Alabama Crimson Tide: Darren Lake

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For some members of Alabama's 2012 signing class, success came swiftly.

T.J. Yeldon burst onto the scene in the season opener against Michigan, becoming the first player in school history to rush for 100 yards in his debut. Amari Cooper had his first career reception in the same game, but waited until Week 6 to get his first start at wide receiver. And what did he do? The former four-star prospect set nearly every rookie receiving record at Alabama, passing former Freshman of the Year Julio Jones on his way to 59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Deion Belue, Denzel Devall and Geno Smith all found their way onto the field as freshman, too. Belue, a junior college transfer, started opposite Dee Milliner at cornerback, and Devall and Smith played in reserve roles at linebacker and cornerback, respectively, on Kirby Smart's defense.

"First of all, opportunity is important, to have an opportunity to do that," Smart, Alabama's 37-year-old defensive coordinator, said during Alabama's media day a week ago. "[It takes a] very conscientious kid to understand, 'Hey, I got to know this defense inside and out, I got to know all the checks, I got to know all the motions and checks, I got to know all the adjustments.' You've got to be very conscientious to do that, but you've got to have some ability.

"It's very easy for us to find those guys out there. When we recruit good players, they usually stick out as freshmen. We find ways to get them on the field and always have in some kind of role."

Reggie Ragland
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIKnowledge of the defense is key for Alabama sophomore linebacker Reggie Ragland, one of the top prospects in the 2012 recruiting class.
But as head coach Nick Saban has explained in the past, the ascent is not always swift. His defense takes about a year to get a handle on, he says, and until the light comes on, it's hard to play with the speed necessary to make an impact.

Junior linebacker Trey DePriest told reporters that he's been impressed with the way true sophomore Reggie Ragland has improved in his second year.

"Reggie is doing really well," he said. "He's picking up the defense a lot more. He's able to run around and make plays because he knows a little more about the defense."

Ragland is one of several players from Alabama's No. 1-ranked 2012 signing class looking to step up. The former No. 2 inside linebacker prospect spent last season learning behind Nico Johnson. And now that Johnson is in camp with the Kansas City Chiefs, Ragland and fellow linebackers Dillon Lee and Ryan Anderson are poised to move up the depth chart.

While it's unlikely any of the three sophomores will break into the starting lineup, each will have their opportunity to contribute this season. Ragland, at a hefty 259 pounds, is a big body who could come off the bench and stop the run at inside linebacker. Lee, who brings more athleticism to the table, could play either inside or out. And Anderson, a former four-star defensive end prospect, is a tweener who could help boost the Tide's pass rush.

Up front, defensive linemen Dakota Ball and Dalvin Tomlinson could do the same. Both redshirted last season -- Ball rode the bench because of a lack of opportunity while Tomlinson was sidelined while he recovered from a torn ACL. But now that Alabama is looking for more "quick-twitch" linemen to rush the passer, both are ideal candidates to fill that void. Tomlinson, in particular, has drawn high praise from coaches and teammates. Saban indicated last season that the former state wrestling champ would have played as a rookie, if not for his injury.

Getting to the quarterback will be key this season as Saban and Smart bring along an overhauled secondary that could feature two sophomores. Smith, who started his first game against Western Kentucky in Week 10, and Landon Collins, who played primarily on special teams a year ago, could get expanded roles. Smith is positioned to be the nickel corner while Collins, the former No. 1 safety prospect in the country, will battle it out with veterans Vinnie Sunseri and Nick Perry for reps opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety.

"Landon is doing excellent," Clinton-Dix said toward the beginning of fall camp, telling reporters that the competition at safety has been cutthroat. "He's a great safety. He's fast, dominant and he's doing a great job right now."

On offense, Kenyan Drake, Chris Black and Alec Morris all have the chance to do more this year. Drake is the frontrunner to back up Yeldon at tailback, Black is competing for reps in a crowded receiving corps and Morris is neck and neck with Blake Sims to become the second-string quarterback.

Though Morris might never see the field in a meaningful way this season, he's nonetheless a vital part of Alabama's title hopes. If AJ McCarron were to go down, it's unclear who would start: Would it be the read-option choice (Sims) or the prototypical drop-back passer (Morris)?

