Alabama Football: 7 Second-Year Players Key to Tide's Success in 2012
Most of the optimism surrounding Alabama’s chances to repeat as national champions stem from the belief that Nick Saban will be able to reload in short order—thanks in part to his ability to stockpile the country’s finest collection of prep talent the last two seasons.
The Crimson Tide are a safe bet to begin the 2012 season ranked in the Top Five, which is an astounding feat considering the wealth of talent lost from last season’s squad.
While several upperclassmen are on hand to fill some spots (including defensive linemen and 2011 JUCO imports Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial), Saban will be relying on a handful of players from the 2011 recruiting class to takeover at key positions on both sides of the ball.
Which players entering their second year on campus will be major contributors this fall?
Here are seven stars from the 2011 class to look out for this season.
One place where the Crimson Tide returns talent and experience is on the offensive line—but the lone newcomer to the unit will be rising sophomore left tackle and former 5-star recruit Cyrus Kouandijo.
The fact that Saban and his coaching staff felt compelled enough with Kouandijo’s ability that they moved reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones to center is an indicator of their faith in him.
Even after missing the final month of last season due to a knee injury, Kouandijo was able to make the 2011 Freshman All-SEC team after playing in eight games as a reserve.
If Kouandijo can play up to his potential, Alabama’s offensive line can reach its full potential of being the best unit in the country.
Christion Jones was rated as 4-star cornerback out of high school, but two years later, he will battle for one of vacant positions at wide receiver—in addition to vying for return duties on punts and kickoffs.
Jones filled in for Marquis Maze in the BCS National Championship Game after the senior left the game with a hamstring injury early in the game.
Jones was one of the most consistent pass catchers in spring practice, and with the receiver unit searching for a playmaker to emerge, he is in a position to be one of quarterback A.J. McCarron’s main weapons this season.
In similar fashion to Jones, Brent Calloway bounced around—from running back to linebacker as a redshirt last season—before finally settling in on offense at H-back, where he has a chance to claim a starting role in fall camp.
Calloway’s experience as an accomplished running back on the prep level should benefit his transition into his new hybrid position—where he will battle redshirt sophomores Harrison Jones and Brian Vogler for the job.
The former U.S. Army All-American may go through a bit of an adjustment period, but his athleticism could add a new dimension to the offense.
Dickson played sparingly last season, recording three tackles and appearing in seven games as a true freshman.
This season, he is the leading candidate to occupy the outside linebacker spot vacated by Jerrell Harris—and is versatile enough to contribute at defensive end since he’s added more than 20 pounds to his frame since arriving in Tuscaloosa.
The 6’3”, 262-pound sophomore recorded a sack and quarterback hurry in the Crimson Tide’s spring game.
On a team searching for pass-rushers, Dickson will be one of the youngsters that Saban will count on to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks this fall.
DePriest has the unenviable task or replacing Dont’a Hightower at middle linebacker, but the former Under-Armour All-American was able to gain valuable experience as a reserve in every game last season.
The 6’2”, 242-pound Ohio native had a strong spring that culminated with him recording four tackles in the A-Day game.
His ability to perform at a high level will be critical in the Crimson Tide’s effort to maintain their status as one of the nation’s top defenses.
Clinton-Dix was another 5-star recruit that was billed as one of the pillars of the 2011 class.
Although he took a backseat to fellow safety and 2011 class member Vinnie Sunseri last season (more on him later), Clinton-Dix seems primed for a bigger role this fall after putting a cap on an excellent spring by recording three tackles, one forced fumble and an interception in the spring game.
The 6’1”, 203-pound Orlando native will continue to battle for the opening at safety opposite veteran Robert Lester.
Sunseri was a member of the 2011 Freshman All-SEC team after recording 30 tackles, and if his performance in Alabama’s spring game was any indication (five tackles, one interception and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown), the former prep linebacker could be headed for a breakout sophomore campaign.
With his athleticism and ability to be equally adept at making plays against the run and the pass, Sunseri could spend this season lining up at multiple positions in the secondary or even at linebacker in certain schemes.
On a defense that lost a ton of starpower, Sunseri’s ability to wreak havoc all over the field will play a vital role in its ability to remain one of the nation’s top defenses.