clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Freshman Watch: Caleb Downs stands out for Alabama in season opener

Having a lot of 5-star recruits goes a long ways toward replacing 1st-round draft picks

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

Coming into the 2023 season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding the Alabama Crimson Tide and their lack of returning stars. Bryce Young and Will Anderson were the best players in college football on their respective sides of the ball for two seasons, plus the Tide lost a whole bunch of other starters as well.

For Alabama, the Crimson Tide is ranked 125th out of 133 FBS teams in returning production, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, with 40 percent coming back for the upcoming season. That includes 43 percent returning on offense (120th) as well as 38 percent on defense (127th).

With that, though, the Tide also brought in the top overall recruiting class in the country, with a ridiculous 7 five-star players joining the fold. If there were ever a year for the freshmen to come in and make an immediate impact, it’s this one. And after one game, they lived up to it.

Headlining the group, Caleb Downs got the start at safety for the Tide and was absolutely phenomenal in his debut. He led the team with 8 tackles, including a knifing stop on an island in the backfield, and every single one of his tackles were bone-jarring, solid hits that stopped a ball carrier in their tracks. The dude is very quickly going to be a star.

On offense, OT Kadyn Proctor got the start at left tackle and, despite being a mountainous 6’7” 360, was pretty much unnoticeable— the ultimate compliment for an offensive lineman. He was pretty well perfect in pass protection, and most of the Tide’s best rushing plays came off of left tackle. I’d consider it an overwhelming success.

Five-star RB Justice Haynes got a few carries in the rotation, and broke off a 16-yard scamper that was one of the best runs of the day. His 7.3 yards per carry led the running back group.

Other freshman contributions

  • DL James Smith subbed into the game fairly early in the second half and got a good bit of playing time. The MTSU offense with all of it’s quick screen passes prevented the DL from having much impact, but it was encouraging to see Smith get in the game that early.
  • WR Jalen Hale rotated in near the end of the first half. He picked up 1 catch for 5 yards, and also nearly came down with a jump ball in the endzone on a moon-ball of a throw from Tyler Buchner.
  • RB Richard Young got a couple of carries at the end of the game. He hit the hole like a bottle rocket on his first carry.
  • Safety Tony Mitchell seems to have served his offseason suspension and got into the game in the 4th quarter.
  • Kicker Conor Talty got to take the final extra point and kickoff.


As expected, all of the portal additions made some sort of impact today.

  • Trezman Marshall got the start at Mike linebacker and looked fast and aggressive. Of course, his backup, Kendrick Blackshire looked even moreso, so don’t count that position locked up yet
  • Jaylen Key got the start at safety, and made a heady, veteran interception, undercutting a seam route. He got injured at the end of the first half, unfortunately.
  • CJ Dippre got significant playing time at TE, and was singled out by Saban after the game as someone who’s blocking ability is better than the team has had in years, and allows them to run off tackle without having to play a 6th OL at TE.
  • Trey Amos didn’t start at cornerback, but he rotated in early in the game. When Malachi Moore went out with injury, Terrion Arnold moved to Star and Amos came in at outside corner. He had a really impressive tackle on a screen pass.
  • QB Tyler Buchner was the #2 QB. He completed a couple of short passes, missed a couple of deep bombs, and scrambled in for a TD.
  • JUCO WR Malik Benson played early and often. He only had 1 catch, but looked quick and shifty with the ball in his hands.
  • JUCO LB got in the game late but didn’t record any stats

Some other players may have joined in on special teams that I missed. Saban’s depth chart listed Cole Adams as a backup returner on both kick and punt return teams, and he also had Jordan Renaud as a third team DL, ahead of quite a few other older linemen.

All in all, it was a promising opening game for quite a few of Alabama’s new players, and we can expect them to continue to make an impact this season.