"Very different style of players, obviously," Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "As you watch the film from when Blake played for us last season, we become a little different in how we approach the game. His ability to run the football and create plays with his feet is different than a good majority of the quarterbacks on our roster. Alec is more of your prototypical drop-back guy. He’s a big, physical guy with a very strong arm. Both those guys need to continue to develop read progression, understanding of the game. But they’re doing a really good job, work extremely hard."

Crimson Countdown: Darren Lake 

July, 31, 2013
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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. 95 Darren Lake
Sophomore defensive lineman

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Not every tree sprouts overnight. Some roots take time to grab hold.

Alabama signed a total 26 prospects in 2012, and not everyone made an impact right away. Some didn't make it at all, as Eddie Williams, Tyler Hayes and Travell Dixon flamed out. Still, UA saw plenty of return on its investment, as two signees made the SEC All-Freshman team. Here's how we see the rest of the class shaping up.

Top of the class


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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:


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Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at nose guard Darren Lake.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- "Raw" might be the best word to describe University of Alabama nose guard Darren Lake. The rising sophomore is an unrefined talent, brimming with potential yet lacking the nuances of the game.

The York, Ala., native was forced into action as a true freshman because of a lack of depth at the position. It was just he, Brandon Ivory and Jesse Williams involved in a rotation packed with pounds but short on experience. UA coach Nick Saban said he thought about redshirting Lake to give him an extra year of development but instead played him in eight games when tallied three tackles last season, one resulting in negative yardage.

There were times where Lake looked like a clone of former Alabama All-SEC nose guard Josh Chapman, gathering up blockers with each hand. There were other times where he was pushed around by defenders for no reason other than being out of position. Auburn's Reese Dismukes, a seasoned center who gave 22 pounds away to Lake, punished the rookie at times in the Iron Bowl.

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The Uncommitteds: Eddie Vanderdoes 

February, 4, 2013
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Editor's note: From now until signing day, TideNation will examine the remaining uncommitted prospects still considering the University of Alabama. Today, we look at ESPN 150 defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If Alabama is going to claim the title of the No. 1 class in the country, a lot of things are going to have to fall into place, maybe none more so than Eddie Vanderdoes. Should the five-star defensive tackle from Northern California opt to sign with the Crimson Tide on signing day, it might be enough to unseat the leader in the clubhouse, Florida.


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Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Spring practice is roughly two months away. The start of another Alabama title defense is right around the corner.

Nine early enrollees are already on campus. The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Rest assured Scott Cochran, the Crimson Tide's raucous strength and conditioning coach, has put the 2012-13 championship to bed. Inside the football offices, the page has been turned. The time for competition is now.

With that in mind, let's break down the four most intriguing position battles set to unfold over the coming months.


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Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The heart of the defensive line is gone. So is its vocal leader. Its best backup is leaving, too. Three of the top four defensive linemen played their final game with the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night in South Florida.

This week marked the beginning of a new era on the defensive front at Alabama. Nose guard Jesse Williams and defensive ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial are all awaiting their heirs. The unit that garners little of the credit yet bears the brunt of the responsibility on defense is getting a makeover.

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Forecasting the Tide: Nose guard 

December, 20, 2012
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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 nose guards.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The position is a thankless one, all responsibility and little payoff. Nose guards are asked to take a beating and let others make the plays at the University of Alabama. In coach Nick Saban's 3-4 system, the men in the middle of the defensive line don't show up in the stat book but they are arguably the key to the defense. Take away the building block and the structure crumbles.

Alabama fans have seen the position's importance the past few years, starting with the mammoth Terrence Cody who ate space like none other, followed by Josh Chapman and then Jesse Williams. All three have had minor spins on how they play nose guard. Williams tried to add a pass-rush flavor to the recipe and found some success.

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Tracking the Tide: Jesse Williams

December, 14, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Alabama's date with Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship, we will review the season for a key Crimson Tide player or coach and attempt to project what’s next for him. Today we’ll look at nose guard Jesse Williams.

No. 54 Jesse Williams
Nose guard
36 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack

[+] EnlargeJesse Williams
Beth Hall/US PresswireJesse Williams anchored the defensive line for the Tide this season.
Role in 2012: Williams was the anchor to the defensive line at nose guard.

