Happy Friday, everyone. Lots to get to this morning, starting with some practice notes from Marq Burnett:
The most interesting note out of Thursday's practice was a move at secondary. We saw Rashaan Evans shadowing Ronnie Harrison at the money position when Alabama was working on its dime package. Getting Evans experience at the money spot would essentially allow the defense to switch from nickel to dime if opponents go hurry-up and try to spread Alabama out. Evans will likely play inside linebacker in nickel next to Reuben Foster.
The "Money" position is Alabama's name for the dime back. With only one true LB on the field, you need someone at this position who can capably play the run as well as the pass. Usually, this is a role for the #3 safety, i.e. Ronnie Harrison in 2015. At practice yesterday, LB Rashaan Evans was seen working at the position.
Cue the Chicken Littles: "The safeties are so bad they're having to try linebackers back there, Pawwwllll."
In reality, this is just diabolical. As I mentioned yesterday, the staff often takes advantage of the elite athleticism at linebacker to stay in nickel when many others would go to dime. Take a look at this cap from Starkville last season:
I caught it here so that you can see the numbers of Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster. The Bulldogs are in 10 personnel, and Alabama is perfectly comfortable with Foster matching up on the bigger slot receiver. Evans will already be on the field with Foster in nickel this season, so this allows him to simply change roles in response to all personnel groupings. At six-foot-three and 230 pounds with reported 4.6 speed, Evans is a reasonably similar athlete to Landon Collins, who goes 225 at three inches shorter in height and ran a 4.53 at the Combine. As LBs get lighter in adjustment to a faster, more space-oriented game, the line between LBs and safeties gets blurry. Teaching a player of Rashaan's build and skill-set both positions will only aid the team and make him a better NFL prospect.
Imagine the possibilities here. Last pre-season we discussed the challenge that Alabama's re-vamped secondary would pose to opposing QBs as Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison, and Eddie Jackson could routinely shift from safety to slot corner, making it difficult to know who the safeties and robbers were going to be in zone coverages. With Harrison often matched up in the slot and Minkah at Star, this now puts four versatile players on the field in the linebacker area who are all excellent pass rushers, capable of playing the run and dropping into coverage. The options are endless should Pruitt decide to dial up something exotic. This is why guys with the rare combination of size and athleticism of an Evans or Foster get five-star ratings by the services. Five-star freshman LB Lyndell Wilson is already cross training at Money on the second team as well.
Burnett also notes that Ronnie Clark has overcome an achilles injury and is able to practice, a surprise and welcome development. Nigel Knott, Derrick Gore, and Richie Petitbon all rejoined the team as well, though Dalvin Tomlinson is still sitting with a sprained ankle. Hopefully the big fella gets better soon.
The team also enjoyed a guest speaker on Tuesday:
Darryl Strawberry spoke to the Alabama football team tonight and delivered a powerful and heartfelt message. pic.twitter.com/cqyc3ExJmA— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) August 17, 2016
For those who don't know Strawberry's story, he was a Hall of Fame caliber baseball player who fizzled out well before he should have, largely thanks to cocaine use, had 24 inches of his cancerous colon removed, spent extensive time in prison and rehab, and is now an ordained minister and author who travels around speaking to youths about how to avoid the mistakes he made. Just another example of Saban's program helping his players grow as people.
Oh, in case you were wondering, Cyrus Jones is adjusting nicely to his professional life:
Well done, Cyrus. Well done.
Asked which two of three quarterbacks — Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts — would be in the rotation, Herbstreit went with the more mobile and athletic options. "Blake and Hurts is my guess," Herbstreit tweeted. "Or maybe Bateman and Hurts if Blake continues to make mistakes."
If Bateman isn't the guy, I could see Barnett and Hurts each having roles. There will be plenty of garbage time this season.
"Hey, I hate losing, and when we lose, I'm miserable,'' says Saban. "I have a harder time over relationship-type issues than I do actual losses on the field. It's tough to lose, but I'm technical when we lose. I'm not emotional, but technical in terms of what didn't we do. But I'm that way when we win. "I know I get criticized for that. Everybody says, 'He just won 31-3. What's he complaining about?' But it goes back to the inner scoreboard versus the outer scoreboard. Which one is more important? If you're going to accomplish your goals, it's always the inner scoreboard."
