Alabama Crimson Tide: Cody Mandell

SEC's lunch links

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
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What a historic moment from former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Hats off to one of the SEC's best players in 2013.
We at the SEC Blog have spent the last two weeks ranking the top 25 players in the conference, beginning with Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines and wrapping up with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

There were a few Alabama players among the countdown -- four to be exact -- but that wasn’t enough. Here’s a look at the top 10 performers on the Crimson Tide this past season.

[+] Enlarge T.J. Yeldon
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY T.J. Yeldon was the top tailback on an Alabama roster full of talented backs.
1. C.J. Mosley, LB: He was arguably the most talented player on the team, the complete package. He was fast, strong and as sure a tackler as they come. In fact, he was the first player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to register 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. And on top of that, he became a leader, transforming from a soft-spoken linebacker to the vocal center of the defense.

2. AJ McCarron, QB: What more can you say about McCarron’s career in crimson? Sure, he didn’t look so hot at the Sugar Bowl, but don’t let that cloud his accomplishments. He became the first Alabama quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards, and in the process he set more school records for career passing yards, career completion percentage and career wins. Even with a poor close to his senior season (see: Auburn, Oklahoma and even Mississippi State), McCarron finished 11th nationally in Adjusted QBR.

3. T.J. Yeldon, RB: Like McCarron, don’t judge Yeldon on one bad game. His fumble against Oklahoma sure stands out, but don’t forget his accomplishments throughout the course of the regular season. There’s not much more you could have asked him to do. His 1,279 yards and 14 touchdowns on 207 carries were both improvements over his stellar freshman campaign. Yes, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry appeared to be the more explosive tailbacks on the roster, but Yeldon was no slouch as his 34 rushes of 10 yards or longer ranked 30th nationally.

4. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S: The secondary was not a shining light of achievement for Alabama this past season. The cornerback situation was murky at best, and when Vinnie Sunseri was injured at safety, some air went out of the balloon. But Clinton-Dix, despite missing two games himself, had no such letdown. He was one of the most talented defensive backs in the country with the kind of football instincts to match his exceptional athleticism.

5. Kevin Norwood, WR: Norwood wasn’t there all the time, but he was there every time he was needed. The self-described “possession receiver” didn’t wow anyone with his athleticism or home-run ability, racking up just 38 receptions for 568 yards in 2013, but he made the most of every catch. If it was a critical moment in a critical game (see: Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State or Auburn), Norwood came through.

6. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT: The junior left tackle endured his fair share of ups and downs this past season, but regardless of the low points (again, the Sugar Bowl) he was one of the most talented offensive linemen in the country. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound former five-star recruit was the anchor of the Alabama offensive line in 2013, protecting McCarron’s blind side to the tune of only 17 sacks, down from 23 the season before.

7. Christion Jones, WR/PR/KR: When Jones went back to field a punt, you didn’t know what was going to happen; you just knew it would be interesting. Though he did make some questionable decisions with the ball at times, he also hit a few shots, most notably against Virginia Tech, when he returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown. All told, he returned three kicks for touchdowns and was named SEC Player of the Year on special teams, in addition to finishing third on the team with 27 receptions for 368 yards and four touchdowns.

8. Landon Collins, S: He came on late when Clinton-Dix missed time, filling in at free safety. Then Sunseri went down and he started at strong safety. In both spots, Collins flourished. The talented sophomore finished second on the team in tackless (70), first in passes defended (8) and tied for first in interceptions (2).

9. Anthony Steen, RG: No player was more consistent on the offensive line than Steen, who wound up starting in his final three seasons on campus. He was a candidate for the Outland Trophy. He blocked for a 100-yard rusher more than 25 times in his Alabama career.

10. A’Shawn Robinson, DL: Rarely do freshmen start on the defensive line, but Robinson is a rarity. He doesn’t even look like a freshman. If his 6-4, 320-pound frame doesn’t make you question his age, his jet black beard might lead you to believe he’s closer to 30 years old. But Robinson was more than big and scary; he was productive. He wound up leading the Tide with 5.5 sacks and finished second with eight tackles for loss.

The next five: wide receiver Amari Cooper, punter Cody Mandell, linebacker Adrian Hubbard, tight end O.J. Howard and cornerback Deion Belue.

