Chris Kirschner/SEC Country
Alabama senior Eddie Jackson

Alabama football: A tribute to Alabama’s seniors

Welcome to The Rammer Jammer, SEC Country’s daily Alabama athletics recap. Today, we look at Alabama’s senior class and the gymnastics team. 

The Senior Bowl is this weekend and will feature 4 Alabama players, so now seems like a good time to talk about the senior class since there’s nothing else going on in the Alabama athletics world right now.

In some ways, it’s a shame that the final, indelible image of the 2016 seniors’ influence will be a defensive worn out and utterly unable to even harry a Clemson offense putting their national title aspirations to the sword. With all due respect to O.J. Howard, who made the respectable decision to return to Alabama for his senior season when he could have gone pro after a career game, this class was about defense.

Howard, meanwhile, is looking to thrive at the Senior Bowl this weekend.

Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster also returned for their senior years, the most terrifying collegiate front-seven tandem I can remember. Both turned down the potential to make millions in the pros — especially Allen, who graded the same as his former teammate Derrick Henry last season — to play for another national title while they improved their draft stock. They indubitably did, avoiding injury to lead what may be the greatest collegiate defense of all time, alongside classmates Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson.

(A note on that: the loss to Clemson has been used to definitively state that Alabama’s defense was not the best of all time, because it didn’t stop DeShaun Watson. This is the kind of lazy punditry that plagues sportswriting and which attempts to craft a narrative over consideration of facts. There’s no definitive answer to whether this unit was the best ever, unless you narrowly define your parameters to “points conceded” or similar. It might be, it might not be, and we won’t ever really know. That’s OK.).

Then there’s Eddie Jackson. Jackson’s season was truly tragic, meant to be the crowning achievement in a long and occasionally arduous college career. Eddie came to Alabama as a cornerback before converting to safety to play alongside Landon Collins, and for a season, he was truly terrible. Collins’ desire to play close to the line and patrol the middle of the field left Jackson on an island at free safety, and his angles showed his lack of familiarity with playing a centerfield role.

Two seasons later, he ended his career as one of the best safeties — particularly on-ball — that the SEC’s seen in quite some time. Even so, his biggest impact may have come off the field. In all the time I’ve been around Alabama, I’ve never seen a player spoken of as reverently as Jackson, despite being unable to contribute on the field. Eddie’s hand and cleat will go into the ground at Denny Chimes, not because of his interceptions, but because he meant something to each of his teammates on a personal level, and earned their respect.

He’ll leave as captain of a class who won 51 games, an FBS record.

ICYMI

Sticking the landing

Alabama gymnastics dropped a spot to No. 5 in the national rankings after Utah jumped the Crimson Tide to fall in behind Florida, LSU and No.1 Oklahoma. The drop comes despite the Crimson Tide being one of only four teams to post multiple scores of 197+, including a season-high 197.225 last Friday night on the road. The drop isn’t cause for much concern — Alabama still is better than Utah and is very solidly the fourth among what is currently a four-horse race.

For evidence, look at Alabama’s beam performance, where it’s ranked second in the country after posting a nation-leading 49.6 last Friday. Alabama’s fifth on vault and seventh on uneven bars, rankings that should improve, should Alabama learn to stick its landings. Alabama’s weak link right now is floor exercise, where it’s averaging a seventh-best 49.167. I’d expect that to turn around by mid-February at the latest.

The most troubling sign for Alabama comes in the individual rankings, where Kiana Winston is the only one consistently impressing. Winston is ranked second on bars, eighth on beam and 10th on floor. Nickie Guerrero and Aja Sims are tied for fifth on beam. In the current landscape of NCAA gymnastics, individual performances can mean a lot. Just ask former U.S. national team member Maggie Nicholas, who is leading every ranking and posted a 39.875 in all-around competition.

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