The Alabama Crimson Tide started last season ranked No. 24 in the country, with the talk revolving around whether or not their highly touted '08 signing class could make an impact.
The question was answered emphatically during the Clemson game, with players Terrence Cody, Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, and others making significant contributions during the Tide's 34-10 win.
Almost everyone in the nation knew about Julio Jones while he was in high school. He was rated the top wide receiver by most recruiting services. Jones led all Alabama wide receivers in receptions (58), yards (924), touchdowns (four), longest catch (64 yards), and average yards per game (66).
Cody was a household name for the Crimson Tide. At 6'5", 365 pounds (his weight is down to 350), his presence in the nose tackle position clogged up the middle, which forced running backs to try their luck outside, where the linebackers would await them.
One of those linebackers was Hightower, who played the "Will" position next to middle linebacker Rolando McClain. At 6'4", 250 pounds, Hightower was one of the team leaders in tackles (26 solo, 38 assisted) and looks for his role on defense to expand.
If there was a surprise impact player from the class, it would have to be Ingram. He turned heads in the Clemson game, running for 96 yards on 17 carries. While he never started a game last year, he led the Tide in rushing touchdowns (12) and was second to Glen Coffee in rushing yards (728).
Special team players such as Barron, Upshaw, Jerrell Harris, and Robby Green made strong contributions as well. As the season grew on, so did their confidence.
Upshaw and Barron were both favorites on special teams. Harris started off slow, but his level of play increased as the year went on, and Green's (while many thought he would take a redshirt year to get stronger) high football IQ started to get noticed.
Most of the players from the '08 class had to redshirt, and transfer Colin Peek from Georgia Tech was probably the most talented tight end on the team. Couple that with a 2009 recruiting class that comes in with high expectations as well, and you have fans that are very excited about the future of this program.
Alabama is getting to the point where they may have to redshirt four and five-star talent in the upcoming years, but that is not considered bad news.
These are the 10 new faces (true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and transfers) that Alabama fans need to look for this year, in no particular order.
Rod Woodson, freshman defensive back, 5'11", 210 pounds, Olive Branch, MS
If you have never seen film of Rod Woodson, you should check him out. If you have seen film of Woodson, then you know what he is capable of doing on the field. He reminds me of Troy Polamalu with his instincts, being able to time snap counts and blitzes.
He is a heat-seeking missile who can inflict a serious amount of pain, which is rare for a defensive back, and he possesses a 40" vertical leap. He had 140 tackles in his senior year of high school as his team advanced to the state semifinals and has the potential of being a force on special teams.
If he learns Nick Saban's defense in his first year, the sky is the limit for this kid.
Tana Patrick, freshman linebacker, 6'3", 220 pounds, Stevenson, AL
I was wrestling with the thought of placing him on the defensive side to start, but I can see him making an impact on special teams. He has great lateral movement and runs between a 4.5-4.6 40-yard dash.
It will be hard for the staff to redshirt him just so he can play one of the linebacker spots. Patrick also played offense in high school, so his athletic ability should not be questioned.
Dre Kirkpatrick, freshman cornerback, 6'2", 180 pounds, Gadsden, AL
A cornerback over 6'0" with good speed is hard to find. Saban was able to find him in the state of Alabama. Teams were afraid to challenge him in high school, and he made them pay when they did, as he had 80 tackles and six interceptions.
What goes unnoticed is Kirkpatrick's ability to turn interceptions into touchdowns, due to his natural ability to make people miss when he has the ball in his hands. His height and flexibility puts me in the mind of San Diego's Antonio Cromartie. He was a five-star prospect and the consensus No. 1 cornerback in the nation.
Nico Johnson, freshman linebacker, 6'3", 240 pounds, Andalusia, AL
Johnson's high school team may not have produced the best results, but it didn't stop him from producing some quality numbers (78 tackles, 11 interceptions). For his size, he possesses uncanny quickness to get to ball carriers and brute strength to shed blockers.
He was one of the bright spots in the Army All-American game as he showcased his ability as a sure tackler. He gives the coaching staff added flexibility with his ability to play the "Will" position to possibly move Hightower to the "Jack" position for certain situations.
Alonzo Lawrence, redshirt freshman cornerback, 6'1", 185 pounds, Lucedale, MS
Lawrence's stock rose after the Ala-Miss. All-Star game where he held his own against DeAndre Brown in practice and had the honor of covering Julio Jones in the game. Both wide receivers were over 6'4" and weighed over 200 pounds.
He is a raw athlete who was never asked to study nuances of the game in high school, which is probably why he had to redshirt last year. The ability is there, but with Kirkpatrick on his heels, the light needs to come on for him, or else he will be passed on the depth chart.
Colin Peek, senior tight end, 6'6", 241 pounds, Jacksonville, FL
Peek, the transfer from Georgia Tech, came into the program highly regarded. He is a big target for quarterback Greg McElroy and a good blocker for the running game as well.
With his soft hands and deceptive speed, it can be said that the Tide may have upgraded the tight end spot from a playmaking standpoint. He had an impressive showing on A-Day with three catches for 32 yards.
James Carpenter, junior offensive lineman, 6'5", 305 pounds, Coffeyville, KS
Carpenter was one of the two offensive linemen who participated in spring drills at Alabama (the other was Chance Warmack). Offensive line is a question mark for the Tide, and since Carpenter is a JUCO transfer, he is asked to fill that void immediately. He played the left tackle spot and emerged as a potential starter at that position.
He has the range to play tackle but has the ability to excel at the guard position as well, since he played a bit of the guard position for Coffeyville, as well as his high school team.
D.J. Fluker, freshman offensive lineman, 6'7", 350 pounds, Foley, AL
For his size, Fluker has unreal athletic ability. In fact, he has a 40 time less than five seconds. He spent most of his time in high school on the defensive side of the field. When he went to Foley High School, he was moved to left tackle and had a phenomenal year. He's a natural at his position as he recorded 60 pancake blocks.
He's a monster at run blocking but has some trouble with quick defensive ends for pass blocking, which was shown in the Army All-American Game. Despite that, he has the potential of being one of the great linemen in Alabama history.
Can you imagine the battle between Cody and Fluker in practice? He'll be a key factor in the offensive line battle in fall camp.
Michael Bowman, freshman wide receiver, 6'4", 205 pounds, Rossville, GA
Bowman recently received news that he has qualified and will report for fall camp. He puts Tide fans in the mind of another Julio Jones. He's hard to cover one-on-one and has athletic ability for a jump ball situation.
He may not have the speed to break away from defenders, but that didn't stop him from having over 1,000 yards receiving and over 10 touchdowns. He will push for playing time at Alabama due to unproven talent at the position outside of Jones. His brother Adarius was a star at Oklahoma State.
Trent Richardson, freshman running back, 5'11", 215 pounds, Escambia, FL
This is as close to a no-brainer as you could get. Richardson had a game where he ran for 419 yards and ended his season running for 2,090 yards and 25 touchdowns. Richardson possesses excellent vision and patience as a runner. He can catch passes out of the backfield, and he's a solid pass blocker.
He has the ability to run between the tackles to punish defenders and shows the speed to escape them as well. He will no doubt come into the running back rotation and challenge for playing time. Although he may not be the starter out of fall camp, Saban has shown that he likes to spread the carries out to keep fresh legs in the game.