This is a great read that covers both the human and business sides of Saban. He also talks about losing sleep over the Maurice Smith saga.
On to Troy:
That leaves coaching, which is 1) supposed to maximize talent through development and play-calling and 2) put the team in the best position to win situationally. That didn't happen with Kiffin, who was semi-routinely outclassed by teams like Arizona State and Oregon State. It didn't happen with Steve Sarkisian, who couldn't close out close games against Boston College, ASU and Utah in his only full year in Los Angeles. Is Helton the one to rectify these problems? It's too early to tell, but what we know is that he's 0-2 since being promoted to full-time coach. Granted, one of those losses was to Stanford. The other was a bowl loss to Wisconsin, which, who knows with postseason games sometimes. Still, that's not the start Trojans fans were expecting.
Smith-Schuster has started 26 of 27 games over his first two years and enters his junior season as one of the premier wide receivers and arguably the top deep threat in the nation. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver led the team in catches (89), receiving yards (1,454) and touchdowns (10) and averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2015.
In traffic, he uses his big build to create space and give his quarterback a target and on the deep ball, he has soft hands and catches it at the highest point. Add in his speed and Smith-Schuster had his share of wide open deep looks in the end zone. College football fans are lucky enough to see Smith-Schuster and Ridley go head-to-head in week one of the season when Alabama faces off against USC in a primtime matchup.
Both of these players haven’t quite received the recognition they deserve for their talents. Each could easily be considered the best wide receiver in college football. Smith-Schuster comes off a season where he finished with 89 catches, 10 touchdowns and over 1,400 yards. However, he plays with a team of little experience this year, so while he should be making a big impact on college football this year, he might have difficulty getting to where he needs to be to compare to Ridley. However, the new talent could surprise football fans, and he could easily pass Ridley up in this opening game.
USC is so ready, they're throwing out some taunts and proclamations in the form of some trash-talking T-shirts on sale at the bookstore. "Roll Tears Roll" plays on "Roll Tide Roll," obviously, and the big letters increase the shirt's visibility!
Considering the talent on the roster, the USC Trojans have been perhaps the most underperforming team in America over the past few seasons. Hopefully the Tide can help them continue that trend. Watching Ridley and Schuster in the same game will definitely be fun.
Oh, and Trojans: those shirts are dumb.
Some other stuff:
Would be No. 1 or No. 2 if not for the Tide's five-game winning streak in the series. Don't get it twisted though, everything about Alabama-LSU is still just as strong as though the score is even (but for the record, it's 50-25-5 all-time in favor of the Tide). The game gets primetime treatment, usually is decided by just a few key plays and always is loaded with future NFL players.
"If not for the Tide's five game winning streak." That should feed your inner gump this Friday morning.
The national champion will almost certainly be from this group: The 13 teams to reach the blue-chip threshold this year are Alabama, USC, Ohio State, LSU, Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan, Auburn, UCLA, Texas A&M, Georgia, Clemson, and Texas. This list includes schools that have won 12 of the last 14 national championships (Florida won the other two and met the mark at the time; it’s at 39 percent for 2016 after a recent coaching change). It also includes eight other national title game appearances in that span.
Fourteen consecutive national titles have been won by teams who signed the right amount of blue chip players, defined as four-and-five-stars. Remember that the next time somebody tells you that recruiting is overrated
We'll close with this PSA:
Xavier McKinney's mentions on Twitter haven't been all rainbows and butterflies ever since he de-committed from Alabama last month.
The vitriol from Alabama fans has continued, McKinney told SEC Country at the Corky Kell Classic luncheon on Wednesday. He's not letting it get to him, though.
"It's been a lot, but I feel like I deal with it in a good way," McKinney said. "I pretty much come back with something all of the time. I don't like when people try to come at me with something they don't really know what they're talking about. Most of the time, it's kind of dumb comments I get. I reply back to them to teach them up on some things."
I guess it needs to be said again: Don't be that guy. Don't tweet at recruits, and certainly don't tweet your disapproval when they don't commit to Alabama. Just don't.
That's about it for today. Only two more weeks, folks. Have a great weekend.