Reliving Auburn's miracle return

December, 3, 2013
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AUBURN, Ala. -- For a team of destiny, the play that would come to define Auburn's magical season started off in an ironic way as it looked as if luck might not be on its side after all. The clock read all zeroes in Jordan-Hare Stadium as Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon went out of bounds, sending a tie game into overtime. But officials double-checked, reviewed the play and put one second back on the clock -- just enough time for the top-ranked Crimson Tide to run one final play.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis' TD return was like something out of a video game, according to Tide QB AJ McCarron.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, staring his own date with destiny and a third straight national championship in the eye, didn't think to throw a Hail Mary pass. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the odds of AJ McCarron heaving a touchdown in that situation were 2 percent. Better to give Adam Griffith a shot at splitting the uprights from 57 yards out, Saban thought. He'd seen his freshman kicker hit it from 60 yards plenty of times, and Cade Foster, Alabama's regular place-kicker, had already missed three field goals.

Disgruntled, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn thought to himself, "You know, we haven't had a whole lot of luck with reviews anyway," as Alabama took the field for its shot at a game-winning field goal. Malzahn toyed with telling his special-teams coach to go for the block, but he knew he wanted to call a timeout to ice the kicker and survey his options anyway. Better go a different route, he decided.

"If they missed the kick, what was the worst that could happen?" said Auburn safety Jermaine Whitehead.

"Put CD back there," Auburn defensive end Dee Ford recalled hearing Malzahn say during the timeout, pulling safety Ryan Smith off the return in favor of Chris Davis, a speedy cornerback and part-time punt returner. Malzahn called Davis, a senior who has gone through his fair share of ups and downs, "a champion" in his book. On Saturday night with the wind blowing in his face and a title hanging in the balance, Davis was.

Cody Mandell fielded the snap and dropped the ball into place for Griffith, who swung his right leg through cleanly. The ball floated on line for what seemed like an eternity to the orange-and-blue-clad fans standing in their seats. Then it dipped short and to the right, where Davis waited with open arms.

"I knew when I caught the ball I would have room to run," Davis said.

Alabama simulated field goal returns like Davis' every Friday during the season. "We just imagine," said tight end Brian Vogler, who is responsible for sealing the outside edge of the line during kicks. But there's never anyone actually there to return the ball, he said.

"You practice it so many times and when it happens you're not expecting that kind of speed," Vogler explained.

Davis started to his right up the center of the field before turning back left toward the sideline. He knew if he got to the edge the bigger guys for Alabama wouldn't be able to catch him. Vogler, all 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds of him, took a bad angle, leaped at Davis, and missed.

"I was running down the field expecting a blindside [hit] out of nowhere," Vogler said, "and when I finally got the opportunity, I was kind of in shock I hadn't gotten laid out."

Adrian Hubbard, Alabama's 252-pound linebacker, didn't stand a chance either as he whiffed on the tackle.

Smith, in a stroke of irony, was a key part of the return as he laid out Alabama offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio.

"I made a good block," Smith said excitedly. "Y'all go check it out."

Mandell, the punter and holder, got one hand on Davis' jersey, but wound up only touching history rather than stopping it. Davis never broke stride as he passed Mandell and found daylight, running freely into the end zone for the game-winning score before being hugged to the turf by his own teammates as the stadium erupted in applause.

"When I looked back, I said I couldn't believe this," Davis said. "When I was running, I said, 'God is good.'"

It was like it happened in slow motion, McCarron said. His helmet on and his emotions hidden from view, he sprinted off toward the locker room as fans rushed the field.

"It's almost like a video game," McCarron said. "That's something you do on 'Madden.'"

"I was just shocked," said Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. "I didn't think that big of a play would have been caused by that."

Said Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae: "I lost it. I ran and found myself on the other sideline and got to see some of my guys and hugged them. It was just an amazing experience, one that will last me for a lifetime."

The floodgates opened and the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium became a crazed sea of blue and orange fans celebrating what will go down as the most memorable Iron Bowl in history. An Auburn staffer would have to save Malzahn from being hit by Aubie, the Tigers' crowd-surfing mascot, during a postgame interview.

[+] EnlargeAuburn
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe game over, the field turned into one very large celebration.
"I don't think I've ever been part of a sequence like that with so much on the line in that part of the game," Malzahn said, not realizing he had won the Western Division until the moment he shook Saban's hand after the game.

