The offseason is long. I'm currently so deep in football withdrawal that I am constantly checking the Crimson Tide's official roster just to see if the new players are listed yet (the answer's still no). However, with the opening game still well over a month a way, now is as good of a time as ever to check in on how Nick Saban is doing on the recruiting trail for 2016. Scout.com's Southeast recruiting analyst for bamamag.com, John Garcia, Jr., was willing to give us some of his time to talk about the current state of the class.
Brent: Hey John, thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Roll ‘Bama Roll. We’re almost halfway to the next National Signing Day, and at this point, Alabama has only one five-star commitment, defensive tackle Kendell Jones. At 360 pounds, Jones will instantly be the largest man on the Tide’s roster, and fans will inevitably compare him to the man inscribed into ‘Bama lore, Terrence "Mount" Cody. What can you tell us about Jones, and do you think he has the potential to make as big of an impact in the future as Cody did on the historic 2009 championship run?
John: Jones is a specimen, there's little doubt about it. He's going to be the biggest player at UA, but nowhere near the fattest. It seems simple, but a 360-pounder with minimal body fat in high school is as impressive as it gets. It's scary to imagine him once he gets into Alabama's well-known strength and wellness program once he arrives in Tuscaloosa. As a prospect, Jones projects as a classic defensive tackle, though he has the athleticism and versatility to play the defensive end spot in Alabama's 3-4 look as well.
Cody was a true nose guard, and while Jones may end up in the same role while donning crimson and white, he has the capability to do even more than Cody did, positionally. The Texan may be that special, and somehow his personality is as big as his stature.
Brent: Speaking of massive defensive tackles, the top player in Scout’s recruiting rankings, Rashan Gary has been linked to the Tide repeatedly all summer. At the same time, the next highest ranked defensive tackle, Rashard Lawrence, is even more closely linked to Alabama. If one were to commit and not the other, which to you think would be a better fit with the Crimson Tide, and why?
John: It's not easy to determine which top 10 overall recruit would fit Alabama better between the two. In a perfect world, Nick Saban and company would land each out-of-state talent. Gary is the top player in the land, a ranking likely to hold up after a good week at The Opening, and he's among the most versatile defensive prospects in the country on top of that.
Lawrence is more of a 3-technique defensive tackle with great size and power. He has excellent explosion and has improved as a pass-rusher over the calender year. UA is a bit more likely to land him compared to Gary because of how well it recruits Monroe, La. and the fact that Lawrence is somewhat close to fellow Monroe natives Hootie Jones, Cam Robinson and others on the Alabama roster. Neither will make a decision anytime soon, however.
Brent: A favorite topic of fans is that of the quarterback. For the second year in a row, Alabama has secured a commitment from a dual-threat QB, Jalen Hurts. When compared to dual-threat Blake Barnett from the 2016 cycle, which recruit do you think would be more instantly college-ready? Which would have a higher ceiling?
John: Barnett may take the cake here with both questions. He is bigger and has considerable experience in a spread system, with better athleticism than most give him credit for. Of course, he got to campus early and has made strides since January while no current QB has taken a stranglehold of the starting gig.
No matter who ends up taking charge, Hurts will enter Alabama as the No. 3 player at the position behind Barnett and David Cornwell. The Texan, who is considered a dynamic runner and is the son of a coach, is a bit more efficient and closer to a finished product than Barnett as a passer at this stage of his high school development, but the ceiling for the Elite 11 champion Barnett appears a bit higher at this point.
Brent: After taking two 5 star cornerbacks in each of their last two classes, Alabama currently only has one corner committed, Shyheim Carter (who could likely end up at receiver anyway). Considering the Tide’s current secondary issues and lack of depth, could this pose a problem? Are there any uncommitted corners out there fans should keep an eye on?
John: Carter is a jack-of-all-trades type of Scout100 prospect, but cornerback is the position he's elected to play at the next level and it's the one in which he projects best, long-term. Alabama has mentioned running back more than wide receiver with him, but I'd be somewhat surprised if he began his career on offense in any role. The recruiting goal at the position in the class of 2016 is a shallow one because of the talented youth UA has on the roster at the position with the mentioned quartet of five-stars signed since the 2014 class.
Of course, there are blue chip targets remaining on the board in the upcoming signing class like four-star Mississippian and Ole Miss legacy prospect Nigel Knott, who will be back on campus in mid-July. Two-way star Trevon Diggs, who has held Alabama as his public leader, could also be a cornerback prospect down the road. He excelled on defense at Nike's The Opening this past week.
Brent: Lastly, while the last couple of classes have already been mostly complete by the end of summer, this year seemed to have a slower start. On top of that, the Tide seems to be taking lower ranked commitments than fans are used to seeing. Obviously big names such as Ben Davis, Lyndell Wilson, and Rashan Gary would instantly vault the class up the rankings, but they are far from sure bets. Could this trend possibly indicate that Nick Saban is losing some of his recruiting prowess? What other positions would be needed for this class to be considered success for Tide fans?
John: Having a top-five recruiting class in mid-July isn't such a bad thing, but yes Alabama took a more calculated approach this time around. But the end of May, when the sole five-star Jones committed, through June was massive for the class. It added Scout300 prospects Hurts, Jaquan Yulee, Miller Forristall, and Michigan JACK linebacker prospect Khalid Kareem in addition to in-state defenders Quinnen Williams and Riley Cole. It also met needs in the month, adding premiere kicker prospect Eddy Pineiro and junior college four-star offensive tackle Charles Baldwin to surge up the rankings.
Tide fans should not only quell any worry, but there should be an extra sense of enjoyment with the 2016 class. UA will add several elites going forward, especially at defensive tackle with being in on Gary, Lawrence, Dexter Lawrence,and four-star Michail Carter. The linebacker haul will look just as gaudy with in-state stars Davis and Wilson high on the priority list and the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle prospect, Texas A&M commitment , is increasingly high on the program as well.
Few programs close like Alabama and there's a chance 2016 ends up as the best class under Saban despite the perception of the slow start and potential step-back in recruiting prestige. UA is in the middle of its recruiting dynasty, not the end.
This recruiting class has potential to become even more impressive than the previous ones, especially along the offensive and defensive lines. Thanks go to John Garcia, Jr. for taking the time to talk with us. You can follow him on twitter @JohnGarcia_Jr for all the information and breaking news you could want on Alabama recruiting.
Football starts soon guys, we're almost there.