Alabama Crimson Tide: Walker Jones

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They all look the part: long, lean, athletic. It's easy to see why they arrived in on campus with four or five stars assigned to their names.

On the practice field, Alabama's freshmen hardly look green. The country's No. 1-ranked class hasn't disappointed the eye test. Throughout fall camp, you could see their potential.

More importantly, though, you could begin to see where they might fit into the defending champion Crimson Tide's plans.

This year, not the next or the year after that, some Alabama's 25 scholarship freshmen will be called on to contribute, whether it's on special teams or in a more meaningful way on offense or defense.

Last season, 10 true freshmen played for Alabama. Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon headlined the group, but players such as Denzel Devall, Darren Lake and Geno Smith made a difference as well. Kenyan Drake carried the ball 42 times at tailback and Cyrus Jones totaled 364 all-purpose yards between playing wide receiver and returning punts.

Starting Saturday, we'll begin to see how many members of Alabama's 2013 signing class make a similar impact. After watching them develop over the past few months, here's our best guess.

Ready now

[+] EnlargeReuben Foster
Miller Safrit/ESPNFreshman linebacker Reuben Foster is getting more reps in practice.
WR Raheem Falkins: He's more than just the tallest wideout on the roster at 6-foot-4. The former three-star prospect from Louisiana has been a vacuum catching the football, impressing coaches and players alike. AJ McCarron said he's liked what he's seen. With his size, he could become a favorite target in short-yardage and red-zone situations.

ILB Reuben Foster: Saban has lauded the blue-chipper's progress throughout camp, noting a "tremendous amount of progress." He's been rewarded with increased reps to help cut down on the learning curve, and it looks as if he's made the most of it. Though he'll likely start out on special teams, don't be surprised if he makes his way into the rotation at inside linebacker early on.

TE/H O.J. Howard: He's shown signs of promise in the passing game, but the staff wants to see more. The 6-6, 237-pound Howard has all the gifts athletically to terrify defenses with his wide receiver speed and a power forward size. Even if he's a ways off in terms of his comfort level with the playbook, as Saban has indicated, it's hard to see the staff keeping him off the field.

OG Grant Hill: His name has consistently come up among those who have made an impression on his teammates. And he hasn't disappointed on the field, either. The former No. 1 offensive guard in the country has played some tackle, backing up Cyrus Kouandjio on the left side. Though he won't start, you have to expect injuries will happen in the SEC. Should Kouandjio or another lineman go down, the staff could be tempted to put Hill in.

LS Cole Mazza: With long-time snapper Carson Tinker gone, the specialist role is all Mazza's. On field goal attempts and punts, he'll be the one delivering the football.

Freshmen tailbacks: Not one or two, but all four of Alabama's coveted freshmen tailbacks are expected to play as rookies. Derrick Henry is likely the group's ringleader and is the most ready to contribute, but Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones have impressed as well. When Alvin Kamara returns from injury, he could be an added dimension to the offense, a scat-back type who can catch the ball out of the backfield or split out at wide receiver.

Coming soon

WR Robert Foster: He could be the best player to not see the field for Alabama this season. The former top-five wide receiver prospect came to camp at the last moment but never looked like he missed a beat, showing off tremendous athleticism and good hands. Because of the Tide's depth at the position, he shouldn't be needed this season. But if injuries occur, he could be called on.

OL Brandon Hill: No player made better progress physically from the spring to the fall than Hill, who is listed at 6-6 and 385 pounds and shed somewhere around 50 pounds during the course of the offseason. Though he's still not the ideal weight for a tackle, you can see now why the staff was so high on him. He's big, obviously, but he's got good quickness and strength, too. Like so many of this year's starters, he could come off the bench late in games as part of the second-team offensive line.

S Jai Miller: He's no rookie at nearly 30 years old, not to mention he's 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds. Miller, who spent a decade playing professional baseball, has experienced something of a learning curve since walking on at Alabama and only recently have we started to see where he might establish a role for himself. He's shadowed Landon Collins at money (dime) defensive back of late and could be a real spark for the Tide on special teams.

DLs Jonathan Allen, Dee Liner and A'Shawn Robinson: Senior defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan called the Tide's group of rookies the smartest he'd ever seen. Saban followed up that comment by saying all three have the ability to contribute this coming season. In need of pass-rushers, Allen and Liner could come off the bench to provide that spark. And Robinson, a mammoth of a freshman at 320 pounds, could give depth at nose guard, where Brandon Ivory is coming off an injury.

