For the Alabama Crimson Tide, change isn't going to come overnight. Head coach Nick Saban said so himself on numerous occasions, most recently at SEC Media Days. Changing the losing attitude at Alabama will be a process, a long and arduous labor.
But there are times in any revolution when change comes in drastic spurts, quantum leaps. On Friday night, one such leap occurred on the Thomas Drew Practice Fields in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide welcomed its highly-touted freshman class with an evening practice session and nearly six months after being declared the nation's best recruiting class, the group did not disappoint.
The eyes of the press corps were immediately drawn to wunderkind wide out Julio Jones but as the camera lenses scanned the practice fields, they found more and more impressive-looking newcomers, each more physically imposing than the last. From Marcel Dareus and Terrence Cody on the defensive line to Mark Barron and Alonzo Lawrence in the secondary; from Jones and fellow receiver BJ Scott to running backs Mark Ingram and Ivan Matchett, witnesses said the number of freshmen who appeared physically ready for SEC football was astonishing and unprecedented in Alabama football history.
"This team just improved more in one day than they did in all of last season," said an attendee of Friday evening's practice session.
That wouldn't be difficult to believe, considering that the Tide seemed to get worse as the season wore on in 2007. Many believe that a lack of depth was the Crimson Tide's ultimate downfall in '07, not only because it put the Tide in a tough position when injuries hit but also because the lack of legitimate competition left some of the team's star players unmotivated.
The influx of freshmen superstars will leave no doubt in the minds of every starter on the Crimson Tide roster that they'll not only have to work hard to keep their starting job, they'll probably have to become better players than they are right now. Will Jones take over a starting job on Day One? It's possible, but if he doesn't it means that the receivers ahead of him will be forced to constantly improve their game.
Of course, what happens in practice doesn't change the public perception of where the Tide stands as a program. The same day the Tide freshmen were welcomed to the roster, the preseason Coaches Poll was released and the Crimson Tide found itself in a very familiar position: on the outside looking in. Alabama was the top vote-getter outside the Top 25, meaning that a win against the No. 9 Clemson Tigers in the season opener would likely vault the Tide back into the national rankings as well as into the national spotlight of college football. Most folks don't expect that to happen but most folks also weren't at the Thomas Drew Practice Fields on Friday night, August 1st.
Those who don't understand recruiting say it doesn't matter. Those who know recruiting understand that it's nearly everything in college football. Those who know recruiting say that Alabama's incoming freshman class will make an immediate and dramatic impact. And those who saw them in Tuscaloosa on Friday night believe it.