The good: The senior made the transition from defensive end to nose guard look relatively painless this season. He was able to take up two and three blockers at a time and free up others to make plays. Because of that, he didn't accumulate the individual statistics fans focus in on. Instead, you can point to the overall success of the defense (No. 1 in yards allowed, No. 1 in rushing defense, No. 6 in passing defense) as a result of Williams' play.

The bad: Williams began the season saying he'd like to bring a twist to the nose guard position and rush the passer more than his predecessors had. For better or worse, he wasn't able to accomplish that goal as he finished with just one sack and four quarterback hurries. The defense as a whole struggled to get consistent pressure on the passer.

Crystal ball: Williams has a high grade for the upcoming NFL draft, but he might not end up playing nose guard at the next level. His size (6-foot-3, 320-pounds) and athleticism makes him an attractive option as a run-stuffing defensive end on Sundays. Alabama will likely look to freshman Darren Lake and sophomore Brandon Ivory to fill Williams' shoes. Redshirt Dakota Ball could play the position in a role similar to Nick Gentry's a year ago as a third-down interior defensive lineman.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's true freshmen have wasted no time getting on the field and contributing in 2012. All told, a dozen first-year players have seen action through five games.

Given the news of starting wide receiver DeAndrew White's season-ending knee injury, coupled with the loss of backup running back Dee Hart to the same fate, prepare to hear more from the teenagers on campus.

Amari Cooper had already begun to take on more of a role at receiver, as have T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake at running back. The losses of White and Hart make their rise on the depth chart official.

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Second look: Bama 40, FAU 7 

September, 23, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After 24 hours of digestion, analysis of No. 1 Alabama's 40-7 win over Florida Atlantic:

On offense ...
Doug Nussmeier absolutely gouged the FAU defense with crossing routes. The UA receivers showed their speed and ability to get yards after the catch on Saturday.

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Second look: Bama 35, WKU 0 

September, 9, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After nearly 24 hours of digestion, analysis of No. 1 Alabama's 35-0 win over Western Kentucky in the home opener at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa:

  • Alabama's offensive line was shaky. There were several negative plays on offense. They continue to get very good push in the running game, but pass protection is an issue. The pocket was poor all game. Of the six sacks on AJ McCarron, two were the quarterback's fault, one of which he held the ball just a split-second too long.
  • Give the WKU defense credit, though. The Hilltoppers pressured the backfield with blitzes and misdirection all game.

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Injuries mount for Alabama

September, 8, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama's 35-0 win over Western Kentucky will look good on paper -- that is, unless you scroll down to the injury and participation report.

[+] EnlargeChristion Jones, AJ McCarron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama had plenty to celebrate against WKU, but the injury bug bit again.
No. 1 Alabama didn't escape its home debut Saturday without a few players getting dinged up. Junior running back Jalston Fowler had a scare late in the fourth quarter, injuring his knee. The Tide's No. 2 tailback had to be helped off the field and sat in pain on the trainer's table for several minutes. Players crowded around him and offered their support after seeing how serious the injury looked.

After the game, coach Nick Saban had no update on Fowler's knee and said he would get an MRI in the morning. Fowler left the game on a stretcher, emotionally distraught.

"It's really tough when you see a player, no matter what it is or who it is, go down," said receiver Christion Jones. "But one thing you have to do, is figure out what you can do to get him back right."

Sophomore linebacker/H-back Brent Calloway had to leave the game after injuring his shoulder. True freshman linebacker Reggie Ragland didn't dress out after injuring himself during last Saturday's game against Michigan.

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Practice report: Aug. 15 

August, 15, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Despite only partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures, the University of Alabama held practice Wednesday morning inside the indoor facility.

No players were in black no-contact jerseys, other than the quarterbacks which is standard operating procedure for Alabama.

Here are some notes and observations from the media viewing period.
Landon Collins
Davide De PasLandon Collins is already passing the eye test.

  • Jalston Folwer went back and forth between running back and H-Back during practice. He started with the running backs, switched to H-Back for a period and then flipped back to running back again. The coaching staff is trying to keep him in tune with both positions as they try to make plans to have him on the field more in both roles.

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