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Jumbo Package: Two New Faces Join “the Villains” of College Football

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Bowl prep begins, recruiting notes, and the return of Braxton Key

NCAA Football: Mercer at Alabama Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday, everyone. Bowl practice finally kicked off over the weekend, and the Tide had a couple of new teammates.

-- Two members of the incoming class got their first practice in Saturday. Junior college transfer defensive back Saivion Smith and freshman outside linebacker Jarez Parks were in helmets and shorts while the rest of the team was in full gear. Nick Saban on Friday explained the two would be able to practice once the fall semester was officially over. Neither can participate in the Sugar Bowl but they can practice with the team. Parks was a grayshirt from last year's recruiting class.

• Junior running back Damien Harris appeared to be limited, but was dressed for practice and still on hand during drills.

• Sophomore safety Deionte Thompson was in Hootie Jones’ usual spot for nickel-package drills at safety. The two inside linebackers were Rashaan Evans and Dylan Moses.

• Freshman defensive back Nigel Knott (knee/leg) joined the group of players coming off injuries who rode exercise bikes on the sideline. The others included freshman defensive end LaBryan Ray (foot), sophomore tight Miller Forristall (knee) and sophomore offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy (ankle).

Good to see Smith and Parks in town early. I don’t know what is ailing Damien, but it needs to heal up. Poor Nigel Knott has been a walking injury since high school. Hopefully he is able to get healthy at some point and flash some of that athleticism we saw on the recruiting trail.

“We’re seen as the villain,” Wallace said. “I’m sure a lot of people don’t like Alabama because we’re always so good each and every year. That’s something Coach Saban has instilled in us. Trying to be the best we can be. Just being the University of Alabama, whatever you guys say we are, that’s what we are but we’re definitely the bad guys in college football.”

Make no mistake, fans of a lot of teams wanted Alabama knocked out because they didn’t want their favored team to have to play the Tide.

“It’s not hard not to think that way because, like I said, when you have the trust and the faith and the belief that the coaches are going to do whatever’s best for our team, then it’s not really hard to not question what’s going on,” Harris said. “It doesn’t really matter what people think, who should get the ball, what we should run on offense.

“I mean no offense, but I think Coach Saban knows what he’s doing, he’s been here building this for a while and he’s had a lot of success. So, I think that what he says is probably what’s best for this team, and I guess we’ll just go from there.”

That’s nice, Damien, but we think you need more carries, mkay?

Jobe is really, really good. He was a standout at The Opening Finals, a Nike-sponsored showcase for top prospects, in July. He covers like a cornerback, his official position, but he breaks on the ball like a safety. He moves to the ball so quickly that he accidentally laid out a receiver on one play in a non-contact seven-on-seven drill. He’s a classic ball hawk, the likes of which Miami’s had a lot of over the years.

Ford named Alabama his leader after an unofficial visit for the LSU game in November. He returned to the Capstone this weekend for an official visit after originally planning to visit campus on Jan. 19.

The Seffner (Fla.) Armwood back saw all he needed to see and made his decision known. Ford plans to sign early.

At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Ford is rated the No. 14 all-purpose back and the No. 559 overall player in the country, per the industry-generated 247Sports Composite.

Don’t look now, but Alabama’s class has climbed all the way to #7 nationally, with six slots still available. It’s particularly encouraging to see the secondary round into shape with Jobe joining Smith and Jalyn Armour-Davis. All will have an opportunity to compete next season.

The next big get will hopefully be five-star DE Eyabi Anoma out of Maryland, who says he will announce on Friday and has been projected to Alabama from the outset. As we’ve mentioned previously, the streak of “recruiting national titles” was always going to end this year due to limited space, but all indications are that this class will wind up in the top 5.

Last but not least, Coach Avery Johnson should be getting back a, ahem, Key piece very soon.

“We’ll see how he looks today. We have a bus ride up to Huntsville tonight and then another hard practice on (Monday). When he wakes up on Tuesday and gets through shoot-around, if he has no issues whatsoever then we’ll put him out there.”

Alabama, 7-3, has not played since an 88-82 loss to Arizona in Tucson last week as The University has been in final examinations for the past week. The Tide will take on Mercer (6-4) at 8 p.m. CST Tuesday in the Rocket City Classic in Huntsville’s Von Braun Center. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

Key, who was a Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team selection last year, led Bama in scoring at 12 points per game.

Braxton should only add to an already promising season.

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

Roll Tide.