Alabama Football: 5 Tiders Poised for Breakout Seasons
One of the main areas Nick Saban and his staff have excelled is in their ability to develop new faces into stars quickly.
In 2013, former impact recruits such as defensive end A’Shawn Robinson and safety Landon Collins burst onto the scene and became household names.
One year later, a handful of Tiders fit the bill as potential candidates to break out by season’s end.
A trio of heralded members from the 2013 class will look to join Robinson among the nation’s elite at their respective positions, while one true freshman and a much-hyped transfer are among the newest additions hoping to lead Alabama back into the national title picture.
5. Tony Brown
In particular, Brown—who enrolled early and impressed in spring drills—enters fall camp with a realistic chance to earn a starting spot.
The 6’0”, 188-pound Texas native is also a standout on the track team, and that type of athleticism gives the Under Armour All-American a chance to compete immediately in the SEC.
2013 saw true freshmen defensive backs such as Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller and FSU’s Jalen Ramsey emerge as instant-impact talents. With the Tide’s need at corner, Brown has a chance to replicate that feat this fall.
4. Jonathan Allen
One of the biggest stars of the Tide’s spring game was rising sophomore defensive end Jonathan Allen.
The 6’3”, 272-pound Virginia native was practically unblockable as he recorded a pair of sacks and blocked a field goal.
The Tide have made a concerted effort to upgrade their pass rush recently, and that trend has continued after adding a pair of JUCO transfers and another 5-star recruit in the 2014 recruiting class.
While Saban has plenty of options to pair with A’Shawn Robinson, Allen enters fall camp with the best opportunity to help the Tide form one of the better pass-rushing tandems in the SEC.
3. O.J. Howard
O.J. Howard’s freshman season was modest from a production standpoint, as the former 5-star recruit hauled in 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
However, there were enough flashes of his freakish talent to offer a peek into his potential moving forward.
"To have a tight end like him that is certainly a threat in the passing game, either vertically, horizontally or play-action passes, is really a tremendous asset for us," Saban told Andrew Gribble of AL.com late last season. "I think that guy's going to be an outstanding tight end for us."
Entering his sophomore season, Howard is a versatile weapon who could help ease the transition for the new starting quarterback and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
2. Jacob Coker
If one player enters the 2014 season with the most intrigue, it’s Jacob Coker.
The Florida State transfer’s arrival in Tuscaloosa was heavily anticipated for Tide supporters, and the rest of the country will be watching fall camp closely to see if the whispers surrounding the 6’5”, 230-pound junior are true.
While Saban has done his best to quell the buzz surrounding Coker, it’s hard to ignore the physical tools and abilities he brings to the table compared to the other passers in the Tide’s quarterback derby.
Saban recently commented about the skill talent being potentially the best group he’s had at Alabama in a recent appearance on ESPN radio, according to BamaOnline.
Assuming Coker wins the job and considering the collection of skill players surrounding him, the Mobile native has a chance to emerge as one of the best passers in the country.
1. Derrick Henry
Of all the freaks on the Tide’s roster, no one carries more momentum into the 2014 than running back Derrick Henry.
A breakout performance in the Tide’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma has kicked the hype machine into overdrive.
The 6’3”, 238-pound rising sophomore has all of the necessary physical tools to become the Tide’s next dominant rusher, but it’s his work ethic that drew Saban’s praises during the spring.
"Derrick Henry has had a fabulous spring," Saban told Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "He picked up right where he left off at bowl practice last year. He works really hard. He runs really hard. He plays with a lot of toughness. He gets it. Very conscientious guy.”
With that endorsement in tow, the stage appears to be set for Henry to break out and become one of the nation’s elite backs this fall.
Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.