It was the fourth day in full pads for the 2012 Crimson Tide as the continued spring drills. Alabama defensive lineman Jesse Williams met the media following practice to discuss his move to nose guard this spring after starting 13 games a season ago at defensive end. "It isn't too bad, I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help out," said Williams. "It's a bit more of close quarters with a lot of people, there's a lot more crunching with people rather than just going with the tackle or the guard. It's nothing too serious; I'm just trying to do everything I can to help out."
The biggest returning player on the University of Alabama defensive line is putting that size to use where it's often needed most: nose guard. Jesse Williams steadily improved as a starting defensive end throughout last season, but finds himself this spring practicing at nose guard as the Crimson Tide seeks a replacement for the graduated Josh Chapman. "It's a little bit (different) in my technique, but we face the same sort of blocks," said Williams (6-4, 320 pounds). "Once I learned how to play end, I learned how to play most of the defensive line. It's been pretty easy to pick up so far. I played a bit of nose last year when Chap and Gent (Nick Gentry) were out a little bit."
Williams wouldn't concede that he is the leader atop the depth chart at nose, a group that also features redshirt sophomore Brandon Ivory, redshirt freshman Wilson Love and 340-pound early enrollee Alphonse Taylor. While Love and Taylor have yet to see the field at the collegiate level, Ivory appeared in four games last season. Williams, though, said he's had no choice but to serve as the group's de facto leader. "Being a senior and an older guy and obviously playing last year a lot, a lot of guys look up to you," Williams said. "I'm not necessarily trying to stand out and boss people around. I'm just trying to do what I can and help out as many people as I can and trying to lead by example."
"It isn't too bad, I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help out," said Williams. "It's a bit more of close quarters with a lot of people, there's a lot more crunching with people rather than just going with the tackle or the guard. It's nothing too serious; I'm just trying to do everything I can to help out."
Alabama's first-team offensive line seems pretty well established: left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, left guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones, right guard Anthony Steen and right tackle D.J. Fluker. But what's the second-team unit looking like? Today, it appeared to be Kellen Williams at left tackle, Aaron Joiner at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center, Issac Luatua at right guard and Austin Sheperd at right tackle, but those spots seem to be in flux, as one would expect at this point in the spring.
This one won't start from scratch like the 2010 overhaul required. A pair of two-year starters returns from a group that could have two first-round NFL draft picks. Also back are a few key reserves who saw action in the 2011 national title run. There were no such luxuries two seasons ago. Graduation and the NFL decimated the last championship-winning defensive backfield. That forced true freshmen like cornerback Dee Milliner straight into the fire. He started 11 games that fall after learning the defense in spring practice. Now he joins safety Robert Lester as the veterans of an evolving group that includes a few former top prospects who had the luxury Milliner never experienced. "That's a very important aspect when you've got the backups out there 'cause they've been out there before," Milliner said. "They learned from the great backs that's in front of them. They taught them things and they can teach other people, because they were out there in the situation that was behind those great leaders that we had."
Twenty-three career starts later, Fluker in no way resembles the near 400-pound freshman who showed up in Tuscaloosa in 2009. That guy struggled to finish practices. This guy finishes defensive linemen with authority.
Is it even fair to a defense for the two of them to line up side by side? "Ha, ha! It is what it is," Fluker said after practice Wednesday. "He's a big guy, too. If we've got to run the ball to that side, that's what we've got to do." How would Fluker feel being a defensive lineman who had to line up opposite both tackles? He smiled broadly. "I'd kind of run away," Fluker said.
With the 2012 NFL draft a month away, Alabama will hold its second - and most would say its bigger - pro day Thursday. Three potential first-round picks who weren't 100 percent healthy on March 7 for the first pro day will work out with a few other former teammates who did participate in the March 7 evaluations. Running back Trent Richardson, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron will be the featured attractions today. They are expected to draw a larger crowd of NFL coaches, executives and scouts than the group that attended the previous pro day.
As if one pro day wasn’t enough, the University of Alabama is going for No. 2. On Thursday morning, Trent Richardson, Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron will work out for NFL personnel in an attempt to improve, or in the case of Richardson, maintain their draft stock. More on Alabama NFL general managers and scouts will keep a close eye on how Barron and Richardson have recovered from surgeries that have limited their post-college workouts. Barron missed the NFL scouting combine while recovering from a double hernia injury. Richardson made the trip to Indianapolis for the combine, but did not work out, attempting to get back to 100 percent following a knee surgery after the season.
Jason Garrett’s planned pit stop in Tuscaloosa should be the first step in the Cowboys following the BAD-A plan in the first round of the draft. That’s picking the Best Alabama Defender Available. There are four potential first-rounders that played on the BCS champions’ dominant defense: cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Garrett’s presence at the Crimson Tide’s pro day -- the only one he plans to attend -- is a pretty good sign that one of those guys will hear his name called when the Cowboys go on the clock in the first round.
Coach Jason Garrett plans to attend Alabama's second pro day today, which could be an indication the Dallas Cowboys will target Crimson Tide safety Mark Barron or outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the first round of next month's draft. Garrett will stop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on his way back to Dallas from the NFL owners meetings in Florida. He told DallasCowboys.com on Wednesday he hasn't attended any other pro day this spring because he was busy with free agency and other duties. "It makes sense for me to stop there and go to this workout," Garrett said. The visit is significant because the Cowboys drafted Southern California offensive tackle Tyron Smith ninth overall last year after Garrett attended the Trojans' pro day. It was the only pro day Garrett attended in 2011.
