Alabama Crimson Tide: Daniel McCullers

Planning for success: Alabama

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
8:00
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Ready for a good old-fashioned rivalry? We've got one when the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) hosts the Tennessee Volunteers (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Can lightning strike twice for Tennessee? Riding an upset victory over South Carolina this past weekend, the hope for Butch Jones' squad is that the answer is yes.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban is building respect for this week's opponent.
And, as always, Nick Saban is guarding against that possibility.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for Tennessee and the job that they've done this year," he said. "They've really played well the last two weeks. I think it's really going to be important for us to focus on the things we need to improve on.

"Certainly a big game for us."

So who are some players to watch and some stats to chew on? We've got that for you right here:

Tennessee players to watch

RB Rajion Neal: The 5-foot-11 senior has quietly been one of the best running backs in the SEC this season. He's currently tied for fourth on in the league in rushing with 693 yards and eight touchdowns.

OT Antonio Richardson: Really, it's not just Richardson. As Saban pointed out Wednesday, "They've got two really good tackles, probably both NFL type guys who will be high draft picks." If you're looking for the key to Tennessee's success this season just look up front. Richardson leads what's arguably the best offensive line in the SEC.

DL Daniel McCullers: It may not be the best defensive line in the country, but Tennessee's got some heft on that side of the ball, too. McCullers is the Vols’ version of Terrence Cody, a mammoth run stuffer at 6-foot-8 and 351 pounds. Alabama's interior offensive linemen will be tested by his size and strength Saturday.

Alabama players to watch

C Ryan Kelly: Will he play or won't he? Kelly has missed the last three games recovering from an injury, but was "full go this week," according to Saban. Odds are Chad Linsday will continue to start, but look for Kelly to work his way back into the mix.

WR Amari Cooper: After starting the season slowly, Cooper has shown signs of resurgence in recent games. With some nagging injuries behind him, he's playing faster and producing more with six receptions in his last two games. Cooper's coming-out party last season was against Tennessee. Maybe familiarity will be the jump-start he needs.

RB Derrick Henry: He flew down the sideline like a blur. Henry, Alabama's larger than life tailback, sprinted past Arkansas' defense for an 80-yard touchdown run last Saturday, the first score of his career. Saban said Wednesday that there's no question he has the ability. How he picks up the little things like blocking -- things he wasn't asked to do in high school -- will determine how much he contributes down the stretch as a freshman.

Key stats

15: Alabama's pass protection has been stout of late, failing to give up a sack since the third quarter against Ole Miss. The Tide ranks 15th nationally and third in the SEC with 1.00 sacks allowed per game.

16: Alabama's defense is on a historic run of late, surrendering just 16 points in its last five games.

17: Just how explosive is Alabama sophomore running back Kenyan Drake? He and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota are the only two players in the country with 17 rushes of 10-plus yards in fewer than 70 carries.
It’s Rankings Week at TideNation. Every day we’ll rank some facet of the Alabama football program heading in 2013. Today we’re ranking the top 10 defensive players the Tide will face this season. On Thursday we’ll switch gears and rank the top 10 freshmen with a chance of making the biggest impact in the fall for UA.

Ranking the defensive players

1. DT Anthony Johnson (LSU): Stop me if you're heard this one before: LSU has one of the best defensive line prospects in the country. Yeah, this year is no different as Johnson steps to the forefront, already the No. 22 prospect on Mel Kiper's early Big Board. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound linemen is nicknamed Freak for a reason. Even behind players like Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan, Johnson shined as a raw talent capable of terrorizing offenses up the middle.

2. LB Denzel Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): He isn't a typical linebacker because of his relatively slight frame, and he's certainly not what you'd call a safety. But Nkemdiche is what every coach covets: a playmaker. In Ole Miss' complex defense, Nkemdiche thrives. He led the Rebels with 82 tackles and chipped in with team-leading 13 tackles for loss. He even finished tied for first with three interceptions.

