Much has been made of the recent 2008 NFL Draft and the fact that not a single Alabama player was selected. 252 draft picks were chosen, but not a single one of them wore crimson and white at the collegiate level. With that in mind, I think it would be fitting to look at the 2007 seniors and attempt to get a good grasp on exactly what we have lost with the departure of each.
The biggest draft surprise, Hall practically re-wrote the record book at Alabama, and after his breakout junior campaign, I wrote glowingly on his performance. Unfortunately, his senior campaign -- as has been a trend lately at the Capstone -- did not go as planned. The first eight games went well, and then he had a huge 67-yard touchdown catch against LSU that lit a fire in that game. The problem was from there he went incognito. He didn't register another catch that day, and he was a non-factor the following week against Mississippi State as well. From there, he was suspended for the first half against ULM, and his absence played a big role in that debacle. Finally, against Auburn, his dropped touchdown pass at the end of the first half probably cost us that football game. Against Colorado, he looked decent, but nothing spectacular.
It's hard to say with Hall, considering all he accomplished. On the surface, you would have to assume that his loss is a major one. However, things just aren't that easy. Hall was never a physical receiver, he had off-field issues, and when we needed him the most in the stretch run of the season, he was nowhere to be found. Considering all of his shortcomings as were mentioned in the previous sentence, it's hard to see Hall's loss being that big.
To Alabama fans, Brown will always be the player that could have been. With little doubt, Brown was as athletic of a receiver as has ever been through Tuscaloosa; he had great size and blazing speed to boot. And for a time, it looked like greatness was his destiny. He had a good campaign as a true freshman, and then looked great early in both his sophomore and junior campaigns. Unfortunately, it is all a tale of what could have been. He disappeared with the rest of the offense after the Florida game as a sophomore, injuries derailed his junior campaign, and his senior campaign saw him start only one game.
When you look at his statistics as a senior, it's nothing overly impressive. Brown had 22 catches for 336 yards and five touchdowns. He finished third on the team in both receptions and receiving yards, which is nothing particularly special.
However, those his total statistics were not particularly impressive, almost no one made more big plays for the Tide in 2007. His nine-yard catch against Arkansas moved us inside the five and set up Matt Caddell's game-winner. His 43-yard catch against Georgia started a comeback that helped us force overtime. The following week, his late touchdown catch against Florida State helped us keep our hopes alive in that contest with an onside kick. Against LSU, his two touchdown catches put us in a position to win that game... before we decided we'd just hand the game away, literally. Against ULM he had almost 100 yards receiving and a touchdown, and was the only bright spot offensively of the day. Against Colorado, he had a touchdown grab early which opened the floodgates.
Brown will always be the player that could have been, and one that never lived up to his potential. His overall production will be easily replaced in 2008, but any single receiver will be hard-pressed to replace his big plays.
A highly-touted wide receiver prospect in 2003 -- and one of the only top in-state prospects to sign with the Tide that year -- Caddell had a very impressive campaign in 2004 as a redshirt freshman. Many people were expecting him to become a special player, but his sophomore and junior campaigns were a total bust, and most had written him completely off as a senior. After he didn't catch a single pass in either of the first two games, that seemed to be a legitimate assumption.
Then the Arkansas game came around, and Caddell was the hero. From there on out, Caddell put up solid numbers, and generally speaking had a solid senior campaign.
However, those who feel Caddell's loss will be a big one are probably overestimating his impact. He came up big against Arkansas, but in no other regular season game did he catch a touchdown pass or have more than 60 receiving yards in a game. And at times, he was nowhere to be found. Against Georgia, he had one catch for five yards. Against Houston, he had one catch for thirteen yards. Finally, in the Iron Bowl, he had one catch for four yards. Caddell looked impressive in the Independence Bowl, to be sure, but on the whole Caddell was generally just a fairly solid number two or number three option and nothing more. I would like to have Caddell back, being honest, but no one should be fooling themselves by overestimating the production that he posted in 2007.
The Alabama legacy player signed with Alabama in 2004 in Shula's first recruiting class, and he was highly-touted. He played as a true freshman, and in both his freshman and sophomore years, he looked pretty good. He played hard and always displayed a good motor, and it seemed like a good career on the defensive line was ahead of him. For the 2006 season, though, Britt moved to the offensive line, yet another of the seemingly endless number of players that Shula cherry-picked from the defense. He finished out his final two years at Alabama playing left guard, and started over 20 games along the way.
Unfortunately, though Britt started, he was never a particular good player. He generally struggled in pass protection because of his lack of experience at the position, and his lack of size killed him in the running game. Britt played at only around 280-285 pounds, and he was consistently facing interior linemen who were twenty to seventy pounds bigger than him. Sufficed to say, that was a problem, and nagging shoulder injuries merely made matters worse.
You have to admire someone with the work ethic and the dedication of Britt, but he was never anything particularly special for Alabama at guard, and in all fairness would have probably been better suited had he stayed on defense. Mike Johnson will take his spot at left guard, and in all honesty, he will most likely be an upgrade.