Meanwhile, Davis was being suffocated at the bottom of a dog pile.

"It was hard to breathe," he said. "I knew it was coming. What else do you expect when you're doing something like that? I'm proud of my teammates. It might seem like I'm the hero in this moment, but they also are too -- offense and defense and special teams. We fought together and we got the W."

"If you weren't there," Ford said, "I can't really explain it to you."

It took at least an hour for players and fans to finally leave the field. The cleanup of their celebration would continue into Monday. Toomer's Corner remained painted white with rolls upon rolls of toilet paper prior to Malzahn's news conference that day at 11:30 a.m. In fact, most of the campus remained covered in the tissue.

When Davis went to his geology class that morning, he received a standing ovation. It was like a scene from a movie: the team that couldn't win a single conference game and fired its entire staff from the season before, suddenly beats the top-ranked team in the country and its star player goes to class to a round of applause.

Davis and his teammates better get used to it. This is their legacy now. No one who saw what happened that Saturday night in Jordan-Hare will ever forget.

What we learned: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Here's a look at three lessons learned in Alabama's 49-0 win over Chattanooga on Saturday afternoon.

Starting off slowly: There's something about the first quarter that Alabama's offense doesn't like. Even against inferior competition, the Tide struggle to score points early. We saw it against Mississippi State last week and we saw it again with Chattanooga on Saturday. All told, Alabama has scored 13 points in the first quarter of its last three games. Thankfully for AJ McCarron and the offense, their defense has come ready to play, shutting out opponents over the same period of time.

Future starter?: Cyrus Jones could have started. So could have Eddie Jackson. John Fulton would have been the sentimental pick to start at cornerback opposite Deion Belue on senior day. But in the end it was true freshman Maurice Smith trotting out to start at cornerback in the first series against Chattanooga. He played well, too, keeping the Mocs receivers in check and failing to draw a penalty. Whether he'll start moving forward this season is unknown, but Saturday's game may wind up being looked back on this offseason when fans and prognosticators analyze Alabama's cornerback situation in 2014.

Special teams: We've written at length about Alabama's offense and defense, so now seems like a good time to point out just how good the special teams have been. The forgotten unit has more than held its own this season. Cody Mandell has been one of the best punters in the nation, Cade Foster has been more than reliable kicking field goals and the coverage teams have kept the field position battle in Alabama's favor. But the big difference this year is the number of big plays out of the special teamers. Christion Jones returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown against Chattanooga, his third touchdown returning kicks this year, and A'Shawn Robinson later blocked a field goal attempt, setting up another score. All told, Alabama has seven non-offensive touchdowns this season, the most since 2008.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
12:30
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Talking quarterbacks, BCS bowls, penalties, turnovers and even a punter in today's edition of the lunchtime links:

Week 12 helmet stickers

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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STARKVILLE, Miss. -- No. 1-ranked Alabama didn't play its best, but it found a way to beat Mississippi State on the road, 20-7, to keep its perfect season alive.

During the course of the action, a few players stood out as worthy of a coveted helmet sticker.

QB AJ McCarron: Nothing about his performance was pretty. After going more than 100 pass attempts without an interception, he threw two picks. It was his second lowest quarterback rating of the season. But when he needed to reach down deep, he did, leading Alabama on a nine-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a picture perfect back-shoulder pass to Kevin Norwood for the touchdown. And in the process of the game, he set another Alabama record, this time passing John Parker Wilson (8,099 yards from 2005-08) for the most yards of total offense in a career.

RB T.J. Yeldon: His fumble might be the thing most fans remember, but Yeldon did plenty of positive things against Mississippi State, too. Alabama's starting running back led the way with 169 yards on 24 carries. It was his highest yardage total of the season and his 50-yard scamper against the Bulldogs was his longest run of the year, too.

P Cody Mandell: If there was a first-half MVP -- and the first half of play was ugly for Alabama -- it was Mandell. While McCarron and the offense struggled to find rhythm and the defense looked out of whack with multiple instances of miscommunication, Mandell showcased his very considerable talents. His 63-yard punt was the longest of his career, and the 55-yard punt before that wasn't too shabby either. Alabama wasn't winning on either side of the ball, but thanks to Mandell it won the field position battle.