3. DE James Gayle (Virginia Tech): We'll know right away whether Alabama's retooled offensive line is capable of living up to last year's standard, as Gayle and the Virginia Tech pass rush comes calling in the season opener. As a junior, Gayle tallied 43 tackles and five sacks on his way to a second-team All-ACC selection. He turned down the NFL and comes back to Blacksburg as one of nine returning starters on defense.

[+] EnlargeLamin Barrow
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLinebacker Lamin Barrow gives the LSU defense some of everything, including much-needed experience.
4. LB A.J. Johnson (Tennessee): It's tough to find a player in the SEC who produced more last season than Johnson, who racked up 138 tackles for the Volunteers. The 50th-ranked player on Kiper's early Big Board, Johnson is a guy who can keep Alabama's ground game from running away from what stands to be a lackluster Tennessee defense.

5. LB Lamin Barrow (LSU): Barrow was understandably lost in the haze of NFL prospects in Death Valley last season. But the 6-2, 229-pound linebacker did finish with a whopping 104 tackles, five pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. There will be a lot of new faces on defense for the Tigers in 2013, and Barrow should serve as the glue to hold the operation together.

6. DT Daniel McCullers (Tennessee): The Vols very own Mount Cody, McCullers is the kind of big-bodied nose guard you can build a defense around. The 6-8, 370-pound prospect ranks 43rd on Kiper's early Big Board, and could see his stock rise farther with a solid 2013 campaign.

7. S Craig Loston (LSU): Loston is a rising star on the Tigers defense who very nearly spirited all the way to the NFL after last season. Unlike many of LSU's underclassmen, Loston decided to return, and coach Les Miles should consider himself lucky for having a veteran to anchor what is an otherwise green secondary. Loston played in 12 games last season and finished with a respectable 55 tackles and three interceptions on his way to a second-team All-SEC selection.

8. DE Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae (Auburn): Say what you will about Ellis Johnson the head coach, but Ellis Johnson the defensive coordinator knows what he's doing. And with a few parts still remaining on Auburn's defense, Johnson has a chance to outdo expectations on the Plains. Ford, who led the Tigers in sacks last season, and Eguae have the tools Johnson can build around up front.

9. LB Avery Williamson (Kentucky): You might not know his name, but the 6-1, 243-pound linebacker finished second in the SEC in tackles (135) and led the conference in solo stops (70) in 2012. With new head coach Mike Stoops breathing new life into the program and its underwhelming defense, Williamson could see his profile rise this season.

10. DE Chris Smith (Arkansas): The Razorbacks were a mess last season, but it wasn't all bad news for Arkansas fans as Smith emerged as a quality pass-rusher, finishing fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks. He and fellow defensive end Trey Flowers combined for a solid 26 tackles for loss last season and helped Arkansas to a top 25 finish nationally in sacks.

Bold predictions for SEC in 2013

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
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Everybody loves predictions, especially when the previous season has been over for only about a week.

What can we expect in the SEC in 2013?

Let me look into my crystal ball and give you a few bold predictions to write down in ink. OK, maybe in pencil:

The SEC will make it eight in a row: Yep, the SEC will run its streak to eight straight national championships, leaving the rest of college football to wonder whether it should create its own league. Who’s it going to be? We can’t give everything away this early.

Everybody will predict the SEC’s streak will end: This is the surest bet out there. Get ready to hear all the pundits spouting off about how the SEC’s run is finally coming to an end. Promises, promises.

Alabama won’t go unbeaten: It won’t be the end of the world for the Crimson Tide, who lost a game each of the past two seasons and still managed to win the national championship. Getting through the SEC gantlet unscathed simply doesn’t happen very often.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement/USA TODAYJadeveon Clowney will be a force to contend with next season.
Clowney hits Broadway: It's probably a stretch to think that any player who plays exclusively on defense, even a player as dynamic as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, can win the Heisman Trophy. But Clowney will be in New York City as one of the finalists after making a run at 20 sacks in the 2013 season.

