BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | DB Dee Milliner
Milliner, who was used in most nickel and dime packages last year, could certainly do big things if he can hold down a starting position this season. Even last year, Milliner had a team-leading three picks and nine passes broken up, second on the squad. And with Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie all leaving the Tide after last season, there's more than enough room for a big contributor to emerge.
Among the football players returning to the Southeastern Conference this year are two quarterbacks who threw for more than 3,000 yards in 2011, two receivers who had more than 1,000 yards in receptions, a running back with more than 1,100 yards and five defensive players who had eight or more sacks. But the best player in the SEC this year may be one that didn't gain a yard or make a single tackle. Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones paved the way for the Crimson Tide's national championship in 2011, winning the Outland Trophy last year as the nation's best interior lineman. He anchored a line that allowed an SEC-best 17 sacks in 2011 in his first year at left tackle after playing guard during his first two years in Tuscaloosa. "I just set in my mind that I was going to be the best left tackle in the country," Jones said last season, as the Tide prepared for the BCS championship game. "I was going to show people I could play any position I want to and be great at it."
Jones wasn’t surprised when asked to take over for his good friend William Vlachos, who graduated last year. “I heard some whisperings in the halls and maybe stuck my head into some meetings I wasn’t supposed to be in,” said Jones, the good-natured 6-foot-5, 302-pounder. “I definitely heard about it.” Once the idea was broached, Jones said he was involved in the final decision. “In the spring, I talked to Coach (Jeff) Stoutland, and Coach (Nick Saban) asked me about it,” Jones said. “He didn’t want to hurt me in any way. I was very open to the idea.”
Sons of two former Alabama defensive backs will be graduate assistant coaches for the Crimson Tide this season. Tim Castille, a former Alabama fullback (2003-06), is back at his alma mater after three seasons in the NFL. He is the son of former Alabama All-American Jeremiah Castille, who went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Denver Broncos. Glenn Schumann, previously a student assistant at Alabama, also will help coach the Crimson Tide on and off the field as he studies for a master's degree. He is the son of Eric Schumann, who played for Alabama from 1973-77.
Because injuries occur during kickoffs more than any other situation, the NCAA Football Rules Committee moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line instead of the 30. Also, touchbacks will now be brought out to the 25 instead of the 20. The idea is to cut down on the number of kick returns and reduce injuries. But no one is exactly sure how this change will play out. "One view was the receiving team will now be a little quicker to say, 'I'll just take a knee and take it to the 25,'" said Steve Shaw, head of SEC officials. "But in talking to some of the special teams coaches in the spring, those that have really good kickers and good coverage will be tempted now to sky kick it and see if they can pin them in. The dynamics of how those rules come together will be intriguing to watch."
Highly-touted as a high school prospect when he signed on to play his college ball in Ann Arbor, Michigan's 6-foot-4 junior quarterback Devin Gardner doesn't figure to get very many reps under center this year for Brady Hoke's Wolverines. When you have an electric Heisman contender like Denard Robinson ahead of you on the depth chart, stuff like that tends to happen.
“Honestly, I know people look into things and really don’t know what it is or know much about it,” he said. “I don’t say anything, but I put it out on my Twitter letting them know. I’m not ashamed to tell people that I failed the conditioning test, but I did go back and pass it. So you’ve got to give me my props for going back the same day and passing it after I didn’t pass it the first time.”
[Chuck] Pagano said he expected rookie defensive tackle Josh Chapman (knee) to open training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He said a few other players likely would join the team’s fifth-round draft pick on PUP. He would not elaborate.
Richardson is very soft-spoken. If all goes as planned, he'll be doing a lot of interviews for a long time, so he'll have to work on that.