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With National Signing Day behind us, we fans of the Crimson Tide can now bask in the warmth of the nation's no. 1 recruiting class, and finally exhale ever so slightly.
Good. Now that that is out of your system, it's time to focus on the 2014 class. While the recruiting calendar inevitably builds every January after the sheen of the newly retired college football season has worn off, finally culminating in a controlled rage of excitement on National Signing Day, the level of interest in recruitment then proceeds to die off quicker than Manti's girlfriend. Well, the interest dies off everywhere except in Coach Nick Saban's office, where he has been evaluating '14 talent and compiling a list of needs for the next year's recruiting cycle.
As Bama fans and Saban disciples, we owe it to the man to follow suit. While we obviously do not have the insight to know how the coaching staff feels about the depth at the individual position groups, we can certainly take a look at the current roster with the addition of what looks to be a very fine group of soon to be meaningful contributors, and determine where the focus of the next recruiting cycle will be. Once we have done that, we can begin to look at a few of the bigger names that potentially will be found at the top of Saint Nick's '14 list. The following paragraphs go in order from most pressing positional needs to least.
The feeling amongst most Bama fans is that the Offensive line will be where the '14 class should be focused, and nothing the coaching staff has done leads me to believe they think any different. After missing on high profile Tackle prospects Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson last Wednesday, both to Ole Miss, mind you, the need for elite level talent at the bookend positions gets even more desperate next year. With Cyrus Kouandjio thought to be leaving after the '13 campaign, it looks like the Crimson Tide may have a giant hole to fill at one of the most important positions on the field. While a more immediate answer to that problem could emerge this season in the form of a player already on the roster, Saban and co. have several big name O Linemen already a priority on the big board. The number one target is Cameron Robinson (6-6, 330), out of West Monroe High School in West Monroe, La. Thought to be the no. 1 OT in high school and the no. 6 overall player (via 247), Robinson has long had LSU and Bama as the top 2 to land his services. He has visited Tuscaloosa many times already and has been called "the best OL to come through UA camp since CNS has been at Alabama." Cameron says he would like to make a decision before his senior season, so look for a very happy fanbase in either LSU's or Bama's this summer.
The defensive backfield has always been a priority to Coach Saban, the former DB coach. That much has been clear. While depth always seems to be an issue, Alabama seems to come up with one or two elite level players each year to lead the back end of the defense. In 2012, that player was Dee Milliner, and with him leaving early for the draft, some lesser known commodities must step up to fill those shoes. Alabama signed several big name players in the '12 recruiting class (Eddie Jackson, Mo Smith, Johnathan Cook) that are expected to contribute early, and eventually become those elite level NFL prospects that Dee was and Dre Kirkpatrick was before him. That, however, will not stop the coaching staff from pursuing big name talent in next year's class. The answer at CB for the staff is clearly Marlon Humphrey (6-1, 175), out of Hoover High School, Crimson Tide legacy as the son of Bama great RB Bobby Humphrey, and the number 4 overall prospect in the country. I could probably write a whole separate article on Marlon alone, with the accomplishments he's racked up, but I'll sum it up here like this: he has been a standout player against all competition he's come against, even in camps, and has broken several state and national track records, including the AAU 110m hurdle record previously held by RG3. He will be an impact player at corner early and often, and will be a gamechanger as a kick returner. As a legacy, you have to love Bama's chances, but he is unsurprisingly being recruited hard by every elite school, and looks to have UA, UF, USCe, and USCw at the top of his list now. He has said that he will "try to enjoy the recruiting process" which in prospect-speak means he will not commit until an all-star game or signing day next year.
Linebacker, like DB, is a position that Bama traditionally does well recruiting. With the addition of Reggie Ragland last year, and Reuben Foster and Jonathan Allen this year, the Alabama linebacking corps will be loaded as usual the next couple years. Again there are a couple names to store in your memory banks for next year. If you remember no one else on this list, remember De'shawn Hand (6-5, 247), a DE prospect from Woodbridge, VA. He is one of those tweeners that could be another Clowney type in a 4-3, or a standout pass rusher (jack) in 3-4. He is currently ranked as the no. 1 player overall in 2014 by 247. "I think he's better at this stage than Robert Nkemdiche was and he's on par with Jadaveon Clowney when it comes to athletic ability." (Mike Farrell) When quotes like this appear from recruiting experts, you take notice. Lance Thompson was on him early, and some have said that Bama even leads. But for now, he has given a top 5 of Bama, UF, Michigan, USCe, and VT.
