The Tuscaloosa site is the only regional this season to feature all conference champions. Alabama claimed the Southeastern Conference regular-season title for the third straight year and fourth overall. Georgia Tech claimed the ACC Tournament title and will enter Tuscaloosa as the No. 2 seed. South Alabama won the Sun Belt tournament title and will be the number three seed, upsetting nationally ranked Louisiana-Lafayette. UT-Martin won the Ohio Valley regular season and tournament championships and will be the four-seed. Alabama faced both Georgia Tech and South Alabama away from Rhoads Stadium during the 2012 regular season, coming away with wins in both games.
Alabama received the 2012 NCAA softball tournament's No. 2 overall seed Sunday, guaranteeing the Crimson Tide two consecutive weekends at Rhoads Stadium on its path to the Women's College World Series. Of course, the Crimson Tide (50-7) has to win both this weekend's Regional and the following weekend's Super Regional to go back to Oklahoma City for the fourth time in five years.
Further down the road, Alabama's seeding sets up a possible World Series matchup with Tennessee or Georgia -- which are set up to play in a Super Regional if both advance. "I think this team has done a really good job of not (looking ahead)," Murphy said. "It came down to the last weekend in the SEC and I don't think anybody looked ahead -- and if we had we wouldn't be in the position that we were to win it. We've done it enough, this is 14 consecutive years, we will not overlook Tennessee-Martin, and that's all we're going to talk about ... with the team."
Alec Morris knows what it’s like to wait for his time. The Alabama signee from Allen High School in Texas waited his turn behind now TCU sophomore QB Matt Brown as well as Tucker Carter, the QB on Allen’s 2008 state championship team. But when he took the field as a junior, he began turning heads and, with the exit of former Tide backup QB Phillip Sims, he hopes to do the same when he arrives in Tuscaloosa later this month. "Growing up, I was always kind of fighting my way to the top," Morris told al.com. "I feel like it’s just going to be a similar situation (at Alabama)."
Wimps don't play football in the Southeastern Conference. Eryk Anders spent five seasons playing football in that league at the University of Alabama. But, after his football career ended and Anders decided to enter mixed martial arts, his tough-as-nails teammates essentially had the same reaction. Why? "They don't even think about the conditioning aspect," Anders told MMA-Insider in a telephone interview. "They just think about somebody beating on you." So far, Anders has spent more of his time doing the beating than getting beaten. Since making his debut in MMA in January, Anders has compiled a 5-1 record. His most recent accomplishment? Stopping Taylor Yeager by TKO at 3FC 10 on May 12 in Chattanooga, Tenn., to win the ISKA State Title in Tennessee in the 205-pound division. "This is just a stepping stone for me," Anders said after the fight. "It just shows I can compete with some of the best athletes, not just in Alabama and Mississippi, but in Tennessee.
"I was either going to hang out with the wrong crowd -- which I wasn't raised that way -- and try to get fast money or I could go make something out of myself, be a grown man and handle my responsibilities," he said. "I stepped up to the plate."
The Browns can use Smelley in several ways. He is competing with second-year fullback Owen Marecic at that position and Alex Smith, Cameron Jordan and Benjamin Watson for a spot at tight end. The one tight end likely safe on the roster is Evan Moore. "He can play on the line of scrimmage, he can play in the backfield and we use a tight end/fullback type guy like that," Coach Pat Shurmur said. "That helps you when you have a guy that can line up on the end of the line of scrimmage, maybe line up in the slot or also play from the backfield. It allows you to be somewhat multiple."
The Alabama product, fortunately, has a pair of mentors on the Patriots to help guide him through the transition to the NFL. Hightower hopes to use former SEC linebackers Jerod Mayo (Tennessee) and Brandon Spikes (Florida) as a hub for his development. "I’m really looking forward to learning from both of those guys. Especially coming out college and the SEC, I really looked up to those guys and they’re great players," Hightower said. "But I’m definitely looking forward to learning from those two as well as the rest of the linebacking corps."
Based on what Upshaw displayed during his first three days in the NFL, the Ravens are encouraged. "I’d say a very positive impression Courtney made," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He is really sharp, really knows football. He does all the things that you might not expect a bigger guy to do. He does those things well. He gets into coverage well. He’s just a quick learner. He’s off to a good start."
Tampa Bay's scouting department conducted a rigorous probe of Claiborne's work habits and off-field demeanor. His secondary coach at LSU, Ron Cooper, is now coaching defensive backs for the Buccaneers and many mock drafts predicted Claiborne would be wearing pewter in 2012. But the Bucs passed on an opportunity to draft Claiborne, who beat out Barron for the Jim Thorpe Award, honoring the nation's premier defensive back. Even the Bucs acknowledge Claiborne's rare ball skills, but there were some obvious red flags. Claiborne didn't tackle particularly well. He admittedly blew off the Wonderlic test at the NFL scouting combine. His left wrist required postseason surgery that still has him wearing a cast. While the Bucs essentially said no thanks to Claiborne, the Cowboys were salivating about the prospect of adding a unique prospect. "He was the only guy in the draft we'd go up for,'' Dallas director of player personnel Stephen Jones said.
This is why Mike Zimmer thinks Dre Kirkpatrick is going to be just fine: His No. 1 pick, the highly-decorated cornerback from Alabama, had a tough first day in the pros on Friday when the Bengals opened their rookie minicamp with two practices. The self-proclaimed "Swag" swooned. But Zimmer, the tough-love Bengals professor, gave him a homework assignment for Saturday and what Kirkpatrick handed back got high marks. "I told him what to have fixed today and he was much better," Zimmer said after Saturday's first session. "He was much better today than he was yesterday." Kirkpatrick's study hall turned out to be the hall outside his hotel room Friday night. He figures he was out there for a half hour going up and down the hallway with the technique and footwork Zimmer is demanding. "He said I did a better job today at it and that's what I have to do to get it done," Kirkpatrick said. "It's not going to be something hard, but I've never done it before so it's going to be a challenge and I'm ready for the challenge."
Growing weary of answering almost daily questions about where he would go to school, Greensboro High School power forward Jimmie Taylor made up his mind Thursday then drove to Tuscaloosa on Friday and informed the University of Alabama coaching staff he wanted to commit to the Crimson Tide. Taylor, 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, is the nation's No. 30 player in the 2013 class and the Crimson Tide's second commitment along with Shannon Hale. Taylor is cousins with former UA standout and SEC Player of the Year Erwin Dudley. "I actually decided like Thursday night that I was going to go ahead and do it," Taylor said. "I was like the summer is coming up and recruiting is going to get worse than it already is, so I need to go on and put some closure to it and go ahead and commit. I thought it through, and Alabama is my best option.