For those of us that bemoan the lack of football related news to pick over during the longest stretch of the offseason, yesterday was...well, let's just say be careful what you wish for. With the news that DL Darrington Sentimore and DB Robby Green are leaving the Crimson Tide now has seven players who have left the team for one reason or another. The oversigning crowd is certain to make hay with this (old pal/foil Jerry Hinnen is already doing so over at CBS Sports), and let them. You see the boogeyman where you want to and judgements based on emotion aren't easily swayed by appeals to reason and/or common sense. What we're concerned with here is the impact these departures will have on the team heading into 2011.
B.J. Scott started the line of departures way back in November, and with Robby Green now all but gone Mark Barron truly is the oldest and most experienced of the returning defensive backs. Green sat out last season for an undisclosed violation of NCAA policy, and then remained suspended throughout spring camp. The writing was on the wall for Green, and after a standout season in 2009 it's really a shame that whatever issues he was dealing with derailed his career to such a degree that he's now forced to take his one year of eligibility to a lower division in the hopes of continuing a career in football. Scott, on the other hand, is still a head scratcher. One of the five star jewels of the 2008 class, Scott had every chance to make it at corner, especially in last year's injury ravaged and experience challenged secondary, yet for all his athletic potential he simply never made any headway on the depth chart. No injury or character issues were ever mentioned in conjunction with him, either, leaving most to believe he simply couldn't grasp the defense well enough to be a meaningful contributor. Neither transfer is a real blow to the defense no matter how badly we could have used them last season, and in a way we should look at it as a blessing in disguise. With Green suspended and Scott wallowing at the lower end of the depth chart, we were able to develop younger players and now have a very deep, very talented secondary to carry into 2011.
Moving down to linebacker, the departure of Petey Smith is another non-lethal blow to a position where we're simply loaded, and where Smith was already being passed over by younger players. Smith was pretty candid in his reasoning for transferring, and for the most part you simply can't blame him:
"Basically, I just felt that I wasn't giving it my all," Smith said. "I'm not going to say I wasn't happy. I didn't feel like I had an opportunity to show what I could do with reps and everything. Instead of waiting, I thought I'd just go somewhere else."
"I just thought it wasn't the place for me," Smith said of Alabama. "I didn't want to wait until my junior or senior year. ...I'm just gonna go (to Holmes), play the football season and then I can really choose what school I want to go to through the recruiting process over again."
Again, not a real blow to the defense, and the simple fact of the matter is Smith wasn't contributing and wasn't likely to in the near future leaving him with two options: 1. Tough it out and gamble on moving up the depth chart after another season or two, or 2. transfer to the JUCO level, have a solid season, and start the recruiting process all over again. He seems to have made an informed decision about his future in college football and will likely be back at the 1A level after this season. The talent is there, but Smith is really a run stopping middle linebacker more suited to a 4-3 defense than the sort of athletic LB Saban prizes. He was an odd fit from the get go, and hopefully this will get him somewhere that his particular skill set can be used effectively.
Moving over to offense, the departures of Corey Grant leaves the Alabama offense a little short handed as far as athleticism goes, but, again, it's not a fatal blow. Grant had a lot of recruiting hype surrounding him and most expected he would be moved to wide receiver after playing high school running back since he's on the smaller end of the spectrum and will never be confused for the kind of physical backs we've been recruiting since Saban arrived. He stuck at RB, though, leaving most to speculate he would be used as a sub package back, but with the arrival of Dee Hart, who's also much smaller than the typical RB we've recruited the last few years, Grant seems to have quickly fallen off the depth chart. Hart was taking snaps with the first team offense on A Day, and it was late in the game before Grant even saw the field. Though he could have been an asset as a pass catcher out of the backfield and as a return man on special teams, Grant's departure is, at best, a case of what might have been.
Demetrius Goode, who signed with Alabama in Nick Saban's first signing class and has ridden the bench ever since. Like Petey Smith, Goode faced the prospect of sticking it out and gambling on a slim chance for meaingful snaps at a loaded position or heading elsewhere to try and make the most of what remains of his eligibility, and his announcement via Facebook gave evidence of the sort of emotional decision that can be:
"I would like to thank my Alabama family for the greatest journey of my life," Goode wrote. "I have learned many things and matured in many ways but everyday brings about change. Sometimes you have to move on to do better in life. I will be moving to North Alabama for football. RTR forever in my heart, the champion Tide, the fans that I will always love and never forget. I thank ya'll for the support: ROLL TIDE ROLL. For life."
While we won't miss Goode from a depth standpoint, he's always been a hard worker and was never an off the field issue, so best of luck to him at UNA.
Finally, the one area where transfers will genuinely hurt us is on the defensive line. Brandon Moore got that ball rolling back in early May, and with Sentimore now leaving that's two less bodies on a line that's looking for someone, anyone, to step up in 2011 to provide an identity to a unit that is largely faceless for the first time since 2008. I'll quote Tom Luginbill from our interview with him in Yea Alab...er, Crimson Tide Kickoff 2011 on what we should be expecting up front on defense this year:
This is going to be a different look line. This isn’t going to be the big body, massive guys, but what its going to have is some better pass rushers and some better explosiveness off the edge. Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial are both guys that they think are going to come along and have a chance, but neither is there yet. Williams is a big, physical player, but he’s so raw, doesn’t know how to use his hands yet, and really needs more time to really learn the position. The same goes for Dial, but I will say he is further along than Williams in terms of understanding the nuances of the position.
If I were to say there was going to be a breakout player on this defense it would be Adrian Hubbard. I think that he has an opportunity at some point down the line to be a special, All-America type candidate, and I think he’s a guy that could emerge this year and give them tremendous pressure off the edge.
While it's good to hear that about Hubbard, the fact remains that we don't have that anchor a la Terrence Cody or Marcell Dareus anymore. Moore was struggling to get meaningful snaps, but Sentimore had shown promise over the last two seasons as a high motor pass rusher from the interior of the line and would have had every opportunity to carve out a role on a unit that's desperate for playmakers right now. Like the mass exodus of DBs a few years ago, losing anyone at a position of need is a tough blow whether they are looking to be contributors or not, and Moore and Sentimore are two fresh bodies that we really couldn't spare, especially given how often we rotate on the line. If Sentimore really is a disciplinary case, as most accounts are now putting it, it's likely best for all involved that he head elsewhere, but for now it does put added pressure on the rest of the defensive lineman to up their game in 2011.
So there you have it, seven players gone over a few short months. Is it time to worry? No. With the exception of defensive line we aren't taking any sort of serious hit to our depth, and the simple, brutal fact is these kids are likely better off at another school if playing time is truly what they are after.