Alabama Football: Super Sophs Set to Explode for the Tide This Season
As the Alabama Crimson Tide go into their BCS title defense this fall, many names and faces will be different. Gone are a handful of first-round draft picks to the NFL. Gone are offensive and defensive leaders. Gone are the dependable superstars that 'Bama fans knew they could count on week after week as the Tide finished off the 2011 season with its second national title in three years.
But with change comes opportunity. It is no secret that Nick Saban's team is loaded with talent—deep talent. In 2012, Alabama will see a new crop of future first-rounders emerge. Some of them played vital roles last season and others barely saw the playing field.
With the extended losses that the Tide suffered in the offseason, coach Nick Saban is going to turn to these youngsters, expecting them to deliver on the promise that brought them to Tuscaloosa in the first place.
Here are a few that can be expected to break out of the pack and become household names in 2012.
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix came to Alabama as one of the top-rated high school safeties in the nation. While he saw limited time in his freshman year (mostly on special teams), Clinton-Dix was able to impress coach Saban with his exceptional attitude and tremendous work ethic.
Alabama has to replace three key components from last season's secondary in Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. Clinton-Dix will get every chance to do his part in filling these voids when the Tide returns to action in September.
His above-average size (6'1", 209 lbs.) and strength make him an imposing figure at safety, and he will surely lay some lumber to SEC receivers this fall.
Trey DePriest is yet another in Nick Saban's stable of 5-star recruits. The sophomore linebacker saw action last season backing up both Dont'a Hightower and C.J. Mosley, recording 25 tackles in limited play.
DePriest is lost likely to see action at middle linebacker this season and is going to be depended on for extended playing time.
His only problem this season may be the fact that Alabama has more linebackers than it does cheerleaders and the competition for playing time will be fierce. With the experience he gained in 2011, under the leadership of guys like Hightower, DePriest will go into practice with a leg up on his competition.
Redshirt sophomore Adrian Hubbard earned himself a starting role coming out of spring practice. An imposing figure, the 6'6", 248-pounder is emerging as a clone of former Alabama standout Courtney Upshaw. Even though he came out of high school as a defensive end, Hubbard seems to have found a home at linebacker.
Although he saw limited time in 2011, Hubbard wowed the A-Day crowd at Alabama's spring game with seven tackles and three sacks. With unusual size for a linebacker and better-than-average speed, it would be no surprise to see Hubbard on a few postseason All-SEC teams at season's end.
Christion Jones is another Alabama youngster who came out of high school at a different position than he plays now. Once a standout defensive back, Jones has re-emerged as a wide receiver at the Capstone.
He did not get much playing time in his freshman season, but after an injury left Marquis Maze on the sideline in the BCS title game, Jones was forced into action as a kick returner. As Alabama faithful watched with baited breath, fearing a rookie mistake, Jones fearlessly fielded kicks with the look of a veteran.
He may not see extended action as a receiver this season, but Jones appears to be the heir to Maze as the Tide kick returner. He has a quick first step as well as solid instincts that make him a special teams threat for years to come.
With All-American Barrett Jones moving to center this season to fill the hole left by another All-American, William Vlachos, Cyrus Kouandjio will be the man with a plan at left tackle this season. Standing at 6'6", 311 lbs., Kouandjio will take his starting position on possibly the best offensive line in the country.
After playing a backup role in eight games in 2011, Kouandjio tore his ACL in the Tennessee game and was lost for the season. Ranked among the top five recruits in the nation coming out of high school, Kouandjio has a work ethic and has the makings of a leader both on and off the field for Alabama.
Lining up along side Anthony Steen, D.J.Fluker, Chance Warmack and the previously mentioned Jones, Alabama's line will be practically impossible to move.
Son of former Alabama assistant coach Sal Sunseri, Vinnie came to the Tide as an experienced linebacker. He quickly made a name for himself on special teams and became a fan favorite due to his reckless abandon and overwhelming hustle.
Sunseri is now a safety and earned time on the defense in 2011 due to injury issues. Now prepared to take his place in a starting role, the energetic sophomore will look to build on his already impressive resume at Alabama.
He ended his freshman campaign with 31 tackles, good for eighth on the team and was nominated to the SEC All-Freshman team. He may play like "Rudy," but his size and strength make him much more dangerous.
It is no secret that the tight end position plays a big role in Nick Saban's offense. With the departure of Brad Smelley, redshirt sophomore Brian Vogler is sure to get his share of the snaps in 2012.
Yes, Michael Williams will be the starter, but Alabama will be using multiple tight ends at times and the 6'7", 258 lbs. Vogler will be working his way into a role that he is likely to fill in 2013.
Vogler has injury setbacks last season that held him out of extended action. He has very good hands and has emerged as a dependable blocker who also has the size that will give linebackers fits in deep coverage.