Alabama Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News so Far
It’s been another busy offseason in Tuscaloosa, where there never seems to be a dull moment when it comes to University of Alabama football.
Like usual, some players have left (including Luke Del Rio, Dee Hart and Parker McLeod), along with some coaches (Doug Nussmeier, Chris Rumph and Greg Brown), while the Crimson Tide have started working on the 2014 season.
There was spring practice, A-Day and the National Football League’s draft, not to mention a graduation ceremony that included former Alabama standouts Terrence Cody and Andre Royal.
“I am very encouraged by the team that we have; I’m very encouraged by the attitude that we have on our team,” Saban said before going on his usual tour of spring/summer speaking events and charity golf events.
Here’s a look at the Crimson Tide’s offseason so far.
10. Another Successful A-Day
Although the announced attendance of 73.506 was the smallest since Nick Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama's A-Day on Easter weekend still drew the most fans in the nation for a spring game.
Playing with the first-unit offense, senior quarterback Blake Sims completed 13 of 30 attempts for 178 yards, with a late touchdown and two interceptions, as the White Team pulled out a 17-14 victory.
“Nobody ever has a bad spring game,” Saban said.
With 95 rushing yards on 11 carries, junior running back T.J. Yeldon became the first player in Crimson Tide history to win the Dixie Howell Memorial player as A-Day MVP for a third time.
D.J. Pettway and Jonathan Allen shared the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the Game Award. Pettway came off the bench to open the scoring with a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown, while Allen tallied six tackles, including four for a loss and two sacks, and a blocked field-goal attempt.
9. Eight Players Enrolled Early
For the fifth straight year, Alabama had at least eight players enroll early in January to participate in spring practices and get a jump on their Crimson Tide careers.
They included two junior college defensive linemen (Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway) and three standout prospects from rival LSU’s backyard (Cameron Robinson, Laurence “Hootie” Jones and Cameron Sims).
By the end of spring, Reed and Robinson were working with Alabama’s first units, at defensive end and left tackle, respectively, while Pettway became entrenched in the defensive line rotation.
“Pettway and Reed add a lot of depth and athleticism to that group,” Saban said about the defensive line. He also called Robinson a “work in progress. He’s a very talented guy.”
The other three early enrollees were cornerback Tony Brown, quarterback David Cornwell and linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton. It might only be a matter of time before Brown, who also ran some track before aggravating a shoulder injury, challenges for the start at cornerback.
8. Players Have Had a Relatively Quiet Offseason
Things have been fairly quiet on the injury front, with the most significant setback happening to Eddie Jackson, who topped the depth chart at cornerback when he sustained a knee injury during a spring scrimmage (on a play in which there was no contact).
The sophomore had surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament in early April, but the team is hoping to get him back in some capacity this fall.
"He’s still just rehabbing. He’s not full speed," Nick Saban said last week when meeting with reporters before his annual Nick's Kids charity golf fundraiser. "He’s not been released to do football-related type activity yet. We’re encouraged by the rehab. He’s working really hard and doing a good job."
Two other players who missed the spring, wide receiver DeAndrew White (turf toe) and reserve nose tackle Darren Lake (torn pectoral), should be ready for the start of training camp in August.
"Both of those guys are doing fine," Saban said. "DeAndrew White’s been cleared to do everything. He has done everything in the summer conditioning program, and Darren Lake has as well."
Off the field, Alabama has had some issues, but it has largely avoided the major types of distractions that were an issue last year.
Junior linebacker Dillon Lee was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, sophomore running back Altee Tenpenny was arrested in Arkansas for marijuana possession and freshman cornerback Tony Brown was charged with failure to obey and resisting arrest at a party during his first month on campus.
7. Two More First-Round Draft Picks
Alabama continued its impressive streak of having at least two first-round selections in every National Football League draft since 2010, with linebacker C.J. Mosley the 17th overall selection by the Baltimore Ravens and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix going just four picks later to the Green Bay Packers.
“It’s been a dream since I was a kid. Who doesn’t want to be a first-round pick?” Clinton-Dix said beforehand.
While safety Vinnie Sunseri beat the odds by being a fifth-round selection despite blowing his knee out against Arkansas last October, it was a disappointing draft for Alabama’s other early departures.
Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio dropped to the second round, defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan lasted until the sixth and linebacker Adrian Hubbard wasn’t selected.
6. Derrick Thomas Is Finally Going into the College Football Hall of Fame
Derrick Thomas, maybe the best defensive player to ever suit up for the Crimson Tide, was finally selected for enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame, which will reopen this fall after moving to Atlanta.
His induction, which was leaked out a day before the May 22nd announcement, seemingly led to a unanimous reaction from Crimson Tide fans: “Great! But what took so long?”
Thomas holds the Southeastern Conference and Alabama records for career sacks with 52, but he isn’t credited with the sport's all-time sacks record because the National Collegiate Athletic Association didn’t start including defensive statistics as part of the official records until 2000.
If it went back to 1980, he would be tied with Arizona’s Tedy Bruschi (1991-85), but his 27 sacks from 1988 would be the single-season record.
The 13 other players scheduled for induction are TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson, Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan, North Carolina defensive back Dre Bly, Southern California tackle Tony Boselli, Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz, Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, Maine linebacker John Huard, Stanford running back Darrin Nelson, Louisiana Tech offensive lineman Willie Roaf, UCLA quarterback John Sciarra, South Carolina wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, McNeese State cornerback Leonard Smith and Mississippi tight end Wesley Walls.