Another possible future LB that may be 1B to Hand's 1A is Lorenzo Carter (6-6, 232) of Norcross, GA. The no. 3 overall prospect in the 2014 class is another QB terror with Bama high on his list. Recently signing Alvin Kamara, also from Norcross, should build an even stronger bridge to Carter, as will the possibility of a big season from Adrian Hubbard, yet another Norcross alum who happens to play a similar role to what the Bama staff is projecting for Lorenzo.
After Marcell Dareus left for the NFL after the 2010 season, it could be argued that the DL position group was the thinnest (not literally) position group on the field. Bama has addressed that well in the previous two recruiting cycles, and thus has created a logjam of young talent, waiting on a star to emerge and distance himself from the pack (Fanning, Pagan?). With Dee Liner and A'Shawn Robinson (if he doesn't move to OT), the '12 class will provide a couple additions to that group. I don't believe that DL will be more of a priority this upcoming year than it has been the previous 2, but that being said I expect Bama to pursue a few stars here as well. One such potential star is Andrew Brown (6-4, 282) out of Chesapeake, VA (Oscar Smith, same HS as Philip Sims). Brown's size and quickness make him the rare athlete on the interior that creates a mismatch every time he lines up. Currently Brown is ranked as a 5 star and no. 7 overall recruit.
QB is another position that I believe the staff will go after a few big names. The depth chart is full, there will be 7 (yes 7) QBs participating in spring practice. Despite that, we know after this season AJ will be moving on, and the daunting task of replacing a long time starter will begin. Add that to the rumors that Philip Ely has mentioned a transfer. That leads me to believe that getting a standout QB will be important to the staff. With that in mind, Saban typically likes his starting QB to be a veteran of the system, so I doubt that any true freshmen will be starting anytime soon. But the redshirt sophomores must begin somewhere, so look for names such as David Cornwell (6-5, 230), pro-style from Norman, Ok or Brandon Dawkins (6-3, 190), dual-threat from Thousand Oaks, CA to come up. Both of the current 4 stars have Bama high on their list. Cornwell, in particular, will be one to watch as he is expected to commit this spring and is down to Bama, Michigan, and VT.
The WR-TE position is another one that is pretty well stacked, especially at WR, where young receivers like Amari Cooper, Chris Black, Marvin Shinn, and Robert Foster will probably be seeing plenty of the field in '13. There is one TE to look out for for the '14 cycle, and that is Tyler Luatua (6-4, 230 LaMirada, CA), brother of current Bama O-Lineman Isaac Luatua. He is ranked #24 overall by 247 and looks to be another OJ Howard type. He has openly stated that he'd like to play with his brother, so while he lists USCw and Bama as his favorites, again, you have to love Bama's chances.
The last position group I will dissect is the RB position. Calling this position stacked would be an understatement, even if Coach Saban denies it. I think we all know the names here, including the 4 new ones added last Wednesday. Despite that, Bama still sees interest from the top level recruits at RB every year, and '14 will be no different. I expect Bama to take two in-state commitments early, and go after a third, and then shut it down as far as this position is concerned. The first commitment is already on the board, and that is of Tuscaloosa's (Northridge) Bo Scarbrough (6-2, 218). He is ranked 17 overall and no. 2 ATH. He is also one of those that is helping Bama with other recruits, and even helped some at the end of the '13 cycle after his commitment (close friend Reuben Foster comes to mind). Some believe that Bama's next commit for '14 will be that of Racean "Roc" Thomas (5-11, 196). The 4th ranked RB in the class (37 overall) is from Oxford, AL and has been high on Alabama for a while. Some are expecting him to commit at Bama's Junior Day this coming weekend. The last guy that Bama wouldn't hesitate to welcome is Leonard Fournette (6-0, 215), of New Orleans, LA. If you haven't had the chance to see the tape of this guy yet, you really ought to do it (see below). He is ranked as the number 2 overall prospect on 247 and no. 1 RB. At this point it's a LSU-Bama battle, with the hometown Tigers thought to have the edge.
It is obviously very early in the process to start thinking about recruiting for next year, but Bama has become the type of program to encourage and accept commitments early from its prospects. So you will likely be hearing some recruiting noise from the staff in the coming months, and it's best to be prepared. The foundation for the 2014 recruiting class has been laid, and over the next year, brick by brick, the staff will be working hard to keep this machine that Bama football has become moving forward. Whatever your opinions on recruiting, you can't deny that 5 of the last 6 recruiting titles have, at least in part, led to 3 of the past 4 National Titles. And that is a very good thing for those of us in Crimson.