Well, the offseason has thoroughly settled in on us, so it's time for the return of my completely irregular updates on what's happening with Alabama football, or just whatever I think is pertinent to talk about at any given moment. I figured now would be a good time to tie up some loose ends from the past couple of weeks as we get ready for the inevitably wild conclusion of the 2011 recruiting season that will no doubt be fueling the blog for the next week or so.
Let's get this started...
The NFL Draft: No Surprises
Last time I checked in, we speculated on which Bama juniors would be declaring for the Draft. Three were absolute no-brainers to leave school early, and they did as expected. Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, and Mark Ingram will all be 1st round picks (probably in that order), so congrats to them. However, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the decisions of Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, and Marquis Maze.
Hightower announced his intentions to return to Alabama for his senior(?) season alongside Dareus, Jones, and Ingram, ending that press conference on a somewhat happy note. A week later, Barron held his own presser and also stated he would be returning to school. Neither Upshaw nor Maze made public decisions, but the deadline to declare came and went without either filing their draft papers. I was a bit taken off guard by Maze's decision, as most of the information I was getting said that his mind had been made up to turn pro for some time.
All in all, I think everyone made the right decision for their respective careers.
I'm really excited about Mark Barron coming back. Due to graduation, attrition, and suspension, the Tide began the 2010 season with only one safety with any significant playing experience (that being Barron). When the Tide begins the 2011 season, the Tide will have FOUR safeties with that experience once Robbie Green returns from his NCAA suspension. The secondary will go from being a major weakness to a major strength next season.
Another Coaching Change: Nick Saban Is Never Surprised
In yet another "blink and you'll miss it" shakeup of the coaching staff, offensive line coach Joe Pendry retired and was quickly replaced by Miami (FL) OL coach Jeff Stoutland.
Pendry actually came out of retirement to join Nick Saban on his first staff at Alabama. There was a good deal of skepticism surrouding that hire in 2007, but he ultimately silenced his critics when he forged two of the most dominating offensive lines I've ever seen in 2008 and 2009. In addition to being the OL coach, Pendry also served as what you might call an unofficial "co-offensive coordinator" during his time at Bama. It's unclear if Stoutland will serve in a similar capacity, but it's doubtful.
I'm not terribly familiar with Stoutland's work, so I don't have much of an opinion on the hire. I will say I wasn't impressed by much of anything that happened at Miami over the past few seasons, but who knows how much of that was top-down incompetence stemming from Sleepyhead Shannon himself. (I'd guess a lot.) All I know is that he was Pendry's recommendation to take over and Saban doesn't miss on hiring assistants too often.
So we'll see how it goes. He certainly has big shoes to fill, and I hear Pendry intends to remain in Tuscaloosa in some sort of "advisory role" for the team.
Army High School All-American Game Madness
With the lack of any major surprises coming in the form of Draft departures, the biggest tremors felt in the Bama fanbase came at the Army All-American game. The broadcast began with long-time Alabama commit Brent Calloway (then a 5* prospect according to Rivals) publicly decommitted from the Tide and then said he would choose a new college destination later in the game. Which he did...and it was Auburn.
So that was weird and just plain sucked. In a later interview concerning his decision, Calloway basically came out and said he had been scared off by Alabama's depth chart. A tweener athlete who played running back and linebacker in high school, Calloway projects very highly as an LB in college and not very highly at all at running back. Bama was offering him the opportunity to at least attempt to play RB first, but Calloway noted Bama's 6 scholarship RBs on the roster and didn't like his odds of getting playing time there. Bama is likewise stacked at linebacker, and, as Calloway noted, they're generally much bigger than him.
And with all that in mind, as well as the encouragement of friend and Auburn commit Jonathan Rose, Calloway elected to take his talents to Auburn, where the paths to playing time at running back and linebacker are much clearer.
You always hate to lose a great athlete like Calloway, but I have no problem with his decision. I do have an issue with the way he did it, attempting to humiliate Bama on national TV, but...you know...he's a high school kid. They do dumb things. And I have no doubt he was encouraged to do it by some of the sleazebags on the AU staff. Good luck to him.
But it wasn't all bad news!
After the Calloway business was said and done, the Tide FINALLY nailed down a public commitment from 5* RB and the Army Player of the Year, Dee Hart. Hart has wanted to be at Alabama all along but various issues have always gotten in the way, most recently Hart's desire to be an early enrollee which Bama didn't have room for. But apparently they got that ironed out, and Hart donned the crimson cap, at last. Or rather...he pulled out a Bama hat...said he was going to Bama...and then put the hat on the head of his friend, teammate, fellow 5* prospect, and long-time Bama commit Hasean Clinton-Dix.
Quite the bromance those two have.
Good Journey, BJ Scott
And now for the mea culpa...
Okay, last summer I wrote this glowing mini-biography on him: Alabama's X-Factor: BJ Scott.
And then a funny thing or two happened on the way to his breakout game. Or two.
First and foremost, JUCO transfer Dequan Menzie, once thought lost for the season with an Achilles injury, made a miraculous recovery over the summer and earned one of Bama's 3 primary cornerback spots in fall camp. Saban doesn't sign JUCO players not to play, so it was no surprise a (mostly) healthy Menzie locked up a spot in the playing rotation.
At the same time, true freshman Demarcus Milliner had a mental breakthrough and started picking up the defensive schemes quickly. Reportedly, this was the aspect of the game that Scott struggled with the most. And Saban will ALWAYS favor the player who does a better job handling the mental aspect of his scheme. (See also: Milliner's fellow true freshman CJ Mosely leapfrogging several guys at linebacker by displaying a "Rolando-like" grasp of the defense.)
And just like that...Scott lost his starting job. By the time fall camp was over, he had even been passed over as (what I would call) the "emergency" corner by LSU-transfer Phelon Jones. He saw extremely limited playing time during the season and ultimately suffered an ankle injury that shut him down at the end. The one bright spot for Scott in 2010, and perhaps in his entire Bama career, was his garbage time interception in the Tennessee game that caused a minor earthquake of jubilation on the Tide sideline.
So, I'll just admit it...I was wrong on this one. Horribly wrong. And I'm really disappointed for BJ, who, by all accounts, is a good guy and teammate. Hopefully, he'll have a great two years at South Alabama.
Oh, and don't let anyone tell you that he was cast off to make room for new recruits. Completely unfounded. In fact, as recently as a week ago, Saban had met with Scott to try to convince him to stay. Even if he was never going to play a meaningful down at Alabama, you don't get rid of guys with his work ethic and attitude who are as popular with the team as BJ was/is.
That said, I think BJ's story serves as a cautionary tale during the Silly Season that is recruiting in January and February. He himself was once a 5* propect on his way to star at one of the most storied programs in college football...Today, he leaves having accomplished nothing individually and will finish his career on an unclassified team that didn't even EXIST when he graduated high school. The moral of the story? Chill OUT, people. I'm as interested in recruiting as the next guy, but keep stuff in perspective. These are kids, and nobody REALLY knows how they're going to turn out in 3 or 4 years time.
It's not worth freaking out over if your coveted 5* offensive tackle signs with your hated rival. (Foreshadowing?) It's definitely not worth stalking a kid's Facebook page and posting insults about him. Or whatever.
With that in mind, I'll be back some time soon to fuel that insanity with a check-up on Alabama's 2011 recruiting class! Who's coming!? Who's going!? I HAVE THE ANSWERS.