Imagining What Alabama's Starting Lineup Will Look Like in 3 Years
One week after reeling in another top-rated recruiting class, it’s clear that the future of the Alabama football program is as bright as it’s ever been.
The Crimson Tide’s 2014 haul is further proof of Nick Saban’s ability to absorb heavy personnel losses and still reload quick enough to compete for a national title every year.
Now, the task for Saban and his staff instantly switches to developing the newest additions to the Tide roster. Some players will see the field as soon as this fall, while others will become contributors over the next few years.
Considering the new influx of talent headed to Tuscaloosa, what could a glimpse into the future of the Tide football program look like?
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
David Cornwell, RS Sophomore
Alabama added two quarterbacks in incoming Florida State transfer Jacob Coker and 4-star early enrollee David Cornwell.
Coker immediately becomes one of the favorites to replace AJ McCarron this fall, while Cornwell—who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered during his senior season—is a potential long-term solution.
If Cornwell redshirts this season, he would have three spring practices under his belt by the time 2016 rolls around, which makes him an ideal candidate to take over after Coker exhausts his eligibility.
However, expect the Tide to continue to pursue quarterbacks in the next two cycles to challenge Cornwell.
2015 or 2016 stud recruit
Alabama’s running back rotation has featured an assembly line of NFL-caliber rushers since the beginning of Saban’s tenure.
Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny were a part of last season’s terrific running back class, and both players should have plenty of experience as upperclassmen in 2016.
Alabama already has a commitment from 2015 back Desherrius Flowers, and the possibility exists that several other backs could factor into the competition in three years. The odds are favorable that Alabama lands another standout rusher in one of the next two classes who can step in and immediately become a force in the Tide backfield.
Robert Foster, Junior (X)
Cameron Sims, Junior (Y)
Chris Black, Senior (H)
New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has brought in his fair share of elite pass-catchers dating back to his time at USC.
Aside from a pair of standouts in Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, Alabama’s receiving units under Saban have typically been deep and balanced.
Redshirt freshman Robert Foster will make his college debut this fall, and the former 5-star standout has already generated a buzz, as noted by Andrew Gribble of AL.com. Foster’s size is ideally suited to man one of the outside positions. Kief and Sims are bigger receivers who will figure into the rotation on the outside.
Chris Black, who has been unable to consistently crack the rotation, will be a seasoned veteran capable of manning the slot as a fifth-year senior.
O.J. Howard, Senior
The only tight ends currently on the Tide roster who will have eligibility left in 2016 are sophomores O.J. Howard and Kurt Freitag.
The 6’6”, 237-pound Howard had a strong debut season as a freshman, hauling in 14 passes for 269 yards and two scores. Howard fits the mold of new-school athletic tight ends who are becoming a trend in the NFL, and as such, he could be another player capable of testing the draft waters after his junior season.
If he departs college early, his eventual successor will likely be found in one of the next two recruiting classes.
Left Tackle: Cameron Robinson, Junior
Left Guard: Montel McBride, RS Sophomore
Center: JC Hassenauer, RS Sophomore
Right Guard: Alphonse Taylor, RS Senior
Right Tackle: Grant Hill, Senior
Perhaps the most impressive segment of Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class was its offensive line group.
The Tide brought in six talented linemen who are critical to the Tide’s front wall in the future. The cornerstone of that unit is 5-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, who is the rare high school offensive lineman physically ready to compete at the college level immediately. The other prep tackle brought in, Iowa native Ross Pierschbacher, has the frame necessary to become a dominant tackle down the line.
Montel McBride, a 3-star guard prospect, may be the lowest-rated member of the 2014 line class, but he has the size (6’4”, 329 lbs) and strength needed to become a dominant player on the interior.
Additionally, a handful of linemen already on campus could figure into the rotation by the time they become seniors.
Rising sophomore Grant Hill is a talented lineman with a bright future who earned first-team reps at right tackle as a true freshman last season, as noted by Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
Another young lineman who could see increased reps as he matures is sophomore guard Alphonse Taylor.
Look for Saban and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal to continue to restock with big bodies in the trenches, as evidenced by their two early commitments from linemen in the 2015 class (Dallas Warmack and Lester Cotton).