Joining them will be two coaches, Mike Bellotti and Jerry Moore.
5. Lane Kiffin Hired
After consulting with the Crimson Tide during the practices for the Sugar Bowl, Lane Kiffin was hired as offensive coordinator when Doug Nussmeier departed for Michigan.
While the move made sense in numerous ways, it still shocked a lot of people, including Crimson Tide fans, who remember Kiffin’s lone year at Tennessee, 2009, when the Volunteers went 7-6. More recently, he followed Pete Carroll at Southern California (2010-2013). Kiffin was also the youngest head coach in the NFL’s modern era when he went 5-15 over two seasons with the Oakland Raiders (2007-08).
“I think it's very important that you have the kind of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach that you can sort of recruit to, someone that young people want to play in that style of offense,” Saban said. “I think that was actually an asset for us, that Lane was an asset for us in helping get some of the offensive players that we were able to attract. Does a very good job of presenting to the players how they're going to be used in the offense.”
Although Kiffin is expected to run Saban’s pro-style scheme, his fingerprints can already be seen on the offense.
“Versatility, guys doing different things, being able to play different spots, different positions instead of having a set for these type of receivers and these type of tight ends, anybody can play any position,” senior wide receiver Christion Jones said. “He brings of different kind of game with the run game because we have a lot of speed. We have a lot of stretch plays that we will be able to get some guys on the perimeter. We got good receivers to do some good perimeter blocking. He brings a lot of flexibility to our offense, I have to say.”
4. Jacob Coker Transfers
Although he’ll still have to beat out senior Blake Sims for the starting job, at minimum, Florida State transfer Jacob Coker brings some veteran experience to a position at which the next-oldest player is a sophomore.
Coker watched A-Day from the sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium and arrived for good in early May to begin his indoctrination. He played in 10 games for the Seminoles, while Sims, a converted running back, has appeared in 23 games for the Crimson Tide, with 355 rushing yards on 67 carries out of the read-option.
In terms career passing numbers, Sims has completed 23 of 38 attempts (59.0 percent) for 244 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while Coker was 21-of-41 (51.2) at Florida State for 295 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Sims has a slight edge in passing efficiency rating, 128.5 to 114.8.
“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Sims said.
3. The Defensive Coaching Staff Returns
Senior nose guard Brandon Ivory has been with the Crimson Tide long enough to remember the last time Bo Davis was an assistant coach for Saban, before departing to oversee the defensive line at Texas (2011-13).
“He's a little more aggressive, which I think is what we need,” Ivory said during the spring. “Makes sure everybody stay on the right track if somebody gets complacent or something like that. He's pretty more into it.”
Davis was on his way to join the Southern California staff when Saban rehired him in January. The coach also slid director of player personnel Kevin Steele back into the coaching staff as the interior linebackers coach, with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart going back to serving as the position coach for the safeties during practices.
Steele was Saban’s initial defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007 and the associate head coach in 2008 before leaving to be Clemson’s defensive coordinator (2009-11).
Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if Davis’ return results in an immediate increase in sacks. Alabama had 27 in 2010, 29 in 2011 and 35 in 2012, only to drop to 22 this past season, which ranked 86th.
2. Another No. 1 Signing Class
Everyone knew going into national signing day that Alabama would finish as the unanimous No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, but there was still a major surprise when Rashaan Evans, considered by some to be this year’s best outside linebacker, said no thanks to hometown Auburn in order to wear crimson.
“We had a good class and we sort of identified our needs,” Nick Saban said.
Alabama wanted to add players on both lines, improve the pass rush on the edges and fill obvious holes in the secondary and at quarterback. It did exactly that.
The Crimson Tide signed six offensive linemen, six defensive linemen, four defensive backs, four linebackers and two quarterbacks, with at least one top prospect at each spot. Seven players were rated as a 5-star prospect by at least one recruiting service, with 19 4-stars, which, on paper, put this collection among the greatest recruiting classes of all time.
“Oh man, we've got a great, great, great, great offensive line class coming in,” said tackle Cam Robinson, rated the third-best player in the nation by 247Sports and listed fourth in its composite rankings. “I was able to meet all of them actually. We have a good relationship. I played with all of them at the Under Armour Game.
“We've got a great class coming in. I'm looking forward to it.”
1. Nick Saban's Contract Extension Finalized
Although Nick Saban’s contract extension was agreed upon in December, ending rampant rumors that he might instead head to Texas, the deal wasn’t finalized until June.
Last week, Alabama announced that Saban signed through the 2021 season for $6.9 million annually plus bonuses. He was already the highest-paid coach in college football, averaging $5.6 million a year, but he remains second in college sports as Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who recently received a raise to $7.2 million.
When Alabama hired Saban away from the Miami Dolphins in 2007, the initial eight-year, $32 million contract made him the highest-paid coach in collegiate sports history. Last year, he received a contract extension to pay him $5.32 million in 2012 and $45 million through the 2019 season, in addition to a $5 million life insurance policy.
The new deal is worth $55.2 million plus potential bonuses. Saban also received another $1 million on the insurance policy and a $100,000 contribution to his scholarship fund.
"Nick Saban's the best financial investment this university has ever made," chancellor of the University of Alabama system, Dr. Robert Witt, who was the president when Saban was hired in 2007, said on the television show 60 Minutes. "We have made an investment that's been returned many fold."
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.