At the end of every season, college football programs begin the process of putting a team together. The coaching staff knows before the last season started the players who will complete their eligibility, so that is the first piece of the puzzle.
The second piece of the puzzle is which players on the team that are eligible for the NFL draft will choose that option. This year the four players from Alabama are Cyrus Koundjio on offense and HaHa Clinton-Dix, Jeoffrey Pagan and Adrian Hubbard on defense. Clinton-Dix was a certainty as early as last November after being recognized by several sources as an All-American player as a sophomore. Hubbard gave the draft serious consideration after the 2012 season and Koundjio seemed headed for he draft until Oklahoma matched a safety on him in the Sugar Bowl and ran around him several times to sack or pressure AJ McCarron. In is draft announcement, Pagan cited an injury last spring as a consideration for moving on to the NFL. That being said, good luck to these players who have given three years or more of themselves to the Crimson Tide.
A third piece of the puzzle was revealed earlier this week as the 2014 early signees enrolled at UA and began classes. The players who enrolled are listed below.
CB Tony Brown (6-0, 190) Ozen HS, Beaumont, TX
QB David Cornwell (6-5/240) Norman North, Norman, OK
LB Shaun Hamilton (6-0/240) Carver, Montgomery, AL
DB Laurence "Hootie" Jones (6-2/210) Neville HS, Monroe, LA
DE D.J. Pettway (6-3, 250) East Mississippi CC, Scooba, MS
DT Jarran Reed (6-4, 305) East Mississippi CC, Scooba, MS
OL Cameron Robinson (6-5/330) West Monroe HS, Monroe, LA
WR Cameron Sims (6-3/199) Ouachita Parish, Monroe, LA
Early enrollees may count backward for scholarship purposes, which is one of the reasons coaches encourage players to enroll in January. Players at skill position and transfers benefit from the access to the strength and conditioning program and participating in spring practice. Acclimating to college life and the academic requirements with a somewhat less demanding schedule is another benefit.
The returning players and early enrollees make up the roster that the coaches will work with during spring practice. In a perfect world, rumored transfer Jacob Coker form Florida State would be healthy (he tore a meniscus in a non-contact injury against Wake Forest in a 59-3 FSU win) and Marlon Humphrey would have already signed and be enrolled. We can't assume Humphrey will sign with UA, but his presence would help the defensive backfield, a weakness in 2013.
The recruits who sign in February and any late transfers (Jacob Coker is rumored to be all but signed after he completed his degree in May at FSU) will make up the final piece the roster. Hopefully there will be no disciplinary or academic casualties this year. D.J. Pettway's return to Bama is an indication that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was a model student-athlete during his time at East Mississippi Community College.
From a team development standpoint, this is a list of priorities by position of the departures.
- Quarterback - replacing 3-year starter AJ McCarron could make or break this season
- Middle Linebacker - C.J. Mosley was the most intelligent defender at UA since DeMeco Ryans
- Left Tackle - LT is the most important position on the O-Line for a team with a 50% pass goal
- Cornerback - Deion Belue manned the boundary corner position all season
- Free Safety - HaHa Clinton-Dix is a 1st round NFL draft pick safety
- Right Guard - Anthony Steen was a leader and kept the O-Line working smoothly
- Kicking game - The kicking chores seem to be in good hands with RS So. Adam Griffith and incoming P JK Scott
- Wide Receiver - Kevin Norwood was a go-to guy in key situations with great hands and moves, but UA has a number of quality receivers
The five of the first six on the list were named to multiple All-America teams in 2013. If they are replaced by a total of 3 AA's it should be considered a major accomplishment.
The development of depth is the other area where there is room for improvement. On the Defensive Line maintaining a 2-deep rotation is a bare minimum with 3-deep a realistic goal. As the HUNH offense grows in popularity, D-Line players will become more athletic and fit, but will wear down under the pounding from run-heavy attacks. Being able to rotate fresh players with little or no drop off in talent is one answer to this issue. Defensive backfield depth should also be a target. In addition to Clinton-Dix and Belue, John Fulton has completed his eligibility. Verbal commit Chris Williams of Kingsland, GA will balance out the losses in terms of numbers and getting a signature from Marlon Humphrey has to be the top priority the remainder of the recruiting period. As of now, Humphrey will visit FSU on January 17 and make his official visit to UA on January 24.
The players are working with Scott Cochran and his staff as they prepare for spring practice. The coaches are developing plans for spring practice and assessing needs for the 2015 recruiting class. With limited visible activity going on, we are left to consider what the coaches are working on and what how they ill improve on what is already an outstanding team.