Defensive End: Jonathan Allen, Senior
Nose Guard: Josh Frazier, Junior
Defensive End: Da’Shawn Hand, Junior
The most immediate impact from last year’s recruiting class came in the form of defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson—who led the team in sacks en route to earning freshman All-American honors from 247Sports.
As ESPN’s Alex Scarborough explains, Saban has consistently spoken about his desire to get more athletic on the defensive line in order to combat spread offenses with mobile quarterbacks, which means the future of the Tide defensive line may look a little different.
Alabama will still have big bodies in the middle who excel at controlling the point of attack against the run. However, the edges are likely to feature players who are equally adept at being physical against the run and operating in space.
Robinson, who is another standout already on the radar of NFL scouts, is a prime example of the type of player Saban is looking for up front.
Rising sophomore Jonathan Allen—who also saw extensive action as a true freshman last season—fits the mold of what Saban is searching for at defensive end. Fellow 2013 classmate Dee Liner is another talented young lineman who will figure into the rotation at end.
One of the more intriguing players to watch will be incoming 5-star defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. Hand, who could also end up playing the "Jack" linebacker role, brings an NFL-type frame at defensive end that excels at rushing off the edge.
The Tide have a host of young defensive tackles who could eventually fill the role made famous by the likes of Terrence Cody and Josh Chapman. Of that group, incoming 4-star Josh Frazier is the most polished talent who could provide the long-term solution at nose guard.
Outside Linebacker: Rashaan Evans, Junior
Inside Linebacker: Reuben Foster, Senior
Inside Linebacker: Shaun Hamilton, Junior
Outside Linebacker: Christian Miller, RS Sophomore
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Tide’s monster 2014 recruiting class is linebackers coach Lance Thompson, who welcomed four new additions to his segment.
Among the newcomers are a pair of pass-rushing terrors in outside linebackers Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller. Keith Holcombe, another athlete who has the versatility to play multiple spots at linebacker or in the secondary, gives defensive coordinator Kirby Smart another option to use all over the field in similar fashion to former Tide star Vinnie Sunseri.
Shaun Hamilton is a 240-pound plugger who enrolled early and appears suited to man one of the middle linebacker positions.
Former 5-star recruit Reuben Foster, who saw limited action as a true freshman, is another player to keep an eye on who could be a factor if he eventually realizes his unlimited potential.
While Alabama will continue to stockpile talent at the linebacker position, the 2014 class has the potential to lead this segment for the next three or four years.
Corner: Marlon Humphrey, Junior
Safety: Laurence Jones, Junior
Safety: Ronnie Clark, Junior
Corner: Eddie Jackson, Senior
Star (Nickel Corner): Maurice Smith, Senior
The 247Sports Composite individual rankings of the four defensive backs Alabama recruited in the 2014 cycle were Nos. 9, 12, 49 and 70, respectively.
That foursome figures to play a prominent role in shaping the Tide lineup in the back end over the next four years.
Others in the mix include redshirt freshmen Anthony Averett and Jonathan Cook, and rising sophomores Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith. 2015 safety commitment Deionte Thompson is another player who can step in and make an impact.
After a 2013 season filled with struggles in the secondary, the future looks bright at the position where Saban has consistently fielded dominant units throughout his coaching career.
Kicker: Adam Griffith, Senior
Punter: JK Scott, Junior
Long Snapper: Cole Mazza, Senior
Punt Returner: ArDarius Stewart, Junior
Kickoff Returner: ArDarius Stewart, Junior
One area where Saban and his staff have placed an added emphasis in recent years is adding difference-makers on special teams.
In fact, Alabama’s last three classes have had at least one specialist dedicated to special teams. Kicker Adam Griffith, punter JK Scott and long snapper Cole Mazza were all billed as the nation’s best at their respective positions coming out of high school.
Perhaps the biggest unknown is finding a successor to electric return man Christion Jones following the 2014 season. Both Humphrey and Brown, who each will run track at Alabama, possess world-class speed and could help out as returners.
Redshirt freshman receiver ArDarius Stewart, a versatile athlete who could also line up at safety, is a dynamic player in space who could thrive as a returner in college.
Overall, the Tide roster already has plenty of talent that will be developed in the coming years. Considering Saban’s penchant for reloading with top-rated recruiting classes seemingly every February, the competition figures to ramp up after another two classes make their way to Tuscaloosa.