CBs Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson: The battle for a rookie to play cornerback at Alabama is so steep, most don't make it. Geno Smith's late ascent to the starting lineup last season was rare. Though Smith and Jackson fit the bill physically as 6-footers with good size, the learning curve will be difficult with Saban handling the position himself. With the Tide thin at corner, they could make an impact late in the season if they play their cards right.

A ways off

CBs Jonathan Cook and Anthony Averett: There's time left to jockey for position, but it looks like Smith and Jackson have passed fellow rookies Cook and Averett on the fast track to playing time.

LBs Tim Williams and Walker Jones: It's hard to see either Williams or Jones playing much as rookies. Jones has too much ahead of him and Williams, who has made strides during camp and looks like a young Adrian Hubbard, isn't there physically yet.

WR ArDarius Stewart: He came in as an athlete who could have played on either offense or defense. Ultimately the staff put him at wide receiver, where he's looked good, but he'll need time to adjust to playing there full time.

QBs Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio: Ideally, all three will redshirt the season and retain full eligibility heading into next season, when the Tide will figure out who AJ McCarron's successor will be. With Blake Sims and Alec Morris dueling it out for No. 2 now, expect the rookies to ride the bench and learn the ropes in 2013.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- One thing leads to another, at least on defense.

Alabama's secondary wasn't its best for some parts of last season, giving up big plays against LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia, to name a few. There were times where starting cornerback Deion Belue was picked on and moments where safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looked out of place. Zach Mettenberger threw for a career-high 298 passing yards in Baton Rouge, Johnny Manziel had his Heisman Trophy moment in Tuscaloosa and Aaron Murray moved the ball everywhere but the final 5 yards he needed to win in Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeXzavier Dickson, Aaron Murray
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama's defense produced only 86 tackles for loss in 2012, five from linebacker Xzavier Dickson. In 2011, the Tide produced 96 tackles for loss in one fewer game.
The secondary wasn't perfect, but it wasn't the whole story.

Alabama's pass rush wasn't its best for all of last season either, failing to register multiple sacks in five games. The pressure, as coach Nick Saban would put it, was not coming consistently enough. The defense didn't finish in the top 25 nationally for sacks or tackles for loss in 2012, trailing eight other SEC teams in negative plays. And without help from the front seven, the back end of the defense was exposed.

As Saban pointed out after Alabama's spring game, pass defense boils down to two things: "I'm talking about pass rush; I'm talking about discipline in coverage."

Now that fall camp is nearly here, the defense will have its opportunity to improve in both areas. Clinton-Dix and Belue are a year wiser, and the defensive line has some fresh blood to it with Jeoffrey Pagan and Brandon Ivory moving into starting roles.

Veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley said at SEC Media Days last week that he felt like the secondary is "bonding together" and that it is in line to have a good year. The loss of shutdown corner Dee Milliner hurts, but Mosley feels like the defense has a star in the making in Clinton-Dix, who has played in 27 games and made 10 starts since signing with Alabama in 2010.

"He's smart, he's a leader in that secondary and he's starting to be more vocal," Mosley said. "I expect big things out of him this year."

Mosley went on to say that he was impressed with the way Cyrus Jones transitioned to defensive back in the spring. The former wide receiver ran some with the first-team defense at nickel and has a chance to compete with senior John Fulton to become one of the first cornerbacks off the bench.

"This summer, he basically knows the whole defense," Mosley explained.

Saban said that while he hasn't had the chance to see his secondary since spring camp, he's hopeful they're doing better.

"Fulton coming back is a little more experienced guy who wasn’t in spring practice," Saban said. "We had a lot of young guys who made a lot of mistakes, and that’s important to development and important to learning, and hopefully those guys will improve because of that."

True freshmen Maurice Smith, Jonathan Cook and Eddie Jackson will all compete at defensive back this fall. Fellow 2013 signees Anthony Averett and ArDarius Stewart might see some time there as well, as both are currently listed on the roster as athletes. And judging by the staff's use of running back Dee Hart and wide receiver Christion Jones at corner this spring, anyone is an option to provide depth at cornerback this season.

While it's unsure whether any of the rookies will pick up the defense in time to contribute as freshmen, one thing is certain: a strong defensive line will go a long way in helping the secondary.

Mosley said that while the defense may lack a "dominant player," he's looking for Adrian Hubbard to come into his own in 2013 and pick up where he left off last season, when he had three sacks in his final three games.

"He's going to mean a lot," Mosley said, "especially being one of our key rushers and one of the leaders at outside linebacker. We need to make sure that we hold him accountable to his job and he's doing the right thing to better the young guys that are looking up to him.