Manziel-mania: Where do we start with Johnny Football? For one, he will lead the SEC in rushing again even though defenses will do everything they can to keep him in the pocket, and he will be the most must-see player in college football. But we're not ready to jump out there and predict that he will win a second straight Heisman Trophy. At least, not yet. There's a reason only one person has done that.

Auburn bounces back: Gus Malzahn has hired a first-rate staff on the Plains, and the Tigers aren’t lacking for talent. Look for them to bounce back and win eight games next season.

Record-setting Murray: Now that he’s coming back for his senior season, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will obliterate just about every SEC career passing record. Murray has 10,091 passing yards. The record is 11,528, held by Georgia’s David Greene. Murray has 95 touchdown passes. The record of 114 is held by Florida’s Danny Wuerffel. Murray has 696 completions. The record is 895, held by Florida’s Chris Leak. The one record Murray won’t challenge is career interceptions. He has 32 entering the 2013 season, but Georgia’s Zeke Bratkowski threw 68 picks from 1951 to '53.

South Carolina’s starting quarterback: Good luck with that one. Connor Shaw will miss the spring because of foot surgery, and Dylan Thompson was clutch against Clemson and then against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Something says the Head Ball Coach will find a way to play them both. Just a hunch.

Bayou Blues: Nobody is predicting that LSU will fall completely off the radar next season. There’s too much young talent in the program, and Les Miles’ track record of consistency speaks for itself. But with a killer schedule and 10 underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft, the Tigers will fail to win 10 games for the first time since 2009.

Going bowling: We predicted a second straight bowl appearance for Vanderbilt this time a year ago and heard a few snickers around the league. Who’s laughing now? The Commodores will make it three straight bowl appearances in 2013.

Breaking out: If you’re looking for some of the top breakout players in the league next season, keep an eye on Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, Vanderbilt offensive tackle Wesley Johnson, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Alabama noseguard Darren Lake, LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams.

Game preview: Alabama at Tennessee

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
8:30
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's something about the Third Saturday in October, Alabama versus Tennessee, crimson and orange on a fall night.

It's not a rivalry by geography, nor is it one that dates back to the school's inception. But the rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee is no less intense. In fact, to UA linebacker Trey DePriest, it might be the most intense game the Tide play all season.

"Being a second-year player, it's kind of grown on me now," he said. "Last year, I didn't know. I thought it was always Alabama-Auburn. I didn't really know about the Tennessee game. But a lot of the older fans take this game real seriously. It's bigger than Alabama-Auburn to them."

To Cyrus Kouandjio, the game represents something different. The sophomore left tackle will come full circle Saturday, marking a year since he tore his ACL at home against Tennessee. The road back wasn't as easy as he thought it would be.

"When I got hurt was almost exactly a year ago; it was tough," Kouandjio said. "To rehab every day -- I didn't know it was going to be as hard, actually. When you get hurt, it's not a joke, because it's tough to get back. I'm still kind of hurting a little bit. But I'm just ready to go out there and play, you know? I'm actually pretty excited. It's been a year, and this is the same team that I tore my ACL against.

"I'm ready to go out there and have fun."

With a trip to Neyland Stadium to look forward to all week, Kouandjio said he has noticed a change not just in himself, but the team as a whole.

(Read full post)

When Nick Saban arrived at the University of Alabama in 2007, he made it a point of emphasis to recruit the state of Tennessee and take what recruits he could away from the rival Volunteers. It didn’t take long to make his presence felt.

[+] EnlargeBarrett Jones
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAlabama center Barrett Jones is one of several high-profile players Nick Saban has recruited out of Tennessee.
In 2008, his first full recruiting class, Saban signed three Tennessee natives -- linebackers Don'ta Hightower and Chris Jordan and offensive lineman Barrett Jones.

Hightower now plays for the New England Patriots. Jones, who won the Outland Trophy a year ago, is expected to hear his name called in next year’s NFL draft, and Jordan battled several injuries but still made a contribution both on special teams and as a backup.

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