Alabama Football: 7 Freshmen the Tide Can Build Around
Alabama’s run to the 2012 national title was fueled in part by a handful of contributors from a heralded freshmen class that Nick Saban signed last February.
After bringing in a 2013 crop of newcomers widely hailed as the nation’s best, which players out of the Tide’s 25-man class can become the building blocks for the future of the nation’s current dynasty?
While the answer to that question will not come until this fall, at the earliest, Saban and his staff loaded up with no shortage of talented newcomers that are capable of becoming impact players over the course of their careers at the Capstone.
Saban brought in six players ranked as 5-star recruits, according to 247 Sports Composite rankings, but one of the most important players in this class may be a player that did not earn that coveted distinction.
Which running back out of the Tide’s ridiculous haul of rushers will emerge as the next big thing?
And which other newcomers have a chance become cornerstones of the Crimson Tide program moving forward?
Find out as I break down seven freshmen the Tide can build their program around.
7. A'Shawn Robinson
Alabama’s foundation on offense has been the strength to win up front in the trenches—which opens up its attack to achieve the balance Saban strives for.
Securing a top-tier talent like Texas-native A’Shawn Robinson assures that the offensive line will have a capable replacement at either tackle spot considering a pair of juniors—Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and either JUCO transfer Leon Brown or 2012 backup Austin Shepherd at right tackle—will man those positions in 2013.
The 6’5”, 302-pounder is rated as the nation’s second-best tackle prospect, according to 247 Sports Composite rankings, and he has a chance to become Alabama’s next dominant lineman if he develops properly over the course of his college career.
6. Derrick Henry
With Alabama bringing in four of the country’s finest rushers in the 2013 class, the question now becomes, which of those backs will separate from the pack and become impact contributors over the next three or four seasons?
Derrick Henry is a rare blend of size and explosiveness that stands out, even at a school blessed with freakish talents in the backfield in recent history.
The nation’s all-time leading rusher at the prep level, Henry, who enrolled in January, is a bruising runner that has all of the necessary traits to fit in perfectly to the Tide’s system.
5. Cooper Bateman
With A.J. McCarron returning for his senior season, Saban lured a pair of signal-callers—Utah product Cooper Bateman and Georgia native Parker McLeod—that will compete for the right to eventually succeed him in 2014.
The two newest Tide quarterbacks are likely to enter the derby for the 2014 job with the likes of Blake Sims, Phillip Ely and Alec Morris.
Both incoming quarterbacks were two of seven recruits to get a head start on their college careers by enrolling at Alabama last month, but Bateman enters college with more buzz surrounding his arrival.
The Under Armour All-American accounted for 54 touchdowns during his final two seasons at the high school level, and he will be looked at as one of the front-runners to emerge in the race to take over for McCarron next season.
4. O.J. Howard
If there’s one position Alabama has not had an elite presence at in quite some time, it would be at tight end.
While Michael Williams has been a serviceable player for the last four seasons, his main contribution was as a punishing blocker to help the Tide’s stellar ground game.
Incoming 5-star in-state product O.J. Howard has the potential to add a pass-catching dimension to the Tide’s explosive attack.
If Howard plays up to his enormous potential, the Tide’s offense will be able to use him to exploit mismatches in the middle of the field in the passing game.
3. Dee Liner
With Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Quinton Dial off to the NFL, Saban brought in a pair of defensive linemen in the 2013 class that are versatile enough to play at any of the three position’s in Alabama’s three-man defensive front.
Dee Liner, a 6’2”, 277-pound Under Armour All-American, is a potential long-term solution at the nose guard position vacated by Williams.
His prep statistics (164 tackles, 45 tackles for loss, 23 sacks and five forced fumbles over his last two seasons) are an indicator of his ability to be effective against the run and as a pass-rusher.
That combination of skills should help him become a fixture on the Tide’s defensive line for years to come.
2. Reuben Foster
Reuben Foster’s whirlwind recruitment came full circle after he jumped on board with the Tide two days before national signing day.
The nation’s top inside linebacker, according to 247 Sports Composite rankings, Foster is a perfect potential replacement for either C.J. Mosley or Trey DePriest—the Tide’s current inside linebackers who are both upperclassmen.
Foster fits the mold of former Tide stars and dominant inside linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Rolando McClain.
With Alabama’s defense predicated on punishing linebackers that funnel to the ball, Foster has a chance to be the Tide’s next special talent in the middle level of their 3-4 scheme.
1. Jonathan Allen
With the Tide’s outside linebackers mostly responsible for generating a pass rush, Saban covets players that are capable of making plays in space against the run and the pass.
Jonathan Allen is a 5-star talent from Virginia that will jump into the mix to man one of the two spots held by current juniors Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson.
The 6’3”, 260-pound U.S. Army All-American is a freakish talent that can bring a pass-rushing element similar to former Tide star Courtney Upshaw.
With Foster on the inside and Allen on the outside, the middle level—and perhaps the most important position in a 3-4 defense—has a pair of anchors that can usher in the next era for Alabama’s defense.