"This past season he showed a glimpse into what he's capable of, but this season we're going to need a lot more, and we're going to need to make sure he brings his 'A' game every day."

One of those young guys learning from Hubbard is redshirt freshman defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson, who has drawn positive reviews from teammates and coaches alike since missing all of last season recovering from an injury. Saban touted the former state wrestling champ's athleticism and quickness and said he has a chance to be part of the rotation on the defensive line. Pagan called Tomlinson a "different man" this spring, someone who can be an impact player.

Mosley, for his part, said he was ready for fall camp to arrive so he can see what his defense is made of. So far some freshmen have caught his eye, but only time will tell how they stand up to the real pressure.

"Denzel Devall is doing good, Reuben Foster, Walker Jones, a lot of the defensive players, a lot of the freshmen that came in, especially at DB," he said when asked who has stood out during summer workouts. "They're doing a good job competing with each other.

"When camp comes, when coach starts getting on them, and that heat starts getting on them, we'll really see what players are made of."
Editor's note: TideNation will use this week to look at the four major positions on the football field and how their outlook has changed after spring practice. Today we examine the front seven:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When the ink dried Wednesday night, the University of Alabama came away with the No. 1 recruiting class for the second year in a row. Coach Nick Saban garners most of the attention, but the job done by his staff should not go unnoticed.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart deserves credit for staying with Reuben Foster. The ESPN 150 linebacker initially committed to Alabama and then flipped to Auburn. But in the end, he signed with the Crimson Tide. Smart never gave up on him.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Coming off its second straight national championship, the University of Alabama hosted a parade on Saturday to honor this year’s team. With more than 30,000 people coming into town, it was a perfect weekend to host recruits, and the Crimson Tide took advantage, hosting 12 official visitors.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Editor's note: This is a series introducing Alabama's 2013 recruiting class that will run through signing day.

When Walker Jones committed to the University of Alabama, it came as no surprise to most fans. After all, his two older brothers -- Barrett and Harrison -- both play for the Crimson Tide. However, Walker went through the recruiting process with an open mind and looked at all the interested suitors before giving his commitment to Alabama over the summer. Now he’s set to continue the Jones’ legacy at the Capstone.

Q: What made you commit to Alabama?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Forecasting the Tide: Linebacker 

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
6:00
AM ET
Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the linebackers.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama didn't lack for options at linebacker this season. What the Crimson Tide lost in experience from a year ago, it made up for with depth. Their best and most productive linebacker wasn't even a starter technically.

C.J. Mosley, the junior inside linebacker who leads the team with 99 tackles, wasn't the clear-cut No. 1 at his position. Instead, he shared time with either Nico Johnson or Trey DePriest depending on the formation and down and distance. Next season he won't have to. It's part of the reason why he put the NFL on hold and announced last week that he would return for his senior season.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Recruit reaction: SEC championship 

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
9:33
AM ET
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama is headed to its third national championship in four years after an epic clash with Georgia in the SEC championship.

The instant classic made an impression on the top recruits as well.

ATH Derrick Henry (Yulee, Fla./Yulee): “I thought it was a good game. I thought it was one of the best SEC championships that I’ve seen. Both teams fought to the end, and I love seeing something like that. I love seeing both teams hungry for a win. I thought both teams fought really hard.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

No 2013 recruit knows the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry, or the Third Saturday in October, better than Crimson Tide linebacker commitment Walker Jones.

His father, Rex, attended the University of Alabama where he played played basketball. Both of his brothers, Barrett and Harrison, currently play football for the Tide. Barrett, the eldest of the trio, will be playing in his fourth and final rivalry game against the Volunteers.

Walker hasn’t been on the sidelines for a game yet, but he’s been in the stands for every UT game from even before his brothers started playing.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Last month, linebacker Walker Jones committed to the University of Alabama and followed his older brothers, Barrett and Harrison, to Tuscaloosa. It was nothing out of the ordinary for Walker, who has taken after his brothers his whole life.

“They were my leaders as we were growing up, and I kind of did what they did,” Jones said.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Jones, Barrett Jones, Walker Jones
Courtesy Jones FamilyHarrison (left) and Barrett Jones have established a path for little brother Walker in Tuscaloosa.
Now it’s his turn to lead.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

In the end, Walker Jones kept it in the family.

