"It's great to be able to say we had four guys last year, three offensive guys and a defensive guy," Saban said, speaking before the conclusion of the first round. "I think it says a lot for the University of Alabama that we can attract those kind of players. I think it says a lot for our entire staff."
"It is very exciting for these guys," UA head coach Nick Saban said. "But the first thing I remember is going into these guys' houses when they were in high school or going to their high school to see them when they were juniors. I'm saying 'that doesn't seem like it was that long ago' but the guy you met then and the man they are now - that is one of the great things about college football. To see these guys develop, grow and mature, personally, academically and athletically really makes you feel proud. And that is one of the things I love about college coaching."
Running backs get knocked down and pounded on. They wear out quicker than your kids' play clothes. So why bother in the first round? Nobody among the top six rushers last season was picked earlier than the 53rd spot. Only 14 teams started first-rounders. The Houston Texans' Arian Foster won the 2010 rushing title, has been named to two Pro Bowls and wasn't drafted. But now here comes Richardson, with power, toughness and apparently Velcro for hands. He lost one fumble in 614 touches at Alabama — in his freshman year. Good qualities to have, since the Browns will ask him to gain hard yardage on cold days in hostile places such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
Richardson is a Southern gentleman. The former Alabama tailback recently accompanied to the prom a high-school senior who is a cancer survivor, a kind gesture made in part to honor his own mother, who also is a cancer survivor. The hard edge of his new city will require some adjustment on his part. But on the field? Vintage Cleveland. "We knew as we went through this process that he was our guy," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said last night after Cleveland took Richardson with the third overall pick in the NFL draft after swinging a trade with Minnesota to move up one spot. "He’s passionate, productive and durable." Shurmur did not immediately mention Richardson’s bonus track: 50 catches for the Crimson Tide the past two seasons. Not only is he strong and shifty, but his memory foam hands will work wonders in Cleveland’s short-pass West Coast offense.
Richardson is considered an all-around back, and has been pegged by many as the best running back coming out of college since Adrian Peterson. Many people here at Dawgs By Nature had made it clear that we preferred that Richardson not be the pick, but it is what it is. I'm not disappointed that Richardson is a member of the Browns, as he definitely improves a position that previously featured Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson, and Chris Ogbonnaya. Were any of those guys going to get it done against the Steelers' or Ravens' defense? A concern about Richardson is whether he can live up to the hype at the NFL level. We shall see.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lofty expectations for Mark Barron, who's eager to prove he can make a difference in one of the NFL's worst defenses. The Bucs selected the All-American who helped the Crimson Tide win two national titles with the seventh pick of the NFL draft on Thursday night. Then in a surprise move, they later completed a trade that netted a second first-round pick and used it on Boise State running back Doug Martin. "As a rookie, I want to come in and establish myself as one of the best players in the league, and hopefully win the rookie of the year award," Barron said by telephone from New York, where he described himself as excited and "really surprised" to be picked that early in the opening round.
"I don't really know too much about the team's tradition, but I guess I'm about to learn now," Barron said. "What it means to me now is that I know what I'm working toward and I know who I'm working for."
When it comes to judging safeties, who is in position to argue with Lynch, the best by-gum safety the Bucs have ever had? Yes, it was a bit of a surprise when the Bucs picked Barron with the seventh pick in the NFL draft, and yes, some of those people who guess at the event for a living might consider him a bit of a reach. On the other hand, Barron — a two-time captain at Alabama — is one of those safeties who leaves bruises, the kind the Bucs have needed since the franchise held the door open for Lynch to leave. And if he can return greatness to the position, no one will ever quibble about the price. Just take it from Lynch. "I think he's a flat-out stud," Lynch said. "He doesn't have any holes. He does everything well."
Tampa Bay has to face the high-octane passing attacks of the Falcons, Panthers and Saints six games each season, and, after making major upgrades on offense in free agency earlier this offseason, improving on defense was a must for them in the draft. A season after setting a new franchise record for most points allowed, the Bucs added a presence to help them better match up vs. the explosive offenses that they will be competing against for years to come. Barron should be a starter from Day One. He will be a physical presence inside the box and will help improve a run defense that was consistently gashed last season. He’s not an elite athlete, but he has good instincts in coverage and can provide leadership in the secondary when Ronde Barber eventually rides off into the sunset.
What is it physically on the field that you like about Barron? "I think you will see an athletic range, speed, up to physical. I think if you saw highlights of him, that is just a clip. You put on any football game of Mark Barron playing in Alabama this year you are going to see a guy that is a physical football player, has range, wraps up—I love the way he tackles. He is force. He has great size to him [and] a smart football player. All those things as people that…know him know him as the captain and why he is the leader on that football team. See the toughness. The dedication that he brings to the football team [and] that is really important to us."
On a team that has only one corner under the age of 25, Kirkpatrick doesn't have to be an immediate starter. He comes into a veteran-laden situation with Leon Hall and Nate Clements expected to be the starters and Jason Allen, Terence Newman and Adam Jones also on the roster. This is a pick for two or three years down the line especially with Clements, Hall, Jones and Newman having contracts that expire at the end of the upcoming season.
Watching the early run on cornerbacks with LSU's Morris Claiborne (selected by the Cowboys at No. 6) and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore (selected by the Buffalo Bills at No. 10) removed from the team's board early during the first round, Cincinnati addressed their first need of the evening selecting Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 17. Considering that the team pieced together an aging group of cornerbacks to strengthen depth during free agency, Kirkpatrick offers the team an option as a starter -- especially with Leon Hall rehabilitating from an Achilles injury. It was an expected selection, one that was projected through many concluding mock drafts this week.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick, selected No. 17 overall by Cincinnati, played in a defensive scheme heavy on press coverage. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer based his 2009 top-five defense on doing the same thing with CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. "He's played in a lot of bump-and-run and a lot of intricate schemes," Marvin Lewis said. "He has great length. He's a physical player."
On the top-ranked Alabama defense. "It was a good experience, growing up with these guys … it meant a lot and it showed the caliber that we have as people, as players and the caliber of the University (of Alabama) showing that we were putting out as many good players as we are," Hightower said. "It has a lot to do with Coach Saban. It has a lot more to do with the way that we adjust.
"I’m versatile and I can play all different kinds of positions," Hightower said. "It’s more or less about the scheme and the philosophy. It gets a lot more technical about what position it is. I’m going to get to the ball and I’m going to make plays on the ball, regardless of whether it’s a 4-3 or a 3-4."
The Patriots had to move up to snag Hightower and he's definitely worth the move, in my opinion. If the Patriots didn't make the move, he would have slid to the conference rival Ravens and, if he adds such great value to the Patriots, why not take him? Hightower was one of the nation's premier defenders and the Patriots needed help at all levels of their defense. He adds versatility and leadership to the defense and, if he keeps his weight down, he could develop into one of the league's best linebackers.
Q: What kind of preconceived notions did you have about the Patriots and Coach Belichick before you got picked? Were you a fan of New England?
DH: I didn't really grow up watching NFL football, really. But I watched because of the style of defense and the Patriots were one of those defenses I watched a lot, mainly because we did a lot of the same things. Coach Belichick is a genius when it comes to football, let alone defense, so to play under somebody like that and to gain more knowledge after playing with Coach Saban, that's something that's going to help me and my game a lot.
Roster Impact: It depends on the Patriots' base. If they use a 4-3, Hightower could play at strong side linebacker with Brandon Spikes in the middle and Jerod Mayo on the weak side. That might be the best group of 4-3 linebackers in the league in the near future. If the Patriots use a 3-4, Hightower might float around depending on the package, but he could be a rush linebacker while Mayo and Spikes stay inside. There are tons of possibilities. One more key: The Patriots' defense really dropped off in 2011 when Mayo and Spikes went down with injuries, so Hightower gives them more frontline depth to ensure such a drop-off shouldn't happen. It's a terrific pick.
"Alabama's a brotherhood, regardless of who goes where," Hightower said. "We're always going to stay close and connected. It was a big surprise to see Courtney not get drafted. It's a disappointment but wherever he goes, he's going to make plays."
The Alabama gymnastics team's national championship celebration will include an appearance by Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team enjoyed its own national championship celebration in January at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The gymnastics celebration will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday in Coleman Coliseum. Doors will open at 5 p.m. Admission will be free, and 5,000 commemorative posters will be given away.
But why now? Why, after 14 years of BCS rancor and more than 75 years of voter control, is this the moment college football chose to embrace a playoff? Just four years ago, on this very same week in this very same hotel, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford could not even get their colleagues to listen to their proposal for what was then termed a plus-one. "It basically fell on deaf ears [in 2008]," said Swofford. "Sometimes a seed is planted for an idea that simply takes time for the seed to germinate." Four years later and with several new faces in the room, the commissioners did far more than listen. According to numerous first-hand accounts, they laboriously deliberated over pros and cons of potential playoff variations. All looked noticeably exhausted by day's end Thursday. "They are listening to the fans," said Hancock. "They get it that they want to do something different."
"Having carefully reviewed calendars and schedules, we believe that either an 8-team or a 16-team playoff would diminish the regular season and harm the bowls. College football's regular season is too important to diminish and we do not believe it's in the best interest of student-athletes, fans, or alumni to harm the regular season. "Accordingly, as we proceed to review our options for improving the post-season, we have taken off the table both an 8-team and a 16-team playoff.
LSU is finalizing a new contract for defensive coordinator John Chavis that would pay him an average of $1.1 million over the next three years and make him one of the highest paid assistant coaches in college football. Chavis, who won the Broyles Award last season as the nation's top assistant coach, has restored the edge to LSU's defense in his three seasons in Baton Rouge and made the Tigers one of the top defensive units in college football.