Alabama Football: Grading Each Early Enrollee's Spring Performance
Eight members of Alabama’s top-ranked 2014 recruiting class are currently taking part in their first spring practice after arriving in Tuscaloosa a little less than three months ago.
Nick Saban’s class of early enrollees is highlighted by a pair of JUCO defensive linemen and a pair of 5-star prospects stepping into positions of need—Cameron Robinson at left tackle and Tony Brown at corner.
How have the newest members of the Tide’s squad adapted to their first taste of college life?
David Cornwell is the newest entrant in the Tide’s quarterback derby battling to replace AJ McCarron.
At 6’5”, 240 pounds, Cornwell is potentially the most physically gifted quarterback signee Saban has had in his tenure with the Tide.
However, he’s taking things slowly in his recovery from a torn ACL suffered during his senior season in high school.
As Michael Casagrande of AL.com reports, Cornwell has been moving around well despite wearing a knee brace.
BamaOnline notes that he should be cleared for full contact in time for fall practice in August.
Due to his injury and inability to fully show what he can do, his true grade won’t be measured until he gets a chance to compete with a clean bill of health.
One of the most loaded positions on the Tide’s roster entering the 2014 season is wide receiver, and adding 4-star Cameron Sims gives the new quarterback another skilled weapon with an intriguing combo of size and speed.
While the Tide’s receiving unit is deep with talent and experience, the 6’4”, 200-pound Sims is already one of the tallest targets on the roster, as noted by Casagrande.
Assuming he can show that he has a good grasp of the offense entering the season, his height and length give Sims a chance to propel himself into the rotation this fall.
Arguably the crown jewel of the Tide’s 2014 class, 5-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson is already fighting for a chance to replace the departed Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle.
The 6’7”, 335-pounder was the nation’s top offensive line prospect, and he comes to Tuscaloosa with the prototypical size and skill set that NFL personnel seek.
However, according to Drew DeArmond of Alabama Intel, Robinson’s transition from high school to college has been bumpy to date.
Considering the talent he possesses, expect Robinson’s natural ability to take over once he gets more comfortable with the speed of the game at the college level.
Alabama’s defensive line is a unit that may look remarkably different this fall, but there’s plenty of talent for new line coach Bo Davis to work with.
After inconsistent play at nose guard last season, JUCO import Jarran Reed—a 6’4”, 310-pounder ranked as the No. 3 JUCO defensive tackle—is a candidate who can step in and provide an immediate presence in the middle of the Tide’s defensive line.
According to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, Jordan Lesley—his defensive coordinator at East Mississippi Community College—has high praise for Reed and his ability to transition into a dominant force in the SEC.
“Any center or the two guards are going to have their hands full with that guy,” Lesley said. “He's so tough to move, he's great with his hands and obviously has a tremendous amount of power to re-establish the line of scrimmage and be able to eat those two gaps up."
As BamaOnline writes, Reed has been impressive thus far and appears primed to have a major role in the fall.
Perhaps the early enrollee who should have the easiest transition is JUCO defensive end D.J. Pettway, who returned to Alabama after being dismissed for an off-field incident following the 2012 season.
Pettway’s presence should help boost a pass rush that was anemic late in the season.
The 6’2”, 265-pounder racked up 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss during his lone season in action at East Mississippi Junior College.
Pettway is likely to be a key figure in the rotation at defensive end this fall.
With Alabama losing two starters at linebacker, it was imperative for Saban and Kirby Smart to load up at that spot in the Tide’s 2014 class.
They accomplished that mission with four signees, including 4-star early enrollee Shaun Hamilton.
The 6’0”, 240-pounder from Montgomery will have a tough time breaking into the lineup with veterans such as Trey DePriest, Reggie Ragland and rising sophomore Reuben Foster slated to hold down the inside spots in the Tide’s 3-4.
Still, getting in early should help Hamilton’s chances of cracking the two-deep or finding the field as a contributor on special teams.
With no clear-cut favorites at both corner positions, perhaps the early enrollee with the best opportunity to find the field is 5-star corner Tony Brown.
The early returns for the 6’0”, 188-pounder have been promising, with Marc Torrence of BamaOnline (subscription required) reporting that Brown saw reps with the first team in base sets during the first week of practice.
While he still has a long way to go, Brown has already positioned himself to have a big role in the corner rotation this season.
Similar to Brown’s situation, Jones enters spring practices with a real opportunity to make a case for playing time.
That’s because of the losses of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri at safety and the lack of quality depth behind veterans Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams.
As noted by BamaOnline, the 6’2”, 215-pound Jones already looks the part of an SEC safety from a physical standpoint. Also, as Travis Reier of BamaOnline details, Jones displayed strong cover skills in high school even playing corner at times.
Given his skill set, and the Tide’s need for quality depth at that spot, Jones has the look of another early enrollee with a strong chance to lock up playing time with a solid spring.