TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22: Nico Johnson #35 of the Alabama Crimson Tide breaks forces an interception as he breaks up an pass intended for Mychal Rivera #81 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The talent last year allowed the Tide to keep opponents off balance with a variety of defensive schemes that relied on its linebackers. While Alabama is likely to try the same variations — likely with positive results — it is doubtful this unit can live up to the high standard set by the 2011 linebacker corps. While the projected depth chart indicates the positions played in the spring, it doesn’t account for the shuffling of players into different slots that will take place in preseason practice. Listing Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley at the same position is a stretch. It’s more likely that both will be on the field at the same time, with one moving to either sam or mike to allow the Tide to field a more experienced lineup.
Reuben Foster, the nation's top linebacker from Auburn High School in Ala., has scheduled a press conference for 2:00 p.m. Thursday at Auburn High School. Plenty of speculation in the past few months that Reuben Foster was not solid on his commitment to the University of Alabama. Auburn and Georgia have been the hottest schools of discussion of flipping the long time Tide verbal pledge. He transferred to Auburn High School in the spring and took several trips to Auburn University especially after transferring schools. AuburnSports.com was contacted late Wednesday night by a coach from Auburn High School informing them of Foster's press conference. There's a strong hint as to the news on Thursday.
The son of Auburn University’s best recruiter, Trooper Taylor, plays football at Auburn High School – basically giving the elder Taylor unlimited access to communicate with Foster under NCAA rules.
Jeremy Shelley has been named to the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, which is presented annually to college football's top placekicker. The University of Alabama senior from Raleigh, N.C., kicked five field goals in the Crimson Tide's 21-0 victory over LSU in the Bowl Championship Series national title game in January in New Orleans. He accounted for 115 points last season, the second-highest scoring total for a kicker in UA history. He made 21 of 27 field goal attempts on the season and was good on kicks of 23, 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards in the BCS title game with one kick blocked and another field goal attempt missed. Shelley also made 52 of 54 extra point attempts.
5. Michael Williams, Sr., Alabama: Williams only caught 17 passes last year, but there were a couple more proven players around him. This time around, his experience will be valued more by quarterback AJ McCarron. He's a solid player and can be a beast on the field, so the coaches are expecting to get a lot more out of him this fall.
7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.
Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State,
Tennessee, Texas and USC.
Ten years ago, LSU was coming off its first outright SEC championship in 15 years, having upset Phillip Fulmer's second-ranked Tennessee squad. Four months after this column ran, the Tigers knocked off the Vols in Atlanta again en route to their second BCS championship in five years. While LSU solidified itself as a bona fide national power, Tennessee fired Fulmer a year later and sank further into a decade-long bout of mediocrity. It will be interesting to see where Penn State lands on this list if we revisit it five years down the road. The now-scandal-ridden program's identity was so closely tied to the late Joe Paterno that it may never again carry the same clout.
In drafting Dont'a Hightower at No. 25 overall, the Patriots found a player whom many viewed as a great fit for the team’s defensive principles. What is less clear, however, is what role precisely he will play and how that could affect Brandon Spikes. With Rob Ninkovich having moved to a role that seems to involve aligning most commonly as a defensive end, the door has been opened for a potential trio of Spikes, Hightower and captain Jerod Mayo as the starters. Hightower and Mayo, given their versatility and athleticism, would seem like more natural fits as weakside linebackers in favor in Spikes. Beyond those three, other outside linebackers of note are veteran Bobby Carpenter (whom Bill Belichick spoke positively of this offseason) and youngsters Dane Fletcher and Jeff Tarpinian, each of whom played both a defensive and special teams role in 2011. Linebacker is a position that appears will be sorted out more comprehensively during training camp when the pads come on, but the Patriots have three solid contributors who will likely lead the way.