(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
"We've got a lot of new guys out there who are anxious to get started, put the pads on, do what they know, and show how they can compete," Lester said Saturday after Alabama's fifth practice of the spring. Junior-to-be Dee Milliner started 10 games as a freshman and six as a sophomore, but he is being pushed at cornerback by junior college transfers Travell Dixon and Deion Belue. "They are athletes, and Coach (Nick) Saban trusted they could come in and play," Lester said of the newcomers, "If he trusted they can, we will, too. We're going to do whatever we can do to encourage them, motivate them, let them know they can play here, and hopefully they can get on the right track and play here."
Alabama’s veterans have been consistent in their praise for the talent – size, speed and strength – of both returning backups and newcomers early in spring practice. But they also sound as eager as anyone to see that potential realized. It sounds like they feel a responsibility to bring those teammates up to speed in a hurry. After all, that’s how they were taught by their predecessors. Wide receiver Kevin Norwood recalled watching Julio Jones and Marquis Maze work. "When I first got here, just watching those guys go out there and practice hard everyday basically made me want to go out there and practice hard everyday," Norwood said after Saturday’s practice. "They basically showed me what Coach Saban wanted in order to play."
When last seen, Kevin Norwood was seen making a spectacular leaping catch over the "Honey Badger," star LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Actually, it was the Alabama wide receiver's first of several catches in the BCS Championship Game, and it went for a 26-yard gain on the last play of the first quarter. Photos of that catch were among those that came to symbolize the Crimson Tide's 21-0 victory. So does Norwood have a framed photo of that catch? "Aw, man, yeah. I have a bunch of copies," he said after Saturday's practice. "They're all over Facebook."
Easton Alabama Challenge Most Valuable Player Jennifer Fenton laced an RBI triple to right center field, starting a three-run fifth inning that propelled the top-ranked Alabama softball team to a 7-2 victory over Longwood, Sunday afternoon at Rhoads Stadium. The win gave the Tide a perfect 4-0 record on the weekend, improving its overall mark to 30-1 on the year. Fenton came off the bench to collect two hits, two runs and drive in two while robbing a home run in the seventh inning. Junior Kayla Braud tallied two hits and scored twice while fellow junior Keima Davis also recorded a multi-hit game and scored twice.
The big questions in all of the NFL draft projections are about what the Browns will do at No. 4, the Buccaneers will do at No. 5 and the Rams will do at No. 6. And the vast majority of draft projections have Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, Alabama running back Trent Richardson and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, in some order, as the next three players off the board.
NFL Mock Draft 2012 euphemism update: Recently Trent Richardson has been described in a few mocks as an especially reliable or sure-thingy choice in a top-of-the-draft that seems already to be filled with them. Richardson might be a great prospect—certainly the best running back—but what they really mean when they say that is this: Running backs are at their best in the first few years of their career, before their legs are crushed underneath them and they're forced out of football on crutches at 27.
The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist is limited by design, and often would trade carries with other running backs leaving questions to his long-term durability as a featured back. His first two seasons, Richardson was the second back behind 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
There was never a doubt that the ever-confident Kirkpatrick could talk the talk, a natural ability he was not bashful about displaying on and off the field since high school. But what makes him special -- albeit even more irritating to opponents -- is Kirkpatrick can back it up with his play. Only question is, will he? There are plenty of game tapes that show Kirkpatrick has all the athletic ability, instincts and tenacity to be a great cornerback. Scouts need to watch the tapes because statistics don't tell Kirkpatrick's story. In three seasons he had only three interceptions -- all in 2010 -- but his strength is in how he plays the man more than how he plays the ball.
Hightower's fit in the Patriots' scheme would likely be as an inside linebacker. He measured 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds at the combine, so the initial thought is that he might duplicate what the Patriots already have in Brandon Spikes. But perhaps the Patriots view a different type of fit for him. As for Worthy, the Patriots figure to target a lineman early and Worthy could be a solid addition on the interior to pair with Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love. While the Patriots probably have a greater need at end, they could potentially address that spot in the second round.
There’s almost no chance this will happen, but this community mock draft would be a dream for the Steelers. First, combine monster and Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe falls to the Steelers at No. 24, which strikes me as unlikely. Then, the Steelers trade back into the first round, shipping their second- and third-round picks and their 2013 second-round pick to the New England Patriots, and grab Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
They earned the right for NFL coaches to see them, but even underclassmen get that opportunity after pro day is over. Some NFL personnel stick around campus for practice in the afternoon to get a jump on seeing up close the players they'll be seeing at next year's pro day. "Knowledge is power. If they see you have knowledge of the game, it allows you to play fast. If you have knowledge, you have confidence. That’s what they look for," Bennett said. "Kids call it swagger, or whatever it is, but when you're confident in what you’re doing, you play fast. When pros come in here, that’s what they look for, the guys that know what they’re doing and play like they know what they’re doing."
The road to becoming the nation's top quarterback begins Saturday in Arlington, Texas, when the first Elite 11 regional of the 2012 season takes place at Cowboys Stadium. Now in its 14th year, Elite 11 is the nation's pre-eminent quarterback competition. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Tim Tebow are just some of the quarterbacks who've participated in the event.
Suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton will have a lot of free time in the upcoming season -- he's out of the game for the entire 2012 campaign, and he's $5.8 million lighter in the pocket after Roger Goodell told him that he was not needed this year as a result of BountyGate. Fox Sports would like to fill Payton's Sundays by making an analyst for the network's NFL broadcasts. "Our feeling about Sean is that he's bright, articulate and obviously contemporary," said Lou D'Ermilio, FOX's senior vice president for communications in a statement. "Any network with NFL rights would have to consider it."