Eight of Alabama’s 26-member signing class of 2014 are already on campus, getting a head start on courses and gearing up for spring practice.
Some will be able to play right away due to personal ability and scarcity at their position. Others will be relegated to special teams duties or a redshirt because of a high volume of players already in place.
The Crimson Tide have seen freshmen like T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard arrive a semester early and have an immediate impact. Others, like defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, finished out their senior year of high school and still saw playing time when they got to campus.
Enrolling early isn't necessarily a predictor of future success, but can’t hurt, either.
With that in mind, here are predictions for how Alabama’s eight early enrollees will fare this season.
All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.
All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.
Robinson joins the team with all the promise in the world. He’s a 5-star offensive tackle and considered the best in the class at his position.
And he steps into an offensive line in a state of flux after losing two players to the NFL. Gone are left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen. Left guard Arie Kouandjio didn't exactly impress last year, and Austin Shepherd was switched out for freshman Grant Hill at times.
Robinson is still a very raw prospect but could end up being one of the best in the country.
Prediction: Starts off the season as a reserve and becomes a starter by mid-season.
Brown is one of the most talented overall athletes in the class, as demonstrated by his being a two-sport star. He’s already running in the track and field team’s spring season while gearing up for a wide-open cornerback battle.
Starter Deion Belue graduated, and nobody ever locked down the No. 2 cornerback spot. He’ll be competing with the likes of Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith for two vacant positions.
Brown isn’t exactly off to a great start, though, as he was arrested his first week on campus for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Prediction: Solid contributor on special teams as a gunner on punts and sees playing time at either the “Star” or “Money” defensive back positions.
A big win for Alabama out of Louisiana, Jones also fits a position of need for the Crimson Tide after losing both of its safeties to the NFL.
Jones is rated the eighth-best safety in the country, but at 6’2”, 220 pounds, he projects as a strong safety, which could work against him. Landon Collins filled in more than admirably for Vinnie Sunseri when Sunseri went down for the season with a knee injury. Collins figures to be a shoe-in for the strong safety job.
So while Jones should be a solid contributor down the road, he’ll face an uphill climb to play on defense.
Prediction: Contributor on special teams on kickoffs and punts.
Cornwell is one of the highest-rated quarterbacks that coach Nick Saban has signed since coming to Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s offense is extremely balanced, so the elite quarterbacks tend to go elsewhere.
Still, Cornwell comes into an open quarterback competition with incumbents who haven’t exactly drawn confidence from the coaching staff. His biggest competition will be incoming transfer Jacob Coker.
But in Cornwell, Alabama may have found its quarterback of the future.
Prediction: Redshirts in 2014, immersing himself in the offense and ready to take over when Coker graduates.
Cameron Sims is part of a trend towards taller, longer receivers for Saban and Co. At 6’4”, 199 pounds, he has a large frame to grow into and develop.
The problem for Sims, at least early on, is that wide receiver is one of the deepest position groups at Alabama.
Amari Cooper, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White all return. Chris Black seems ready to take the next step in 2014. And a trio of 2013 signees—Raheem Falkins, ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster—all redshirted and are waiting in the wings.
Prediction: Finds himself too far down on the depth chart and redshirts.
Hamilton could be the future for Alabama at inside linebacker after the departure of C.J. Mosley.
“That’s my role model, that’s my idol,” Hamilton said on signing day of Mosley. “I did a lot of watching him this season and over the four years, and he became a great linebacker. Pretty sure he’s going to become a first-rounder. That’s who I really look up to.”
This year will be more of an uphill climb, as Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland are primed to battle it out for that position.
Prediction: Special teams role player on kickoffs and punts.
The nose tackle from East Mississippi Community College has bounced around his first two years after high school but finally found a landing spot at Alabama.
Alabama’s two nose tackles from last year—Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake—both return but didn’t exactly light the world on fire. And Saban typically only brings in JUCO transfers if they fit a need and can contribute right away.
Prediction: Sees regular playing time in the nose tackle rotation, turning into the most effective option the Tide has in the middle.
The prodigal son returns to Tuscaloosa for his second go-around with the Crimson Tide. He was dismissed from the team last February in connection with an on-campus robbery.
“Surprised. Excited. Humbled. Eager, everything and anything you could think of,” Pettway said on signing day. “I was just ready. I always wanted to be here. It was my first love, University of Alabama, since high school. I loved it when I was here and I’m glad I’m able to get back.”
Alabama lost its top two defensive ends, Jeoffrey Pagan and Ed Stinson, in the offseason.
Prediction: Pettway sees significant playing time at defensive end and makes an immediate impact.