if he had four years to do it? Would Kirby Smart ever have become a head coach?
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?
But is there such a thing as having too many good running backs?
On Friday, Alabama picked up a commitment from four-star athlete Derrick Henry. He became the Tide’s 21st commitment -- nine of whom are in the ESPN 150, with Henry ranked No. 48 -- but it is an addition that could shake up the rest of the class.
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Nick Saban went on a rant about expectations, we got to speak with both coordinators for one of the few times all year and Jesse Williams finally got the chance to speak out about his weight room prowess.
Then, real life (also known as breaking news) happened. Chris Black went down with a shoulder injury, Travell Dixon left the team and Jarrick Williams tore his ACL.
"Boom!" is right. The calm couldn't last forever, and frankly, where would be the fun in that?
Are the Crimson Tide better off today than they were a week ago? Probably not.
Are they hurt beyond repair? Absolutely not.
Losing three players is never a good thing, but if you're going to suffer injuries there are far worse scenarios one could dream up. The defense is still young, talented and deep. The offense still possesses one of the most impressive line's in recent memory, AJ McCarron continues to blossom as a leader and the receivers are still an upgrade over last year's bunch.
If we're grading Alabama's start to camp, let's say they passed. And with 12 practices in the books and 13 to go, passing isn't bad thing.
Looking back, here are a few things we learned this week:
Trent Richardson's 2011-12 season ranked as one of the best in school history. Had it not been for Robert Griffin III beating him out for the Heisman Trophy, it could have finished No. 1.
The Florida native will bear the bitter temperatures of Cleveland now, though, and the Crimson Tide are left to replace his production. Junior Eddie Lacy is the presumed starter and appears to be fully healed after offseason surgery on his foot. And Richardson's former backup is ready to continue the tradition of great running backs in Tuscaloosa.
"They set the standard pretty high, but it's not going to surpass their level," Lacy said. "It's just working on what you have to do and what you're good at doing and just going out and playing comfortable and doing what you're capable of doing."
Lacy won't be alone in the backfield. He's joined by Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart, and a pair of true freshmen tailbacks in T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. Fowler averaged nearly 7 yards per carry last year and Yeldon wowed Tide fans with a 100-plus yard performance at A-Day in April.
With that many talented backs in one place, the competition has been intense, but friendly.
Like all the other positions, we're looking at overall talent, game-changing ability and experience. We also looked at past performances and projections for 2012.
Here are our top 10 SEC running backs:
2. Knile Davis, Jr., Arkansas: Like Lattimore, Davis is coming off of a devastating injury from last year. He had yet another ankle injury that cost him all of his 2011 season, but it sounds like he's more than ready to return to the playing field. He's one of the most dynamic rushers in the country, and when he was healthy in 2010 he averaged 146.9 yards in the last seven games of the season.
3. Christine Michael, Sr., Texas A&M: He's another back coming off a season-ending injury. Before he tore his ACL last fall, Michael rushed for 899 yards and is a true workhorse. His punch-you-in-the-mouth, explosive, downhill running style will fit right in in the SEC. He should be good to go this fall, and if he's 100 percent he'll certainly challenge for the rushing title.
4. Zac Stacy, Sr., Vanderbilt: He was a real surprise in the SEC last season and returns as the league's top statistical rusher, with 1,193 yards from a year ago. He isn't the fastest back, but he's strong, works hard and has excellent vision. Last season, Stacy tied for the SEC lead with runs of 40 or more yards, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry against SEC defenses.
5. Eddie Lacy, Jr., Alabama: Lacy takes over for the very talented Trent Richardson, but he's no slouch. Lacy has shown pretty good explosion and strength when he's had the ball, averaging 7.1 yards per carry last season. Nagging injuries have slowed him in the past, but if he's healthy he'll make plenty of defenders miserable -- and sore -- this fall.
Blue Chip Battles: ESPN 300 Update
6:00 PM ET Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss 9:15 PM ET Temple Vanderbilt
12:00 PM ET Tennessee-Martin Kentucky 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State Missouri 4:00 PM ET Arkansas Auburn 5:30 PM ET Clemson Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET Wisconsin LSU