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Jumbo Package: Cotton Bowl practices near a close as Semifinal Looms

Alabama gets a boost as starter Jaylen Armour-Davis returns from injury ahead of the Cotton Bowl

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama football saw three assistant coaches finish within the top five of the 247Sports Recruiter Rankings following the Early Signing Period. Crimson Tide safeties coach Charles Kelly finished No. 3, defensive coordinator Pete Golding finished No. 4, and defensive line coach Freddie Roach finished No. 5. Two other UA assistants finished in the top 30 — running backs coach Robert Gillespie at No. 24 and wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins at No. 29.

While Alabama’s assistant coaches often vary drastically from year to year based on the prospects in each guy’s region, Charles Kelly has been a top-15 recruiter for all three seasons he’s been with the Tide, so it’s good to see him all the way up to #3 this year. Freddie Roach has also really boosted up his rankings in year two as the defensive line coach for the Tide.

At only 38 years old, Roach has really boosted the Alabama defensive line this year as well as becoming a top-5 recruiter in the country. Other programs are probably going to be offering him a job very, very soon.

Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien rejoined the team Tuesday after isolating for a period of time following a positive COVID-19 test.

Offensive line coach Doug Marrone also was back with the team Tuesday after having tested positive. Both coaches were forced to attend every staff meeting virtually.

“Coach [Nick] Saban made everything normal,” said O’Brien, the former Penn State and Houston Texans head coach.

Barring some last-second positives, Alabama looks to be able to get to the semifinal game unaffected by Covid. With Cincinnati teeing up with a plethora of zone blitzes to overcome their 13.5 point underdog status, it will be great to have the veteran OC on-site to be be able to make real-time strategy adjustments.

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Speaking of O’Brien, we finally got to hear from him this season, and he might have tipped his hand a little bit as to which wide receivers we’ll see most in the effort to replace John Metchie:

“When you lose a guy like Metch, it’s not easy,” O’Brien said. “He’s a 100-catch guy. He can do so many different things for us, and he’s just a great guy. So his presence in the room is missed and all those things. But when those things happen in football, it does give opportunities to other guys, guys like Ja’Corey Brooks, JoJo Earle. I think that those guys have stepped up. I’ve seen improvement from Agiye Hall. I’ve seen improvement from a lot of different guys.

“And then you have your guys that you know are dependable and trustworthy that are going to be there. The veterans, Jameson Williams and Slade Bolden, Cam Latu. Jahleel Billingsley had a good couple weeks. So we’re excited about the opportunity and, really, the guys that have some opportunities that maybe they haven’t had all year, hopefully, they’ll be able to step up and make some plays on Friday.”

It’s good to know that Earle is apparently healthy enough to be mentioned as a guy that’s likely to get an opportunity. Hall, Javon Baker, and Traeshon Holden have all been talked about a good bit by fans, but judging by this quick comment, it seems Brooks and Earle are the most likely candidates.

So, how did the transfer work out? As one might expect, Williams said, “I would say this is something I envisioned because I had a lot of plans, big plans. It was things I’ve been wanting to do since I was a child, dreams I’ve had. Playing on the biggest stage, College Football Playoff, chance to play for a national championship.”

Among those dreams may have been things like being first team All-America, which he is.

Williams has also been a prime subject of the Cotton Bowl because of the loss of Metchie, which makes Williams easily the prime concern of Cincinnati’s secondary. And the Bearcats don’t come up short there with both starting cornerbacks, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant considered among the nation’s best.

Williams said in studying for the game, “I see a lot of technique. Those guys have two different styles. They like to press, press big. I see a lot of things. Very talented DBs.”

Asked if he relished opportunities to go against great defensive backs, Williams said, “I kind of like that. We both go hard. But the competition, I love it. That’s something I look forward to every week.”

No surprise, Cincinnati’s Gardner and Bryant were also getting questions about Williams.

Gardner, who has not allowed a touchdown as a Bearcat, said, “It’s going to be a big challenge, first of all. But I take a lot of pride in that. He’s a fast guy. He’s a good receiver. He’s smart and he’s fast, quick, can catch, got good hands.

“It’s Alabama. I wouldn’t expect nothing less, but we’re looking forward to it.”

With Jerome Ford, Jameson Williams, and Henry To’o To’o all taking the field, many of this game’s superstars are all transfer players. And watching Williams go 1v1 with Sauce Gardner will have the attention of every single NFL scout in the country. If you missed it, here’s Josh’s breakdown of the matchup.

Finally, one very underrated aspect of this matchup is that Jaylen Armour-Davis is back from injury:

But defensive coordinator Pete Golding on Monday provided an answer to one of the lingering questions entering Friday’s Cotton Bowl: the health of starting cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis.

“He’s practiced all week,” Golding said. “He’s looked well to me. So it’s good to have him back.”

With Josh Jobe’s season over due to turf toe surgery, Alabama was quietly going to be playing a true freshman and someone who’s never started before at cornerback if Armour-Davis had been unable to play with his hip issue. Nobody has been talking about it, but it’s had me very nervous.

JAD has, somehow, flown totally under the radar locally, regionally, and nationally this season. He’s been absolutely excellent all season long and I’ve not seen a single article written about him or even heard any announcers mention him in broadcasts. Having his veteran presence back for the playoffs will be huge for the Tide, even if it’s something nobody notices as he quietly shuts down his side of the field.

Roll Tide!