"After much thought and prayer, I have verbally committed to play football at the University of Alabama," the athlete from Cordova (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian old ESPN in a prepared statement via email on Monday. "Coach [Nick] Saban told me he is very pleased with my decision and happy to have me as a part of the 2013 class. He said I have the size, athleticism, and intelligence to be a good player at the next level. He plans for me to play inside linebacker but told me I have the versatility to play outside [linebacker] or even h-back. He also told me I will have an opportunity to contribute on special teams."

Jones two older brothers, offensive tackle Barrett Jones and sophomore tight end Harrison Jones, both play for Alabama. Yet the youngest Jones maintained he would weigh all schools equally.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Walker Jones' recruitment is drawing to a close.

The inside linebacker from Germantown (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian told ESPN on Wednesday that he plans to announce his college decision Monday or Tuesday. He said he is primarily considering Alabama, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

There are strong ties to Alabama. His older two brothers, Barrett and Harrison Jones, are on the Crimson Tide's roster. Barrett is a senior offensive tackle. Harrison is a sophomore tight end.

However, the Jones family has long said Walker is the most independent of the trio. He has maintained that he will make a decision on his own and not based on where his brothers are playing.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Germantown, Tenn., linebacker Walker Jones was back in Tuscaloosa over the weekend for Alabama’s last prospect camp of the summer. Although Jones already has an offer from the Crimson Tide, he still wanted to work out, get better and showcase his abilities for the coaches.

“It went really good,” Jones said of the camp. “I was with the inside linebackers, so I was with Coach [Kirby] Smart a lot, and he told me I looked really good and that I have the size and athleticism to play down there. They really want me to come, and they loved how I worked hard to recover from my shoulder surgery.”

The need for an inside linebacker became even greater on Monday when Shaun McGee chose Georgia over Alabama. UA head coach Nick Saban likes Jones at one of the middle linebacker spots but also thinks he’s versatile enough to play multiple positions.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

2013 Breakdown: Linebackers 

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
8:33
AM ET
The strength of the University of Alabama’s 2012 recruiting class was at the linebacker position. The Crimson Tide signed five linebackers in the class, four ranked in the ESPN 150, but before it ever inked the 2012 class, the UA coaching staff landed the top linebacker in 2013, Reuben Foster. The nation’s No. 2 prospect committed to Alabama last summer at the Tide’s camp, but it wouldn’t stick. Last week, Foster flipped his commitment to Auburn, leaving Alabama searching for a linebacker in this year’s class. The position is not a priority for the Tide because of the talent they brought in last year, but they would like to add depth this year. At this point, Alabama has one commitment from Jonathan Allen, who is expected to play Jack linebacker when he gets to Tuscaloosa.

Reuben Foster
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comWith Reuben Foster committed to Auburn, the Tide are focusing on other highly talented linebackers.
Jonathan Allen - Ashburn, Va.

Allen, the lone commitment at linebacker, has gone a bit under the radar for an ESPN 150 recruit. He committed to Alabama in May, choosing the Tide over the Florida Gators, and since then, there hasn’t been much fanfare. Listed as a defensive end, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect is at his best when he’s rushing the quarterback, and that’s why the UA coaching staff likes him at the Jack linebacker position. He may be somewhat undersized for now, but he has the frame to add mass and shouldn’t have any trouble doing so when he gets into Alabama’s weight program. Allen has the potential to blossom into a dynamic pass-rusher for the Tide.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The University of Alabama’s last prospect camp of the summer kicked off on Sunday and will run through Wednesday. The camp will feature top prospects from both 2013 and 2014, but it is highlighted more by the underclassmen who are expected to compete. Here’s a look at five prospects to keep an eye on as the camp unfolds.

Defensive end Demarcus Walker

Demarcus Walker
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comDemarcus Walker is the No. 3 defensive end in the ESPN 150.
For Walker, this will be his third visit to Tuscaloosa in the last four months. He’s starting to become a regular on Alabama’s campus. Although the Florida native doesn’t plan to participate in the Crimson Tide’s camp, it’s big to get him back on campus, and another solid visit can only help. When Robert Nkemdiche committed to Clemson in June, Walker became even more important to Alabama’s class, as the ESPN 150 defensive end fills the Tide’s need for a 3-4 defensive end. Walker has narrowed his list to Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Florida State and plans to make a decision next month.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Spring Game Wrap-Up: April 19
Spring games across the country finish up but still leave many unanswered questions for Alabama, Auburn, Texas and USC.Tags: Spring Games, Garry Paskwietz, Alex Scarborough, Max Olson, Greg Ostendorf
VIDEO PLAYLIST video