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Sudden Impact: Alabama's Top Incoming Freshmen for 2009

Douglas WebbCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2009

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 29:  A view from high in the stadium as the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 29, 2008 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama defeated Auburn 36-0.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Slightly more than a month from today, the University of Alabama will take the field against the Virginia Tech Hokies. The previous two years have seen the Tide offer playing time to true freshman early and often.

It has always been Nick Saban's policy to play his best players and that includes freshman. In 2008 Saban said, "We're going to play the best players, and if they're freshman and the freshman can go out there and play with consistency and performance and do their job better than someone else, we have no issues with those guy's being the performers that will give us the best opportunity to be a successful team."

With the talented recruiting classes brought in the last two years it is getting much tougher to find playing time for freshman. There are still a couple of spots where a true freshman could contribute.

Offensive tackle, backup quarterback and wide receiver are spots where freshman have solid chances to earn a spot on the depth chart.

Mammoth D.J. Fluker will enter the fray working to earn a spot at left tackle. There are many who believe the big man has shot at earning the starting job. To do so, he will have to beat out junior college transfer James Carpenter. The transfer out of Coffeyville Kansas Community College enrolled last December and earned his spot on the first team with a solid spring practice.

At 6'7'' and 350 pounds, Fluker definitely has the size it takes to dominate in the running game. Despite only playing offensive line for one year Fluker excels at run blocking. Not so surprisingly he has struggled a bit picking up speed rushers off the end.

Fall camp will allow him an opportunity to work on picking up the outside pass rush. It's unlikely he will be able to unseat Carpenter from his spot on the depth chart. Earning the backup role at left tackle, however, is totally within his reach.

Speaking of reach, big receiver Michael Bowman is hoping to lay claim to a spot on the offense's depth chart at wide receiver. Bowman weighs in at 205 pounds and stands 6'4''. He has soft hands and you can see in his film that he has the ability to adjust on poorly thrown balls.

Julio Jones showed time and time again last year how physical he could be after the catch. While not quite as strong as Jones, and there aren't many receivers who are, Bowman has shown that he likes to use a straight arm after the catch to help him pick up extra yardage.

He used the straight arm regularly while playing for Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Georgia. Despite being double covered for much of his senior season, he still managed 36 receptions for 1,022 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Last year, Jones produced despite the Tide's second leading receiver being senior tight end Nick Walker. Opposing teams double teamed Jones frequently the last half of the season. With Walker gone this year someone needs to step up and become a compliment in the passing game to Jones. Bowman has the size, speed, hands, and strength to be that compliment.

Bowman has upperclassmen Mike McCoy and Earl Alexander in front of him, but neither has stood out so far in their careers. With a new starter at quarterback, it is essential that another target in the passing game steps up and Bowman appears to have all the tools necessary to be the guy.

It was clear coming out of spring practice that Greg McElroy was the Tide's starting quarterback. What wasn't so clear was who would be his backup. Star Jackson and walk-on Thomas Darrah both struggled at times during the spring leaving the door open for freshman AJ McCarron.

McCarron was considered by some to be the top rated high school quarterback in his class.  McCarron has a strong arm and throws a very catchable ball, particularly on the deep ball.  He has looked good in summer passing drills drawing the praise of several upperclassmen.

"The guy has a great arm, a great release, and he goes through his reads pretty good, also," said Rolando McClain adding, "Everybody is working hard, but his arm stood out to me a lot. The way he can throw the deep ball...He's good."

McCarron's one shortcoming in this stage of his development is his slight build. He would probably be better off redshirting this season. The Tide may not have that choice though if McElroy goes down.

Last of all is tailback Trent Richardson. To say that Richardson has looked strong in summer drills would be a huge understatement. Pound-for-pound he's likely the strongest player on the Tide's roster.

The young power back bench presses over 400 pounds which is unheard of for most backs his age. Richardson is more than just a battering ram, however. He also has breakaway speed and great vision. He can go over you, go through you, or around you.

Richardson faces a big challenge though as the Tide is loaded at tailback in 2009. Despite the loss of last year's starter Glenn Coffee, there is plenty of talent and experience at tailback on Alabama's roster.

Mark Ingram, last year's backup, showed a good mixture of power, speed, and lateral quickness. Despite missing spring practice as a precautionary measure, Ingram will go into Fall Camp as the Tide's starter at tailback.

Terry Grant is a former starter for the Tide in 2007. He also showed a lot of improvements running between the tackles during spring practice, drawing praise from head coach Nick Saban. Roy Upchurch has shown brief flashes the last two years of being a great back. Injuries have prevented him from reaching his full potential so far.

Once full pads go on Richardson will have three weeks to claw his way up Alabama's depth chart. Nick Saban normally uses two tailbacks, so he can always keep fresh legs in the back field. Upchurch showed last year how good a third down back is whether as a receiver out of the backfield or running the ball.

The fourth back in the rotation isn't likely to get a lot of playing time or carries. That means tailback should be a very interesting battle to watch once fall practice actually does get underway.

When you recruit at as high a level as Alabama does, players already on the roster can't afford to rest on their laurels.

There's always going to be some young hotshot looking forward to taking your job.

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