However, with great lower body power, comes great lower body immobility. His feet can be slow at times and he has problems moving laterally. His main feature is his bull-rush and that really hinders him chasing outside routes or dropping back into coverage. He certainly won’t be the next D-Ware, but people have compared him to Ryan Kerrigan or Lamarr Woodley. He certainly has pass-rushing ability and potential, but ended up only having 16 sacks at Alabama. While there is a chance that Upshaw will be available at 14, there is also a chance that he won’t. But is he really a good fit for the Cowboys? Many people don’t think he’ll fit into Ryan’s 3-4 system, but there has been some talk of moving to the 4-3 scheme. While Ware does need all the help he can get, Jones and Ryan will have to think long and hard whether or not Upshaw can blend in the new-and-improved defense. What do you think, readers?
After hearing Schiano talk up Trent Richardson and chide LeGarrette Blount for his fumbling issues, I might have to re-think my conclusion that Tampa Bay won't go for the Alabama running back with its No. 5 pick in the first round. Not that coaches always speak the truth at these meetings in regards to their draft intentions, but still. "I've studied a lot of tape on him, he's a very talented guy,'' said Schiano of Richardson, who he went on to call "a special talent.'' "You can't argue with the production. One of the real barometers is production. Was he able to be consistently productive, and Trent has done it in what's arguably the toughest league in college football.''
If the Patriots do trade up, I can see it happening for players like Alabama safety Mark Barron, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly or Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. I don't know if they'd do it for any defensive tackles or edge rushers because there doesn't appear to be as much of a drop-off toward the 27th selection. Barron has especially distinguished himself among the draft class, and he plays a position of need. You could probably same the same about Kuechly and Floyd, and maybe even Kirkpatrick, whose exclusive scouting report was probably conveyed between Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Belichick.
Kirkpatrick played as a reserve defensive back in 12 games during his freshman year, then blossomed over his next two seasons into one of the best cornerbacks available for the 2012 draft. Kirkpatrick is a physical player who does well in man coverage. He has good size and speed and has been credited with a high football IQ, which is something Bill Belichick likes to see from his players. He reads the receiver well and can change directions and recover quickly. He also recognizes what the quarterback wants to do and can bait quarterbacks into inaccurate passes.
At some point - maybe next year, maybe after the 2019 season when the current extension expires, maybe in 2025 - Saban is going to leave Alabama, and buildings are going to shake all over the UA campus from the collective cries of "I told you so!" from every other spot in America. But until then, UA officials are content to take Saban at his word that, as he said Monday, he is committed to staying where he is. I know big business isn't supposed to be based on what someone says. I know Saban has changed his mind on such matters before (although he already has set personal stability records at Alabama). And I also know that, if he wanted to go, no buyout clause would keep him around. So isn't it better all around for everyone - a happy employee and a happy employer - not to force the issue?
Foster, a five-star recruit rated the nation's No. 2 overall prospect by 247Sports, told ESPN he wants to leave Troup County High School in Lagrange, Georgia and enroll at a school in Alabama that will allow him to complete his course work early and graduate in December, allowing him to enroll at Alabama in January of 2013. "I'm trying to get what's best for me, credit-wise and academic-wise," Foster said. "Troup (County) High School is a nice academic school, but I just can't graduate early."
The University of Alabama track and field team currently has 10 student-athletes ranked in the top 25 nationally and an overall 20 performances in the top 50 to date this outdoor season. For the women’s team, 11 athletes are placed in the Top 50. Krystle Schade has put up the best mark in the country for the high jump by clearing a 6-0 at the Alabama Relays this past weekend on March 24. Chloe Hetherton ranks 11th in the country with her 41-7 mark in the triple jump at the Bulls Invitational on March 15. Shani Chandler comes in at No. 16 for her 59.63 performance in the 400-meter hurdles at the Bulls Invitational. Kelsey Johnson, Katlyn Will and Andrea Torske are ranked 21st, 22nd and 25th, respectively, for their performances in the 5,000 meters at the Alabama Relays. The Tide men have five athletes ranked in the top 50 this season. Kamal Fuller recorded a jump of 24-8.5 at the Alabama Relays for the No. 6 spot in the country. Tyler Campbell cleared a 7-0.25 bar in the high jump at the Relays as well that’s good for 11th in the nation. Dwayne Extol is ranked 28th for the 400 meters with a time of 47.46 at the Bulls Invitational.
Georgia will be without two of its best defenders for at least a portion of the start of their 2012 season. Starting linebacker Alec Ogletree and starting safety Bacarri Rambo will miss at least two games, but up to as many as four games, at the start of the season for a violation of team rules. This is the second suspension of Rambo’s career and appears to be Ogletree’s first. Rambo sat out the Bulldogs’ season opener last year with Boise State for breaking team rules (undisclosed). Ogletree was injured in the game against the Broncos, breaking his foot, and didn’t return until the Bulldogs’ game with Florida in late October.
Wally Butts, a former Georgia coach, was accused by the Saturday Evening Post of being in cahoots with Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant in an effort to fix a college football game. In essence, Butts was accused of calling Bryant and giving away Georgia’s strategy. "I don’t think in any way they were trying to fix a game. But there is no question Coach Bryant was trying to get some information," Dooley said. "In an opening ballgame, you don’t have the intelligence on the other team you get later in the season. An opener is a venture into the unknown. I’m sure Coach Bryant was trying to get some information, and maybe Butts was revealing more than he should have."
Needtobreathe is as tenacious a band as there ever was. Started by Bear Rinehart (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and drummer Joe Stillwell when the two attended Furman University, the band also boasts singer/guitarist Nathaniel Bryant "Bo" Rinehart (yes, he and his brother Bear are named for legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant),