After Alabama won a national championship in 2009, it knew what it wanted to do the following season. Repeat. The Crimson Tide didn't know how to do it, because the experience was new to every player on the roster. The experience wasn't new to Alabama coach Nick Saban, who won a national championship in 2003 at LSU. He told the Crimson Tide to focus on playing to a high standard. Repeat: Focus on playing to a high standard. Saban repeated and repeated and repeated the message, to no avail. The Tide lost three games in 2010. And now here Alabama is coming off the 2011 national championship. It knows what it wants this season. Repeat.
Perhaps even more revealing were Saban's comments last week about the 2010 team. They came, ironically, at a point when Saban was rankled about comparing the 2012 team to the 2010 team, unhappy at attempts to compare two different teams even though they are in the same situation, coming off a BCS championship season. "Everybody has to take a collective responsibility to improve," Saban said. "There are teams that improve. In 2009, Florida was No. 1 (and) people thought they were unbeatable. But we improved. "The next year, we didn't improve. People ask me how we lost three games that year and my answer is that we didn't improve."
"In some ways, the strengths of this team are different. The character and attitude of this team has been different, I think in a good way,'' he added. "There's still a lot that this team has to prove in terms of how hungry they are and how willing they are to make the sacrifices that we need them to make to have the kind of team that we're capable of having.''
The No. 4 ranked Alabama gymnastics team made its first trip to the University of Washington campus and Alaska Airline Arena a successful one, winning the NCAA Seattle Regional Championship with a 197.025 and advancing to the NCAA Championship finals for the 30th consecutive year. "I think it's pretty remarkable to be able to say that you're going to the NCAA finals for the 30th year in a row," UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. "I've had a great coaching partner for the last 34 years in David (Patterson) and as the ladies pointed out, we're going to our 30th NCAA Championship and a month later we'll celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. To have had that kind of success with him over such a long period time is heartwarming."
The second ranked Alabama softball team fell behind early and could not complete the comeback, as it fell, 3-2, to No. 21 LSU in front of a Rhoads Stadium record crowd of 3,521. With the loss, the Crimson Tide drops to 36-2 overall and 13-2 in Southeastern Conference play. The Tigers improve to 29-9 on the year and 11-2 in league play. LSU outhit Alabama, 5-4. Senior Jennifer Fenton collected two of the Tide hits that included a home run. Fenton had her NCAA record of consecutive stolen bases come to an end as she was thrown out in the first inning. It was the first time she had been thrown out since March 13, 2010.
Taylor Dugas' two-out, two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Alabama baseball team a thrilling, 4-3 come-from-behind victory over in-state rival, the No. 23 ranked Auburn Tigers. With the win, the Crimson Tide improves to 12-19 on the season and 3-8 in Southeastern Conference play, winning its third straight game and securing its first SEC series victory of the season. With the loss, the Tigers fall to 17-13 and 6-5 in the SEC play. "What a great big-time hit from Dugas at the end, a flare for the dramatic," UA head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "The last two Saturday's at home we've had that with Booth and now Dugas. I'm happy for our team. As I've said the last week or so, they've continued to battle and compete each day and fight through a lot of adversity. They are being rewarded right now."
If the Browns pass on Trent Richardson and take Justin Blackmon with the fourth pick on April 26, they should be able to get the second-ranked running back on their draft board when they pick 22nd. If they pass on Blackmon to take Richardson, the next two wide receivers will also likely be picked before the Browns draft again, which means the best the Browns could hope for would be the fourth-best receiver, possibly Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech. That might seem like an argument for taking Blackmon, but it is just the opposite. Richardson not only would be the best player available after quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III plus tackle Matt Kalil are picked, Richardson would fill a priority need for the Browns.
Every NFL team can arrange for 30 out-of-town visits and an unlimited number from the local area. NFL Network's Charley Casserly explains it this way: "At the combine, you only have 15 minutes to meet with a player privately. At the pro-day visit in March, it is impossible for all of the members of your staff to be there. So now, the whole organization has the ability to assess the player. You cannot work out the player unless he lives locally. One of our strategies was to have a young member of our scouting staff pick up the player at the airport. Many times, the player would be more candid with a young scout closer to his age. I always wanted to know what each prospect said to our scout."
The 2012 NFL Draft is less than a month away, so scouts are meeting around the clock to put the finishing touches on draft boards as pro days come to a close. Although team visits, private workouts and medical evaluations could alter the landscape leading up to draft day, here is how I envision most draft boards across the league at this point in the process:
Hightower is all over the ball, plays with a mean streak and has the leadership capabilities to take over a defense. He's also shown enough versatility to move to various positions in sub packages for Nick Saban's defense, which would definitely catch Belichick's eye. Plus, the Patriots' defense struggled mightily last season while Jerod Mayo recovered on the fly from his knee injury and Brandon Spikes missed seven games with his own knee ailment. There's no harm in adding that type of quality depth, especially when the player comes from a system as highly respected by Belichick as Saban's.
You want a top defensive player, you go to the top defense in the country last year: Alabama. Inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower was the captain of that Crimson Tide Defense. Two years removed from a devastating knee injury, Hightower says he's all the way back. "I actually feel like I'm moving pretty good right now. As far as my 40 and my shuttle runs and position things, I'm looking real good, back to where I was before the knee injury," assured Hightower.
The expectation that Kirkpatrick will be a first-round pick was solidified by his workouts at the Scouting Combine and pro day. He was a highly recruited prospect coming out of high school and lived up to his reputation at Alabama given his outstanding career. Kirkpatrick has the talent to be an elite NFL cornerback. He reminds a lot of former NFL All-Pro cornerback, Dale Carter. However, if Kirkpatrick is to play at Carter’s level, he will need to do a better job of maintaining his focus in order to play with solid technique on every snap. The Cowboys, Titans and Lions all will consider drafting Kirkpatrick in the first round.
When it comes to draft priorities, safety is up at the top of the list for the Patriots. Does that mean Bill Belichick will draft one with either of his two first round picks? No, because you never quite know what Belichick has up his sleeve. And yet, there are quite a few draft experts who early on linked Alabama safety Mark Barron with the Patriots, and understandably so. Trouble is, it doesn’t look like Barron, even while coming off double hernia surgery, will still be around when the Pats make their first selection at No. 27. So if they truly want him, and there’s little question he’s the best safety in the draft, they’re going to have to move up to get him.