TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The rest of Alabama’s 2016 recruiting class is expected to begin joining the team on campus this weekend and over the next couple of weeks as players finish up their high school careers and graduate.
Last year, guys like Calvin Ridley, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Da’Ron Payne and Ronnie Harrison all made big splashes in their first seasons on campus.
It’s tough to predict which individual players will step in and play from day one as on-field development as well as how each player adjusts to college life are things that one can’t always account for when discussing the potential of an incoming signee.
These are just four positions that, on paper, it looks like Alabama could use some help.
This one is obvious because of Alabama’s lack of experience and depth at the running back position. Coming out of spring practice, Alabama had just two healthy running backs on its roster — Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. From a talent standpoint, both Scarbrough and Harris were five-star prospects coming out of high school.
But neither has much experience at the college level.
In the season before their first year as starters, Mark Ingram (143 carries), Trent Richardson(112), T.J. Yeldon (175) and Henry (172) all rushed 100 or more times, while Eddie Lacy ran it 95 times the year before he became the starter.
Scarbrough and Harris rushed a combined 64 times last season. There are also durability concerns with Scarbrough as he has suffered injuries throughout his career dating back to his days as a high school star.
If Scarbrough can remain healthy, he could be the feature back Alabama needs. He and Harris would make a good one-two punch in Alabama’s backfield.
Still, Alabama coach Nick Saban has said that the two incoming running backs — B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs — would have opportunities to compete for a role this year.
Emmons was considered one of the top two running backs in the country. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Emmons is built like a feature college football running back. Like any other elite running back coming to Alabama, he’ll have to learn the pass protection schemes because Saban typically doesn’t play running backs who can’t block.
Jacobs was somewhat of a sleeper in recruiting, but he could end up being the steal of this class. Jacobs played some wildcat quarterback in high school, he’s explosive in the open field and can catch the ball out of the backfield. It wouldn’t be a shock if he is used early on in a Kenyan Drake type role, where Alabama tries to get him in space to create mismatches.
The overall health and continued development of Scarbrough and Harris, as well as how quickly Emmons and Jacobs develop could go a long way in determining what type of offense we see from Alabama this season.
On paper, Alabama appears to have one of the best wide receiver groups in the country. Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster are as talented a trio as you’ll find in college football. Add in a healthy Cam Sims along with guys like Derek Kief, Daylon Charlot and other young players, and Alabama has really good depth.
But what this group doesn’t have is experience in terms of games and seasons played.
Ridley is just a rising sophomore. Stewart only has one year of starting experience. Foster missed much of last season with a shoulder injury, and didn’t play much in his first two years in Tuscaloosa because of other talented guys ahead of him.
That’s where a guy like Gehrig Dieter could be really valuable. Similar to Richard Mullaney last season, Dieter is an experienced player who can help provide leadership and offer tips to help the younger players a long. Dieter is talented in his own right having caught 94 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns. But his biggest asset could be helping the young players whether it be in the meeting room or on the sidelines during games.
One of the biggest reasons Alabama won the national championship last season was because of its incredible depth in the defensive front seven, particularly the defensive line. Alabama rotated guys in and out so they wouldn’t get worn down over the course of a grueling SEC season — a luxury the Crimson Tide didn’t have in 2013 and 2014.
But a lot of that depth upfront is gone.
Alabama returns elite guys in Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Da’Shawn Hand and Dalvin Tomlinson. But the guys behind those four like Josh Frazier, Johnny Dwight and others must step up and provide quality depth so the starters don’t have to play an unnecessary amount of snaps.
That lack of depth lends itself to a freshman or two or even junior college transfer Jamar King being able to come in and earn a spot in the rotation.
This one is about this season, and the future in a way. After this year, Alabama loses Reuben Foster, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. After that, guys like Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans will be gone in two years so it wouldn’t hurt to have some of the incoming players get experience for future seasons.
On National Signing Day, Saban said it’ll be important for the coaching staff to get five-star linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell “Mack” Wilson up to speed as fast as possible since the two may have to contribute so expect that talented duo to get every opportunity to play in some capacity.