(Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
Evidence from the last three years suggests that NFL teams have made good on their investment with Alabama players, no matter how late they grab them in the draft. Of the 16 who have been drafted since 2009, 10 have started at least nine games and all but one (running back Glen Coffee) are still on the active roster of the team that drafted them. Of the five active players who haven't started nine games, two were selected in the seventh round (St. Louis defensive back Marquis Johnson and New York Jets quarterback Greg McElroy), one is his team's full-time punt and kick returner (Kansas City defensive back Javier Arenas), one was a consistent contributor during his rookie season (New Orleans running back Mark Ingram) and one has yet to see the field because of multiple injuries (Atlanta offensive guard Mike Johnson). "You get a guy that is accustomed to the NFL system," Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said at February's NFL combine in Indianapolis. "Coach Saban's offensive and defensive schemes are very conducive to performing in the National Football League. The way Coach Saban has prepared his guys, you know they're going to be prepared. They understand the importance of preparation in the workweek."
Those who troll college campuses looking for football players will always seek height, weight and speed. Scouts like winners, too. Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower have an advantage on their fellow linebackers in this draft class. They played for Nick Saban. They played at Alabama. Their four-year affiliation with the Crimson Tide certainly isn't the main reason both are expected to be selected in the first round Thursday night. However, it sure didn't hurt. Ask Thomas Dimitroff, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. A year ago, he risked his own and the Falcons' future trading away a slew of draft choices for the sixth overall selection and the chance to choose Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. "We obviously think highly of Saban players because we made a monumental move up for one of his players last year," Dimitroff said. "It seems as though most people in the NFL take a good, hard look when it's an Alabama guy given Nick's coaching prowess and the type of players he produces.
As a first grader in Eufaula, Ala., Courtney Upshaw walked into a fight in the school bathroom and it changed his life. He stuck up for a kid named Will McKenzie, who was getting bullied. You knew then he'd have a promising future as a defender. "I don't know why, but I did it and we've been friends ever since," the Alabama outside linebacker said in a phone interview last week with ESPNNewYork.com. McKenzie and his family will be in New York this week to see Upshaw get drafted into the NFL. There's an outside chance he could go to the Jets with the 16th overall pick. No matter what happens, Upshaw will be happy and surrounded by the surrogate family that guided him through a tough upbringing. This is another version of "The Blind Side," an African-American football player from the South growing up with a white family. Upshaw said he was raised by his aunt, but he said of the McKenzies, "It's like my second family, a support system throughout high school and college, making sure I got to and from practice and graduated high school."
I questioned whether Richardson had the "special" gene. Yes, he led the Crimson Tide to a national championship and rushed for almost 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns in college football's toughest conference. But in six of his team's 13 games in 2011, he didn't average five yards per carry. In eight quarters -- and one overtime -- against LSU, in what should have been his two signature games on the two biggest stages, he scored one touchdown. That didn't scream special to me. His date with Courtney Alvis does. It tells me Richardson gets it. In a league where Santonio Holmes quits on his teammates with the playoffs on the line and where a thug such as James Harrison doesn't need to be part of the Saints' repugnant bounty system to throw cheap shots in every direction, any city should be proud to have Richardson as the face of its NFL franchise.
Nick Saban visited glittering Dallas on Tuesday night, a spring Crimson Caravan precursor to a September trip that will be the highlight of the opening weekend of the college football season. And he also spoke, both in Dallas and on Tuesday's SEC teleconference, of a plan that might keep such games viable in the future. "We've always been in favor of games like this," Saban said when asked about the season opener against Michigan, to be played in the Dallas Cowboys' stadium. However, the hot topic of the day, or at least one of the hot topics, is postseason play - and whether it would impact the current bowl system and, possibly, a team's willingness to play tough non conference opposition during the regular season that might affect a team's chances to be selected for a national title playoff. "On the outside looking in, I have always thought that keeping the bowl system healthy was probably the best thing for college football," Saban said.