Ask most Alabama fans if they could have just one player back in 2008 who would it be, most would probably reply Wallace Gilberry. And with good reason, too.
It's easy to overlook Gilberry because he was, and is, so physically lacking. He's not a big player, and he's not athletic. He's not overly quick off of the ball, his pass rushing repertoire is pretty limited, and he has pretty stiff hips. Yet, nevertheless, Gilberry was a very good player for the Tide in 2007, and he was our only legitimate pass rusher. He made his living entirely with hard work and a very high motor, and nevertheless he got the job done despite all of his physical shortcomings.
Replacing Gilberry will not be easy. Our biggest problem defensively a year ago, by far, was our inability to rush the passer, and only Gilberry was able to consistently pressure the quarterback. With him gone, a bad pass rushing team loses its only legitimate pass rusher. We will have a better athlete starting in Gilberry's place, but it's highly unlikely we find a single player who can replace his production in 2008.
Of all of the players on the team, Mustin may very well have been the most admirable. He gave up a scholarship at MTSU to transfer to Alabama, where he had to pay his own way, simply because he wanted to test himself and see if he could succeed in Tuscaloosa. You can probably count the number of people willing to do that on one hand.
As a senior, Mustin started twelve games and was very solid against interior running plays. However, he was a former walk-on for a reason. The pure athleticism needed to play linebacker simply was not there. Playing inside in a 3-4 scheme went a long way to masking his athletic shortcomings, but they were readily apparent at times. He provided no legitimate threat as a pass rusher, and he struggled to play sideline-to-sideline on running plays that went outside the tackles. Beyond that, he was a major liability in pass coverage, and we generally went out of our way to avoid getting him in man coverage situations against backs and tight ends.
All in all, we won't find another linebacker with as much heart and grit as Mustin always displayed, but we will probably find a better overall linebacker. You have to love the story of a guy like Mustin, but he had a lot of shortcomings, and his successor -- though not as experienced -- will likely give us more production.
Another player with not much in the way of athleticism, Keith Saunders played his senior season at the Jack linebacker position. After spending the first four years of his career at Alabama playing defensive end, Saunders was moved to the hybrid end / linebacker for his senior season. To say that it was a classic real world example of trying to shove a square peg into a round hole would be a major understatement.
Saunders was a hard worker, to be sure, but he was about as cut out for the Jack linebacker position as I am. He wasn't particularly athletic even for a defensive end, and for a linebacker he was extremely limited. The hybrid position is largely built upon rushing the passer off of the edge, but Saunders never came close to doing that for us. On the year, he did not record a single sack, and had only one quarterback hurry. And the most memorable play he had on the year was his roughing the passer penalty late in the game against Auburn -- a ticky-tack penalty to be sure, but clearly a situation a fifth-year senior should have avoided; that penalty took Auburn out of a third and long situation and gave them a first and goal where they ultimately scored the game-winning touchdown -- that proved to be the death knell for the Tide.
It's hard not to like a person like Saunders, and he always played hard, but the athleticism simply was not there. Almost regardless of whom we have at the Jack position in 2008, it will almost certainly represent an upgrade over Saunders.
Throughout his four years at Alabama, I've often posed this question to myself, "What if Simeon Castille had a different last name?" How would the opinion change of Castille if, for example, his name were Simeon Richardson as opposed to Simeon Castille?
A lot of people looked at Castille the cornerback and saw glimpses of his legendary father -- the All-American under Bear Bryant, the man who almost singlehandedly sent the Bear out a winner in 323, the man who literally helped carry Bryant to the grave, and the distinguished NFL player who caused the infamous fumble by Earnest Byner in the 1987 AFC Championship Game. The only problem was, the only thing that Simeon had in common with his father was that they shared a common last name. The production level never approached anything near what his father did.
All told, Simeon wasn't that good of a player. He wasn't that highly-touted as a recruit -- actually, the recruiting services had him as a safety, not a corner, and even so he wasn't even the highest rated safety prospect in the state -- yet fans adored him. As a player, he was relatively limited. He had decent size and was a solid tackler, but he was incredibly slow for a cornerback. At the NFL Combine he ran the 40 yard dash in excess of 4.7 seconds, a speed that that was slower than many defensive ends. His lack of speed was readily evident on the field, and for those who don't believe me, I suggest you do a YouTube search for the video of where Demetrius Byrd smoked him in the LSU game last year.
Many people talked about how Simeon was a better player as a nickel corner. And that's true, he was. However, that is the result of the nickel corner position being less demanding. Unlike playing outside, the nickel corner usually covers the third or fourth receiver, and there isn't as much of a deep threat because slot receivers tend to run more possession-type routes. As a result, Simeon looked better playing nickel corner than on the outside, but then again so would everyone else. That's not really a testament to his abilities.