Alabama 10: Week 1 power rankings

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
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Vinnie Sunseri Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsVinnie Sunseri started over Landon Collins and had a big game in Alabama's season-opening victory.

ATLANTA -- The Alabama 10 power rankings are back, with a look at who stood out in the Crimson Tide's season-opening 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday night in Atlanta.

1. Christion Jones: Alabama wasn't great against Virginia Tech, but Jones was. What he accomplished was nothing short of historic, returning a punt, a kickoff and making a reception for a touchdown. He had more total yards (256) than either offense on Saturday night.

2. Vinnie Sunseri: All offseason he must have heard fans asking how Sunseri could start at safety over Landon Collins. Why would the supposedly less athletic option win out? We saw why against Virginia Tech when Sunseri showed his nose for the ball, intercepting a pass early and returning it 38 yards for a touchdown. He also finished fifth on the team with four tackles, again brining the complete package to the table.

3. Ed Stinson: Alabama's defensive line as a whole should get a gold star for the pressure it brought on Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. But Stinson, the Tide's senior defensive end, played the best, leading the team with eight tackles. He only registered half a sack, but he defended the read-option beautifully and never broke containment.

4. C.J. Mosley: It was weird to look at a stat sheet and not see Mosley atop the defense in tackles, but that was the case on Saturday night. Mosley was mostly quiet on the football field against Virginia Tech. But quiet is his default setting. He wasn't first in tackles, but he was second on the team with seven stops. And more than anything his success is reflected in the defense's ability to hold the Hokies to a paltry 59 yards passing and 153 yards rushing.

5. Landon Collins: He didn't win the starting job at safety, but Collins showed no signs of being upset with the decision in the season opener. The talented sophomore played a good bit on defense off the bench, though his real impact came on special teams, where he was a one-man wrecking ball, keeping Virginia Tech's highly touted return game in check with five key tackles.

6. John Fulton: Fulton came into the season with something to prove, and on Saturday night he played like it. Chip firmly on his shoulder, Fulton played lockdown defense against Virginia Tech, helping hold Thomas to 59 yards passing. He got physical, too, finishing fourth on the team in tackles, one coming behind the line of scrimmage when he read run and attacked the tailback.

7. T.J. Yeldon: The usual running lanes weren't there, but Yeldon made the best of it, rushing for a respectable 75 yards and a touchdown. Give credit to Virginia Tech's swarming defense for keeping Yeldon in check. Bud Foster's group came to Atlanta determined to stop the running game, loading up with nine men in the box early and often.

8. Adrian Hubbard: Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart had to calm down an irate Hubbard on the sideline once during the game. Why? Because Virginia Tech grabbed his face mask and robbed him of a chance to stop the quarterback. The Hokies were doing anything and everything to slow Alabama's top pass-rusher on Saturday night. Hubbard came away with just a half-tackle for loss, but his impact was much greater.

9. Amari Cooper: It was unusual to see Cooper drop the football, but that's just what he did against Virginia Tech, missing a few well thrown balls from AJ McCarron. Whether that was a result of rust or the lingering effects of some nagging injuries is anyone's guess. But Alabama's go-to receiver still produced when his game wasn't at its best, hauling in a team leading four receptions.

10. Cody Mandell: When Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer previewed the Alabama matchup on the Monday before the game, he mentioned Mandell by name, marveling at his 44.3-yards-per-punt average from a season ago. On Saturday night, Mandell did him one better, averaging 46.4 yards per punt on nine attempts. Two were fair caught, four landed inside the 20-yard line and four went for more than 50 yards.
DENVER -- Growing up, J.K. Scott had dreams of playing soccer in MLS. He started kicking around the soccer ball when he was just 3 years old. When he became a teenager, he was already playing for the Colorado Rapids' academy team. He was on the fast track to one day becoming a professional soccer player.

Like all high school kids, Scott’s interest would soon change, and with it, his future.


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In this week’s top 10 list, we look at which 2014 recruits have the best chance to make an early impact for Alabama. It’s a combination of UA commitments and realistic targets for the Crimson Tide. They’re ranked in order of likelihood to make the biggest impact in 2014.


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During the summer, TideNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Alabama roster -- excluding the Tide's 2013 recruiting class -- in our Crimson Countdown series. Starting with No. 1 Dee Hart, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Brandon Ivory.

