Alabama Football: Departing Juniors Have Worthy Successors
Now that it is official that Alabama's stud juniors, Trent Richardson, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick are leaving early for the NFL, it's time to start thinking about their successors. Who will they be and how well will they perform?
AL.com confirmed the decisions, but they weren't surprises. We all knew it would happen and all we needed was to make it official.
Here's a look at the three stars' replacements in 2012.
Trent Richardson's Successor: Eddie Lacy
It is no surprise that Eddie Lacy will be Trent Richardson's replacement. He has been the second string back all year.
He would have gotten a lot more carries if it were not for his turf toe. He still managed 674 yards with a 7.09-yard average.
He's not as strong as Richardson, but then again, who is? He's a lot more elusive however, mainly due to his infamous spin-move that garnered him the nickname "Circle Button," a reference to the circle button being the spin-move button in the NCAA Football video game series on the Sony Playstation platforms.
Lacy's production in 2012 could easily rival that of Richardson's in 2011 and here's why.
The passing game struggled in 2011, despite quarterback A.J. McCarron showing solid ability. There just weren't enough seasoned targets and no Julio Jones.
In 2012, McCarron will have a slew of targets, including a finally-eligible Duron Carter. After his showing in the title game against the LSU, defense teams will be having to account for him by playing the 3-3-5 more often.
They cannot load the box to stop the run like they did in 2011 and Lacy will only have to deal with six or seven guys at a time, as opposed to Richardson having to deal with nine players in the box.
His primary backup will probably be newcomer T.J. Yeldon, as Demetrius Hart will likely be used in ways much more creative than running between the tackles when Lacy is tired.
Don't be surprised to see yet another Alabama running back in New York as a Heisman finalist—or winner.
Dre Kirkpatrick's Succesor: DeMarcus Milliner
From what I've gathered, people seem to have forgotten that DeMarcus Milliner exists. The former five-star prospect is rarely spoken of, but for the life of me, I don't understand why.
Perhaps they still remember him getting burned on blown coverages back in 2010?
Well, a blown coverage was not common for him this year. He was a backup this year (he started many of the games in 2010 due to DeQuan Menzie being injured) with Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick being the starters.
When Milliner stepped on the field, quarterbacks attacked him, just as they did in 2010. But how did he respond?
He led the team with three interceptions and had nine passes broken up, as well. His trial by fire in 2010 turned him into a dangerous cornerback. He is far better than most number one cornerbacks on other teams, including in the SEC.
He will be the Tide's most experienced corner, as they are losing Kirkpatrick and Menzie, as well as the other key backup, Phelon Jones who, ironically, once played for LSU. He's probably glad he transferred.
Milliner is just as nasty with the hits as Kirkpatrick and should play just as well in 2012.
Dont'a Hightower's Successor: Nico Johnson
Though Richardson and Kirkpatrick's replacements may not be a surprise, the void Dont'a Hightower is leaving is bit of a mystery.
Some would expect C.J. Mosley to take the reigns, but his splash plays and coverage abilities may not be enough. The defense needs a new field general.
He has some solid experience, but Nico Johnson is going to be a fourth-year contributor. When Hightower went down in 2009 with his torn ACL, it was Nico Johnson that saw the playing time. He has had extensive playing time for three straight years, going on four.
Johnson is far and away Alabama's most experienced linebacker. In this year's championship season, his run-stopping ability as a linebacker was rivaled only by Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, both of whom are leaving.
He split time with Mosley, which depended on whether it was a run play (Johnson) or a pass play (Mosley).
When Mosley went out with a dislocated elbow, Johnson had to compete during passing situations, as well. He answered the questions about his pass defense abilities with an interception.
Next year, he and Mosley will both be starters, side by side at the two middle linebacker positions.
That is assuming Mosley heals well from his leg injury suffered in the title game when he intercepted a Jordan Jefferson forward pass and was subsequently tackled by Jefferson. It was a freak accident and was not a dirty play by Jefferson.
Johnson weighed in at 245 lbs. prior to the season beginning, but I expect him to try to add another 10 lbs. of muscle before next season begins.
He may be a late bloomer, so to speak, in comparison to Hightower and Rolando McClain, but he should be Alabama's field general linebacker in 2012.