Chris Kirschner/SEC Country
Alabama tackle Cam Robinson

Alabama football: Projecting the early departures, plus gymnastics and Justin Thomas

Good morning. The Rammer Jammer is a daily rundown of everything you need to know about Alabama athletics, published every weekday morning. 

Nick Saban will host a press conference at 1 p.m. ET to discuss NFL decisions for his juniors and redshirt sophomores. Alabama has a number of key players facing the decision to go pro or return, so let’s do a little predicting.

Before we do, two things: Players have until Jan. 20 to finalize their decision, so more could happen after the press conference, and I’m not reporting anything here. Just what I think will happen.

  • Wide receiver ArDarius Stewart already announced his decision to go pro.
  • Left tackle Cam Robinson — Top-ranked tackle in the draft. He’s gone.
  • Center Bradley Bozeman — He had an impressive season replacing Ryan Kelly, but with an offense as inconsistent as it was this season, he could stand to return.
  • Wide receiver Raheem Falkins — Might be gone, but not to the NFL.
  • Wide receiver Robert Foster — Might be gone, but not to the NFL. Not unlikely to return, through a combination of injury prone-ness and a receiving corps that could use his change of pace.
  • Cornerback Anthony Averett — Exceeded expectations in his first starting season, but unlikely to go pro in a crowded defensive back class that includes …
  • Cornerback Marlon Humphrey — He’s the No. 2-ranked cornerback in the draft. I expect him to go, although I wouldn’t bet on it.
  • Linebacker Rashaan Evans — With only one start under his belt, he should return.
  • Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton — After tearing his ACL, he’ll likely return. Nobody wants to draft someone who can’t go through the combine like that.
  • And, of course, punter J.K. Scott — He won’t, because he’s a punter. But he should, because he’s a punter, and how fun would that be?

So, that’s Stewart, Robinson and Humphrey (and Scott) gone, and a lot of returners. The most troubling of those departures is Humphrey, given Alabama’s struggles with depth in the secondary this season.

And yes, technically Bo Scarbrough could go pro because of his delayed enrollment, and he might have if he’d rushed for 340 yards against Clemson or something, but rehabbing from yet another leg injury will put that plan on hold.

ICYMI

Sticking the landing

The No. 4-ranked Alabama gymnastics team is wasting no time testing itself this season. After falling on the road to No. 1 Oklahoma last week, the Gym Tide will host now-No. 1 LSU on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Of course, at this point in the season, with only one meet of sample size, those rankings mean exactly nothing. Early season meets are usually slightly experimental for Alabama as coach Dana Duckworth tweaks her lineups ahead of the meets that really matter for postseason qualification and seeding. She has to find her reliable replacements for seniors Lauren Beers and Carley Sims, who were reliable leaders on and off the floor. For off-the-floor voices, Duckworth has her pick of Nickie Guerrero, Amanda Jetter, Katie Bailey, Keely McNeer and future Marine officer Mary Lillian Sanders.

On the floor, the question is slightly more complicated. Kiana Winston is the clear choice after posting a 39.5 in all-around and a 9.95 on balance beam, but behind her, Alabama will need to find reliable high scorers to contend with the Oklahomas, Floridas, LSUs and UCLAs of the world. Guerrero will need to hover around the 9.9-9.95 region on balance beam more often, and Alabama has to replace two top-tier floor exercises, which may explain the uncharacteristically low score of 49.025 on the floor.

Speaking of floor exercise, that’s the matchup to watch in this LSU meet. Both schools are known for their floor exercises, and while Alabama loves to tweak its floor exercises throughout the season, the Tide will want to hit the final rotation big in their home opener. For an LSU gymnast to watch, keep an eye on Kennedi Edney, who posted a 9.95 on vault with a stuck landing in the first meet of the season last week. The Tigers also have an Olympian in Ruby Harold, a bars specialist from Great Britain.

You can watch this meet on the SEC Network.

Built by Bama: Justin Thomas edition

Outside of the NFL, the most exciting Alabama athletics alumnus has to be on the PGA Tour. Justin Thomas, a former National Player of the Year and national champion at Alabama, won the Tournament of Champions last weekend, as perfect a start to the year as one could expect.

Then he went to the Sony Open, where he pitched in at the first hole for eagle on the par-4 10th. He played the rest of the round at about that pace, until he hit the bunker on his last hole, where he needed an eagle to score a record-setting 59. One remarkable bunker shot later, Thomas faced a 14-footer.

He poured it in and became the youngest-ever golfer to score so low on the tour. His score of 59 is only the seventh in tour history. He currently leads the event by 5 strokes.

In other golf news, former Alabama golfer Stephanie Meadows is rolling with the punches on the LPGA tour, from The Irish Times.

Seatbelt check

The Gym Tide won’t be the only ones testing themselves against the Bayou Bengals this weekend.

The Alabama basketball team will travel to LSU on Saturday night, hoping to retain a glimmer of hope where the NCAA tournament is concerned. As Casagrande writes for AL.com, its résumé is on life support at 9-6 on the season. Fortunately, the Tigers are a full-on tire fire at the moment, reeling from a 30-point loss to Texas A&M.

The two teams’ profiles are similar, with one notable exception: LSU’s defense has been disastrous. The Tigers gave up 110 points in a loss to Wake Forest on Dec. 22, and 96 to the Vanderbilt team that Alabama just beat, 59-26. The Tigers give up an average of 78 points per game, considerably worse than Alabama’s 62.

LSU’s offense has been considerably better than Alabama’s, scoring 76 points per game to Alabama’s 68, but Alabama is averaging a plus-5 point differential to LSU’s minus-1. Alabama should have an advantage on the boards and in the post, if its bigs can stay out of foul trouble, which they should, because LSU only gets to the line on 29 percent of its drives.

Alabama’s offense won’t have to be great; it’ll just have to be good enough to win this one. The game tips off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday on the SEC Network.

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