No. 29 Cody Mandell
Senior punter

Expectations for 2013: This coming season will mark the fourth and final turn as Alabama's starting punter for Mandell, who has held the job ever since walking on as a freshman in 2010. Last season was his best, as he averaged 43.8 yards per punt and pinned 19 punts inside the 20-yard line. Had his 3.57 punts per game, finishing just shy of the NCAA minimum of 3.6 or he would have ranked in the top-20 nationally for yards per punt.


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama hosted a specialists camp over the weekend, and when it was all said and done, the Crimson Tide found their punter of the future, landing a commitment from J.K. Scott (Denver, Colo./Mullen).

The staff offered Scott on Sunday, the day after the camp, and it didn’t take long for him to make a decision. He’s in line to replace Cody Mandell, who will be a senior this fall.


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Alabama 10: Spring wrap

April, 21, 2013
4/21/13
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With spring practice complete and fall camp right around the corner, TideNation's power rankings return with a look at the top 10 Alabama players heading into the offseason.

1. QB AJ McCarron (Last ranking: 2): After three trips to the White House, there's not much that fazes McCarron. Even after two interceptions in the A-Day game, there wasn't an ounce of concern. "None," in his words, and at this point in his career there shouldn't be. His championship rings, his record-breaking stats and his talent speak for themselves. There might not be a more decorated quarterback in school history by the time he hangs it up.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDespite an injury he has battled all spring, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley had no trouble making tackles and causing a fumble Saturday.
2. ILB C.J. Mosley (3): It's one thing for a quarterback to play with a black jersey. It's another for a linebacker to do it. But a bum shoulder wouldn't slow Mosley down. The rising senior and leading tackler from last season played all spring with a shoulder harness and a no-contact jersey, yet he found a way to contribute. On Saturday, Mosley finished with a team-high nine "tackles" and, more impressively, caused and recovered a fumble on the same play.

3. LT Cyrus Kouandjio (NR): He's the rock, the anchor to a line replacing three starters. And if you're going to start over, it's nice to have a franchise left tackle like Kouandjio. The rising junior enters the season as arguably the most prized offensive linemen in the SEC. It's only a matter of time before he declares for the NFL draft and is taken near the top of the first round, so Tide fans should enjoy him while they can.

4. RB T.J. Yeldon (7): It's almost as though Yeldon was an afterthought as many fans clung to the untapped potential of early enrollee Derrick Henry this spring. It's typical of a talented team, though, as Yeldon, only a sophomore, is already taken for granted. It was only a year ago that he was the energizing rookie making fans forget about incumbent Eddie Lacy. Unoticed or not, Yeldon is a feature back worth his weight in gold.

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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 specialists.


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The 2012-13 season is in the books. There are no more position battles to be won and no more jockeying for position in the battle to become the most valuable player for Alabama. Now we can look back and evaluate who were the best athletes to suit it up for the Crimson Tide this season.

1. LG Chance Warmack: If NFL scouts and general managers can recognize it, so can we. Warmack -- yes, a guard -- was the best player on the football field every time he suited up, and not just because of the captivating half-shirt he wore all year revealing his rather large belly. A national television audience saw just how dominant he could be against Notre Dame, as he was in on nearly every key block to spring Alabama's 265 yards on the ground. Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o was neutralized largely because of Warmack's efforts getting to the second level. The All-American left guard will likely go early in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, leaving behind a legacy few can touch.

2. QB AJ McCarron: Speaking of legacies, McCarron has already sealed his. He's the only quarterback to repeat as a national champion and he holds the all-time passing touchdowns record at Alabama. All that with a year of eligibility remaining. The junior from South Alabama took a major step forward as a quarterback and as a leader this season. He finished just 77 yards shy of 3,000, completed better than 67 percent of his passes and threw a whopping 30 touchdowns to three interceptions to lead the country in passing efficiency. The scary thought? Just how good he and an improved receiving corps can be next season.

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The TideNation's power rankings look at the top 10 Alabama players who have raised their game. Every week, we’ll update these rankings to reflect how specific areas of the Alabama football program are faring.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. G Chance Warmack: Saturday was the Alabama offensive line's most outstanding performance of the season. When the Tide needed yards, the men in the trenches delivered. And if one lineman best represents consistency and dominance, it's Warmack.

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