The truth of the matter is that Simeon was never a great player for us, or anything close to it for that matter. I wrote mid-way through the 2007 season that Kareem Jackson was the team's best cornerback, and that was true then and is still true now. The people who will look at Simeon making rather large assumptions about his ability and production based on his last name will overestimate what we will lose in his absence. At best, replacing Simeon involves nothing more than replacing a pretty decent corner, and in all honesty guys like Alonzo Lawrence will bring much more athleticism to the corner position. You can rest assured that Simeon is almost certainly the last cornerback Saban will ever have that would find himself getting beaten by defensive ends in foot races.
After a fierce in-state battle, Carter ultimately signed with Alabama. He had been committed to Auburn for a long period of time, but ultimately Shula -- in one of his few recruiting coups -- convinced him to sign with Alabama in his first recruiting class. To say that Carter never lived up to the hype would be an understatement of laughable proportions. In his first two years at Alabama, his biggest news came not on the field, but off the field via a DUI arrest. In his junior and senior campaigns, Carter was a regular starter, but that was due to a complete lack of talent at the safety position.
Though he started 23 games the past two seasons, Carter gave us no legitimate amount of production. In the running game, he was a non-factor, and in fact was an extreme liability in all tackling situations because -- I'm just being brutally honest here -- Carter was the worst form tackler I've ever seen at Alabama. He always took the wrong pursuit angles, and he simply could not consistently bring down agile backs and receivers in space. Considering how interchangeable our safety positions have been as of late, I think it's a good comparison when discussing this to compare the tackles posted by Carter and the tackles posted by the safety starting opposite him. In 2006, Carter posted only 31 tackles, while fellow starting safety Jeffrey Dukes posted 86 tackles; in 2007, Carter posted only 49 tackles, while Rashad Johnson posed 94. In pass defense, it was even worse. In the past two seasons, opponents threw over 750 passes against Alabama, and yet Carter did not have a single interception, and had only one pass broken up. You cannot get less productive than that, literally.
The truth of the matter was that Carter only saw the field because we had a complete lack of quality talent at safety. He was generally always on the field, but he never did anything to help us win; at best he was just a guy on the field. It's a given that whoever replaces Carter will be more productive.
At one point in time, "Money" was thought to be the next legendary kicker for the Tide. And that didn't quite work out, to put it mildly. After his highly-touted 2005 season, Christensen's playing time fell by the wayside. He struggled with injuries early in 2006, and when he came back he really didn't kick all of that well. As a senior in 2007, Christensen didn't even attempt a single field goal, and only had two kick-offs, as he saw Leigh Tiffin take away all of his playing time.
The problem was that Christensen, despite all of the hype to the contrary, was never that good of a kicker. He was never technically sound, and his leg strength wasn't as good as many billed it to be. His accuracy as a kicker, even at its height in 2005, was simply not that good. Even in 2005, only barely half of his kicks between 30-49 yards were successful, and in all honesty he never had any solid long-range accuracy. For his career, he successfully completed only about half of his kicks from 30 yards or longer.
Christensen, of course, got all of his hype from the three game winning kicks he had in 2005. While those were certainly big kicks, lost among the hype was the fact that all three were relatively short kicks that even an average kicker should have made. Moreover, Christensen was helped largely because of weather conditions -- all three occurred in the sun, with no wind, a dry ball, and good traction on the field -- and it also helped that the pressure was greatly reduced because all three kicks came in tie games, and thus even a miss would have still gotten us to overtime. Finally, there was a lot of luck. The kick against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl was one of the ugliest kicks I've ever seen, and honestly the fact that it made it through the uprights was nothing more than pure and simple luck. Had he kicked that same kick a 100 times over, 99 times it would have missed.
The truth of the matter is that Christensen was an asset in name only. He was never that good of a kicker, and Tiffin had taken away all of his playing time anyway.
So, considering all of the foregoing, what did we lose?
Obviously, we didn't lose very much. Hall couldn't live up to the production he set as a junior, and he went incognito in clutch time. Brown had plenty of clutch catches, but he was a career underachiever who had the worst season of his career as a senior. Caddell was at best a decent second or third option. Justin Britt was a raw, undersized guard who should have probably stayed on defense. Keith Saunders was far out of place as a Jack linebacker, and he gave us no real production. Darren Mustin was a leader who defended the interior running game well, but he was a liability in every other regard. Simeon Castille was overrated, he was average at best who would have been solely a nickel or dime corner for the top teams. Marcus Carter should go down as one of the least productive starters we've ever had at Alabama. Jamie Christensen was overrated and rarely even saw the field as a senior. The only major loss will be from Wallace Gilberry, and his at the moment is the only major concern. Gilberry wasn't much of an athlete, but his pass rush production will be hard to replace for a team with a dearth of good pass rushers.
Bottom line, the Crimson Tide didn't lose very much with its departing seniors. Alabama may not be great in 2008, but it will be because of the overall youth of the team, and had because of the players not returning.