Lost in a lot of playoff talk is the potential of schools -- and more importantly players -- losing out on the bowl week experience. It provides players with time to unwind and actually enjoy all of the buildup leading to the final game of the season. It’s a reward that players absolutely deserve after the regular season. Saban said during Tuesday’s coaches call that he’d like to see the "playoff" bowl games played in early January. The championship would come a week later at another bowl site. The use of regular Jan. 1 bowls would be an option and could rotate like the BCS bowls do now. Whatever the playoff would be, Saban just wants the true bowl experience kept. "I haven’t done enough research in it to know what the other proposals are how, they’d work and what the consequences of all those circumstances would be to our current bowl system," Saban said.
"I think one of the worst things about the draft now is how everybody gets beat up," Saban said in a Tuesday interview with ESPN Radio in Dallas. "Trent Richardson is the finest guy that I have ever been associated with as a coach, in terms of a person — forget about a football player. I’m just saying, your daughter’s dating him and you love him. I mean, that’s how he is. "And some team called [me] the other day and said, ‘Can you explain to us? They say Trent used to hang around the wrong people.’ I say, ‘Where in the heck did that come from?’ I mean, I don’t know how anybody drafts anybody. There’s so much misinformation out there. How do you get the right information?"
The Buffalo Bills, owners of the 10th pick in Thursday's first round of the NFL draft, are reportedly high on Alabama safety Mark Barron. There has been rampant talk that the Chargers would like to trade up to get Barron. San Diego has the No. 18 pick. It previously appeared that the Chargers would have to get to the No. 12 range to get Barron; perhaps they will have to climb higher. If the Chargers want to jump ahead of Buffalo to grab Barron, they might have to part with that No. 18 pick, the No. 49 pick and a late-rounder.
From LSU, cornerback Morris Claiborne will go in the first five picks, followed by defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the middle of the first round and wide receiver Rueben Randle late in the late first round. From Alabama, there could be five taken in the first round. That would be a personal record for Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who had four of his LSU signees from the 2003 class who were later coached by LSU coach Les Miles, go in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft — quarterback JaMarcus Russell as the first pick, free safety LaRon Landry as the sixth selection and receivers Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis as the 23rd and 30th picks. The five Tide players projected to go in the first round Thursday are tailback Trent Richardson in the top five or six, strong safety Mark Barron, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the middle portion and inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower toward the end. That’s eight of the 12 SEC players projected to go in the first round. Defensive end Melvin Ingram and cornerback Stephen Gilmore of South Carolina are also first round projections along with Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn.
Let me start off this article by saying I believe the New York Jets will end up with Melvin Ingram in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday and that I support the move, even if it involves trading up a handful of spots. However, stranger things have happened and I do think the Jets will be watching the top six picks very closely with an eye to potentially make a blockbuster move to acquire running back Trent Richardson. There is increasing chatter that the St. Louis Rams are looking hard at moving up to #3 to take Richardson and that if they don’t Cleveland will take him with the 4th pick. At this point it would be a shock if Richardson slides out of the top five, meaning that if the Jets want him, it is going to cost them.
The Trojans of Troy enter this Wednesday’s game with a 31-16 record overall and a 10-9 record in the Sun Belt Conference. They are currently on a five-game winning streak, including a 4-3 victory over No. 22 Florida State on April 19. The Trojans also swept conference foe Middle Tennessee State in a three game series this past weekend. Troy swept a doubleheader on Saturday, holding on to win game one, 5-4, and running away in game two with an 8-3 victory. In the third game, Troy had to come back twice, but used a walk-off single by Nikki Hollett in the 10th inning to win, 6-5. Senior infielder Hayden Gann leads Troy at the plate with a .358 (49-for-137) batting average and 13 doubles. She’s also added six home runs and 24 runs batted in. Senior infielder Nikki Hollett leads the team with seven home runs and 32 home runs on the year. Freshman pitcher Ashley Rainey leads the Trojans with a 17-8 record in the circle, with 100 strikeouts in 176 1/3 innings of work and a 2.62 ERA. Troy finished last season with a 32-27 record, and returned their top seven hitters from last year’s team, but no pitchers. The Trojans are led by head coach Melanie Davis, who is in her 20th season at the helm. She has posted a 737-439-2 record in her time at Troy.