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Jumbo Package: Julio Goes to Houston

Julio Jones will headline several Alabama players on Super Bowl Sunday.

NFL: NFC Championship-Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday, everyone. With National Signing Day fast approaching, much of the focus will be on recruiting this week, but we’ll start with what will be a decidedly Crimson flavored Super Bowl LI:

The former Crimson Tide players going to Super Bowl LI are wide receiver Julio Jones and defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw of the Falcons and linebacker Dont'a Hightower and cornerback Cyrus Jones of the Patriots.

The Patriots also have a former Alabama player on their practice squad - wide receiver DeAndrew White.

Upshaw, who has gained so much weight he is barely recognizable from his Alabama days, has played a major role as a down lineman for the Falcons all season and taken on an even greater workload with a recent injury to DE Adrian Clayborn. Donta’ Hightower is the signal-caller for the Patriots’ top-ranked scoring defense. Unfortunately for Cyrus Jones, his early-season success waned a bit. He’s spent the last several games on the inactive list, highly unusual for a second-round pick.

Oh yeah, and Julio Jones will be in the game as well. He did this yesterday:

Which almost eerily resembled this:

then he did this, too:

At the end, Julio had dominated the NFC Championship Game to the tune of nine catches for 180 yards and two TDs. Matt Ryan was a deserving game MVP, but Julio would have been a logical choice as well.

Former Baltimore Ravens head coach and current TV analyst Brian Billick was gushing about him for the things he has always done:

It’s rare to find a person who maintains a blue-collar work ethic and genuine humility while being among the most talented people on the planet in his chosen field, but that describes Julio to a T. He’ll be introduced to the world in two short weeks.

Speaking of Julio, Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report wrote an outstanding piece on the transcendent 2008 class that was headlined by Jones:

"If I had a dollar for every time Nick Saban and Miss Terry [Saban's wife] asked me if we were getting Julio, I'd be retired," Thompson said. "That was my guy. Julio was the capstone kid. Good players attract other good players."

But Jones was not the original catalyst. It wasn't Barron, either. Or Upshaw. Or Terrence Cody. Or Marcell Dareus. Or Barrett Jones. Or the meaty list of commits who have logged minutes in the NFL.

No, the initial spark that ignited the dynasty was B.J. Scott, a highly touted defensive back out of Vigor High in Prichard, Alabama.

There you go, folks. You can thank B.J. Scott for the dynasty. He was Saban’s first five-star commit in Tuscaloosa and played a pivotal role in getting all of those other blue chips to buy in.

Of course, Saban has continued to raise the recruiting bar since, and looks to close with another top class:

5-star defensive end LaBryan Ray (Madison, Ala.)

Several people close to the Alabama program said Ray’s visit seemed to be a hit. The confidence level of getting Ray to commit on National Signing Day remains very high. That could be backed up with another in-state defensive end canceling his official visit to Alabama this upcoming weekend.

As expected Jahavonte Dean, CB from Texas, de-committed. Alabama was no longer actively pursuing Dean and this change frees up a much-needed slot. Alabama’s priorities at DB are Todd Harris, who is visiting this weekend and C.J. Henderson, who is visiting Florida...

Henry Ruggs, WR from Montgomery is being encouraged to move up his announcement. Alabama wants Ruggs and prefers he not wait until Signing Day. Only rumor at this point, but Ruggs may be willing to announce for the Tide in the next few days.

Dean hasn’t been expected to be a part of the class for months now. Ruggs, Ray, and at least one of Henderson or Harris would round out the class nicely.

One of the three remaining members expected to arrive before spring practice, 4-star safety Daniel Wright from Boyd Anderson High School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), was supposed to be in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 6 but now won’t enroll until Feb. 13, according to his mother.

Feb. 13 is also the date that 4-star safety Xavier McKinney is expected to arrive in Tuscaloosa, too. Like Wright, McKinney needs to finish one more class before he gets to Alabama.

To be frank, I’m not sure how this works. February 13 is far too late to enroll for spring semester. I assume that they will be enrolling for the summer and will thus be eligible for spring despite not being enrolled in classes.

"It was great," Allen told in a text message about his Alabama official. "I had a lot of fun every single hour of every single day. It was amazing."

But the 6-foot-4, 234-pound outside linebacker still hasn't shut the door to LSU, it seems.

"Solid," Allen said when asked about his commitment status with Alabama and if LSU still has a chance. "They still have a chance, though."

Need to hold on to Allen. He has been billed as another Tim Williams.

"He's going to have these guys ready to go for spring," Ingram said during an appearance on ESPN's "Face to Face with Hannah Storm" on Sunday. "From offseason conditioning to spring training, he's going to have these guys locked in and ready to make another championship run. He learns from all losses. He takes them to heart, so I'm sure everybody in Tuscaloosa is geared up and can't wait for the next season already."

They will need to be locked in this off-season with all of the turnover on defense. The talent is not in question, but an opening date against a potent Florida State offense looms with all new leadership in the front seven.

“I think he’s fortunate that he’s coming into a machine that’s well oiled and understands the commitment,” Templeton said. “The best thing he’s got is all the leadership of the University of Alabama is on the same page.

“What Greg will do is he’ll come in and listen to that and he’ll fine tune. Greg won’t come in there and make dramatic changes to something that’s not broke. Now if there’s a program that needs some work, he’ll get in the middle of it and he’ll want to go compete for national championships. I think he has a great pulse of this generation of student-athletes.”

Setting aside Saturday's one-sided result, a few things are obvious. One, the Auburn Arena is a nice facility. It's not a modern NBA pleasure palace by any means, but it has amenities and comfortable-looking seating, plenty of concession stands and most of the other basics for a pleasant trip.

Second, it is much smaller than Coleman Coliseum in terms of seating capacity. The crowd that filled the arena on Saturday would, if dispersed around Coleman, be regarded as "fair."

That leads to point number three: it isn't just the numbers that create an atmosphere. Auburn students are close to the floor. The next level of seats, while not banked at the life-threatening levels of Foster Auditorium, put the paying customers almost on top of the action. Whether the accounting department would like the lost revenue of extra ticket sales, there isn't a head coach in the SEC that wouldn't rather play his home games in the hostile-but-cozy confines at Auburn.

It will be interesting to see what Byrne does about the basketball arena. Fans have been clamoring for some of these improvements for years.

Former Alabama wide receiver Gehrig Dieter was the lone Crimson Tide representative at the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. But the Bowling Green graduate transfer did exactly that, represent, in front of NFL coaches and scouts.

During Saturday’s game on NFL Network, Dieter caught a game-high four passes for 28 yards for a long of eight yards on five targets for the East team. He also recorded one special teams tackle in the 10-3 loss to the West squad at Tropicana Field.

Not gonna think about the drops against Clemson. Not gonna think about the drops...


That’s about it for today. Have a great week.

Roll Tide.