Alabama Football: 5 Backups Critical to Tide's Success in 2013
A big reason why Alabama is able to reload every season is because there is little separation between the Tide's first and second units.
Seemingly every offseason, the Tide groom a group of promising underclassmen and plug them into their system without missing a beat.
At this point last year, players such as safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and receiver Christion Jones were sparingly used underclassmen who were expected to step up and play a larger role.
Nick Saban will be looking for similar contributors when fall camp begins next month.
Which players can emerge from a crowded depth chart to make an impact this season?
Alabama’s situation at corner appears to be a level below what Saban has enjoyed in recent years. That’s because there isn't a clear-cut All-American candidate such as Dee Milliner or Dre Kirkpatrick waiting to break out.
However, don’t shed too many tears for Saban and his staff. There are still plenty of young and talented athletes who have a chance to contribute in the secondary.
Enter Cyrus Jones, who played receiver during his freshman campaign and switched to defense in the spring.
With the position being a bit of a mystery, aside from senior Deion Belue and sophomore Geno Smith, Jones has a chance to make a quick impact.
If his natural athleticism translates well to corner, he will play a pivotal role in alleviating one of the Tide’s main concerns heading into the 2013 season.
The linebacker unit appears loaded with starters returning at all four spots in the Tide’s 3-4 scheme. The scary part is that Saban has a wealth of talented understudies ready to provide quality depth.
At the head of that pack is sophomore Denzel Devall, who emerged from a superb 2012 linebacker class to make the biggest impact as a true freshman.
According to Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com, junior outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson played a few snaps at defensive end in the spring. The idea of moving an established veteran such as Dickson would not be possible without a capable replacement.
Assuming the scenario plays out with Devall taking more reps in Dickson’s old spot, the Louisiana native is on the fast track to securing an important role in the Tide’s defense.
A torn ACL suffered months before Tomlinson arrived on campus stifled his chances to make an impact as a true freshman.
However, the 6'2", 287-pounder was still able to make an impression on Saban in his redshirt season.
Saban noted that Tomlinson’s abilities at defensive end make him an asset against spread offenses, according to Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com.
Even though Tomlinson has yet to play a snap in a college game, his unique package of speed, athleticism and power is a welcomed addition to the Tide’s defensive line.
Alabama’s receiver unit has gone from being a perceived weakness entering the 2012 season to one of the team’s biggest strengths a year later.
Even with a loaded pass-catching unit, the Tide have several young weapons ready to be unleashed.
Chris Black, who was primed to play as a true freshman last season until an injury in fall camp forced him to redshirt, is a promising talent who was one of the nation’s top receiver prospects in the class of 2012.
With a clean bill of health, Black bounced back and had a strong spring. Per Mark Heim of AL.com, ESPN’s Tom Luginbill put Black atop his list of college football’s future stars.
That is high praise for Black, but his play this spring signals that big things are ahead for the Jacksonville native.
While the Crimson Tide may have issues at corner, the Tide’s group of safeties are among the nation’s best.
With returning starters in juniors Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and experienced veteran backups in seniors Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams, Saban will have a number of veteran options.
However, sophomore safety Landon Collins enjoyed a breakthrough performance in the spring.
The 6’0”, 215-pounder and former 5-star recruit is simply too enticing of a talent to leave off the field. Collins is a physical player against the run, but he possesses the versatility and instincts necessary to play corner.
Similar to Clinton-Dix last season, Collins enters 2013 as a potential breakout star for the Tide’s defense.