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Jumbo Package: Freshman defensive backs are shooting up the depth chart

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Meanwhile, Alabama offense looks to become more physical and deliberate

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Chick-fil-A Kickoff - Duke v Alabama

Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nick Saban has been excited about the freshman class of DBs Alabama is fielding this year. And Jordan Battle’s notching his first pick in his first game as a true freshman was definitely a reason to celebrate the youth movement. But Battle has not been alone — 4-star DeMarcco Hellams is already practicing with the 2s in Alabama’s dime package. You can almost pencil in a dozen or more snaps this week for Hellams against outmanned New Mexico State:

Freshman safety Jordan Battle was shadowing Shyheim Carter at strong safety when Alabama was working in its dime defense. Battle and Daniel Wright were the second-team safeties in dime. Freshman DeMarcco Hellams was the second-team Money/dime back.

Full practice notes here, via Aye Ell.

If Saturday was memorable for any one thing, it was the midseason form blowup that Nick Saban had late in the game. After seeing the Tide flagged for numerous iffy-to-nonexistent penalties, the head honcho had two red-faced words for the Big 10 crew. And he wasn’t exactly inviting them to tea.

There was, of course, a price to pay. But it came not from the officials or the league, rather a far more terrifying source: Ms. Terry

“Ms. Terry made me run on the treadmill for 20 minutes,” Saban said. “The leadership group had a meeting, and they wanted to implement some disciplinary action. But it kind of got overruled.”

He also acknowledged that he was out of line when explaining his reaction.

“But I’m not proud of it,” Saban said. “I really am not. In all honesty, there was somebody in the white. It wasn’t a player, it was a coach. I thought they were upset because the players were celebrating a good play. That sort of fueled my reaction.”

We’ve often talked about how unique the QB spot is on a team. It’s not like platooning running backs or working in packages of wide receivers or defensive linemen. There’s just one ball, and that one guy — and that one guy alone — is the one who is planned on touching every play. With just 130 starting jobs, when a player fails to win a starting job, he hits the roads for supposedly greener pastures. Football Scoop broke down all of FBS’s 130 starters — and the unreal 35% who transferred — and it’s an interesting read:

FootballScoop has catalogued all 130 FBS starting quarterbacks, breaking each player into four loose-fitting categories: active true or redshirt freshmen, veterans who played significant snaps as freshmen, transfers, and a fourth group we’ll call unicorns, guys who did not play as freshmen and did not transfer before winning their respective jobs.

The population of those groups break out as follows:
16 active true or redshirt freshmen
42 veterans who played significant snaps as freshmen
41 transfers
31 unicorns

In all, 76.2% of all FBS starting quarterbacks fall in the first three categories.
Within those 41 transfers, 28 — more than one in five among all FBS starting quarterbacks — signed with a different FBS school than the one they now start for.

Where Les Miles goes, police blotter follows:

Two Kansas football players, fifth-year senior safety Shaq Richmond (pictured) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Tom Barrett, were arrested recently as a result of separate and unrelated incidents. According to the Kansas City Star, Barrett, who will turn 21 this week, was arrested early Sunday morning on suspicion of contributing to a child’s misconduct and displaying or possessing a fictitious ID. Richmond, meanwhile, was arrested Thursday night for failure to appear.

Never change, man. Never change.

Nick Saban’s final pre-game presser was yesterday, and he laid into the younger players (albeit gently) about becoming focused and staying so:

“We’ve really tried to push the players in some difficult circumstances to stay focused, to make the improvements that we need to make in various areas of our team. There are probably too many to mention, but I don’t think it’s anything that you wouldn’t normally, typically expect from a first game. Some anxiety, some inexperienced players. But the effort and the ability to stay focused and the ability to retain things for young players, especially, from one week to the next so that you can build on what you need to build on for the season, and the issue is is can you stay focused? That’s the deal with maturity as players, as competitors. There’s a lot of young guys on our team that can certainly help us, but their maturity and ability to stay focused -- because we can’t practice everything every day. So, they have to have carryover.

“I mean, I guess when we were kids, we all had Etch A Sketch. You know what that is? Maybe some of you guys don’t. Unless you do it on your phone or something on the Internet, you probably can’t do it. But when I grew up, you could draw on this thing and then you pull the tab up and it goes blank so you can draw something else. Well, we can’t operate that way. I mean, if we go Etch A Sketch with a player, that means he didn’t remember anything from camp, he didn’t remember anything from last week and we’re starting all over -- we’re in trouble.

Here’s the complete verbatim transcript of his press conference, per usual from 247.

#EASOTA

On a sour note, reserve upperclassman DB Nigel Knott retired yesterday. And, the future of another player, reserve OL Hunter Brannon, is still very much up in the air. Both players are battling injuries or other, less-well-defined health concerns.

Knott was one of the more freakish athletic prospects to ever arrive on campus. That he has not put it together had to be disappointing. But, there are far greater things to focus on now for the RS Jr. who has not practiced with the team since Spring ball.

Best of luck to both young men.

Underdog Dynasty does not have its UA-NMSU preview up yet. But, if the preview UDD did for the Aggies’ roadtrip to Wazzu against the Dread Pirate is any indication, that secondary is in for a rough, rough Saturday.

This is great to see:

Alabama swimming and diving sophomore Kensey McMahon has been named to the United States National Team, USA Swimming announced on Wednesday.

McMahon earned her spot during the USA Summer National Championships when she took second in the 1,500-meter freestyle with a career-best 16:09.80, which ranks her in the top-16 in the world this year.

Congratulations, Kensey. I would say go make us proud, but you already have.

Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, two of the greatest football coaches of all time, are teaming up in a new HBO special called “The Art of Coaching” to talk about what life at “the top of the mountain” is like.

Here is the official trailer for the December 10th special on HBO:

A few years ago we covered the complaints and the FOIAs being filed against schools that have turned their football programs into de facto vacation bible schools. BYU, Liberty, Oral Roberts, Notre Dame, BC? Sure — they’re all private, explicitly sectarian institutions and not under the ambit of the First Amendment. But where the legal problem arose was at state institutions, where players were and are compelled or are pressured by state actors to participate in explicitly religious activities; activities that endorse not only a certain religion — Christianity — but a very specific manifestation of it — evangelical Protestantism.

Several programs came under the gun, and the names won’t surprise you. Among them included Auburn and Gus Malzahn; Bowden at FSU; Todd Berry and Air Force; Hugh Freeze and then-Ole Miss; and particularly Dabo Swinney at Clemson — the latter came after receiving at least five complaints.

With Clemson’s rise to the top, this is going to be a story that is revisited and given further scrutiny as the Tigers win more and more — as SI’s most recent expose of yesterday indicates. When you make it to the top, the hogs start snuffling for truffles at the base of that hill. And, with five documented-though-anonymous complaints so far, watch for this story to mature and develop over the coming years.

I fully realize that in the South particularly that this is always a thorny issue to address. So many of the players and fans and even our larger culture are deeply religious, very often protestant, and very often sectarian — 42% of Alabamians, for instance, are Southern Baptists. That’s the reality of the region, and particularly of importance in the lives of those who gravitate towards athletics.

So, I’m not slagging anyone’s faith, lack thereof; nor do I object to the fact that religion is intertwined into our larger social fabric; nor am I here to even debate the merits of voluntary religious activities — knock yourself out with Zeus, Jesus, Xenu, Freyja, Joseph Smith, tent revivals, confirmations, naming ceremonies, or staring into the middle distance and pondering the nothingness of the cold void. That we can all do that makes this country cool. Nor am I weighing the veracity of the complaints raised to-date: they’re anonymous. But, it is telling that they were cast anonymously out of fear of reprisal. And that’s the exact problem being raised by the complainants — and the point of the First Amendment; no scholarship player at a taxpayer-funded state institution should fear pushback, repercussions, reprisals or be made to feel unwelcome for not wanting to participate in a religious activity.

These structural issues — and the grave constitutional concerns that occasion them — very much affect the programs and people that play this silly little game we love so much. And we’ve not heard the last of this. Not by a long shot.

/cue up the hate mail.

In this story about the offensive scheme change, you come away with the feeling that an unspoken theme of this year is to become a physically tougher team that can grind it out and not just rely on the exciting kill shots we saw last season:

Alabama had three possessions of 12 or more snaps with two more nine-play touchdown drives against Duke. For reference, the Tide had just one possession with more than eight plays in last year’s opener against Louisville. That happened just 13 times in the 2018 regular season when 36 touchdown drives required five or fewer plays.

It was more of a grind against Duke.

“It’s definitely harder as an offensive line,” right tackle Jedrick Wills said, “but I feel like it’s kind of a come-to-heart moment, to see who’s a true man at that point.”

Finally, let’s talk about some hate for a minute. I hate Tennessee. And I really hate Phil Fulmer.

The rats are fleeing the sinking ship of the Vol Navy. After the fourth worst loss in college football history, two Tennessee players (a reserve DB, and a reserve WR) have entered the quitter hole.

The case of WR Jordan Murphy is particularly hilarious:

Earlier this week, Murphy’s Twitter account retweeted a tweet poking fun at how Georgia State upset Tennessee and received $950,000 to play in the game. The retweet was later deleted.

This is only a looming disaster if you were credulous enough to believe that this wasn’t Phil’s plan all along. But, this is going to plan; it’s playing out exactly as I predicted 20 months ago when the Pruitt rumors first surfaced:

Anyone familiar with Fulmer’s two decade history of undermining the Volunteers and their successive coaching staffs, and his willingness to dirk a man between the shoulder blades, sees what’s going on here: Fulmer is willing to sacrifice winning in order to exert control over the program by hiring a rookie head man who may not be as comfortable in their coaching chops or ability to advocate for themselves.

Personally, I think it happens simply because Fulmer is so insecure while simultaneously thinking he’s the smartest hayseed in the barn. Sticking it to Alabama on the eve of the playoffs may not be as rewarding as kicking a critically-ill Johnny Majors when he was down, but it’s a start. That Fulmer can attempt to dominate a newb HC is what this was always about.

God, I’m so happy this villain is back. Those of you new to the Alabama cause are about to discover why there has always been such bad blood between these two programs.

Fulmer will be on the sidelines by Thanksgiving. Book it. My only regret is that he may not be there in time for another Saban Third Saturday beatdown — but that very well could be the shellacking that precipitates his best Barry Alvarez impression.

There were many Saban assistants who were ready to be head coach, or who have the makeup or the institutional mastery to do so. Kirby and McElwain were no-brainers. Sark has already done so. But literally no one who has had an ear to the ground ever accused Jeremy Pruitt of the same.

He is one of the best recruiters in the country, one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen, and — with apologies to Aranda and Kirby — my hands-down pick for the best defensive coordinator. This is painful to see. And, I only hope he comes back home to mama next year after he has been encased in lead, thrown in the deep end, and left to drown by a boss that covets his job.

Treacherous. Malign. Duplicitous. Ten pounds of excrement shoved into a five-pound, puke-orange meat sack — Phil Fulmer is who he has always been.

“I hate Tennessee. I can’t stress that enough.”