Alabama’s National Signing Day ended with thud. To put it mildly Alabama got their butts kicked in recruiting, something that is new to the Crimson Tide under Saban. This does not mean Alabama did not sign some good players, they did and we will look at a few at the end of this article. But first we can pin some of the blame on a number of coaches started new administrations and them convincing players that THEY and not Alabama are the future and also to the biggest staff turnover Alabama has had in Nick Saban’s tenure. Saban is close to complete with his staff and they are chosen with one thing first and foremost in mind, to recruit.
Fundamentally one of the many issues they faced in recruiting was that offensive players did NOT want to play in the offense that was on the field in 2017. Players saw an ineffective passing attack that led to an overloaded box that was difficult to operate and score on. Alabama did this out of necessity since Jalen Hurts did not progress as a passer and they won a lot of games with it, but the damage was done. When Tua came into the game at halftime of the national title game and drove them to victory you did not see a change in a game but a change in a program. The new offensive coaches have been telling recruits that they are looking for quarterbacks who can make reads, not just a 1st or second read but read though all four or five progressions on a play. With the failure in recruiting this cycle it’s clear Alabama cannot go back to the offense they ran with Hurts. I hope Hurts stays and switches positions because he is an amazing football player but his time at 1st team Quarterback is over. It’s Tua time and the new staff is built to run the pro style offense that suits his skill set.
lets review the staff changes:
Mike Locksley, Offensive Coordinator: Locksley was coaching receivers for Alabama last season. This is not the first time he has been an OC, for 4 years at Maryland and 4 years at Illinois he served in that capacity. The most recent stint was in the 2015 season. Virtually all of his teams ran the ball well and featured a running Quarterback who was one of the top rushers as well. He had some good running backs but did not have much to work with QB wise. His final full season as OC was 2014 (he took over as head coach early in 2015 when the head coach was fired). It was during this time that Maryland switched from the ACC (which was not terribly deep and strong at the time) to the Big Ten which had much better top end teams. The 2014 season was a tough one as the talent level likely was not up to par with the Big 10. It’s difficult to tell from his previous experience what he would like to run, it looks as if he always took insufficient rosters and did the best he could. In one season he lost all his quarterbacks to injury and ended up playing a linebacker under center. His offense continued to score points however so if anything he is able to adjust to changing circumstances.
Josh Gattis, Receivers: Last season Gattis coached receivers at Penn State. Gattis has been with James Franklin all the way back to his Vanderbilt days so he is familiar with the SEC. He is a bit of a passing guru so his roll in addition to recruiting (which he is known for) is to assist Locksley in developing the passing offense.
Dan Enos, Quarterback coach: Another passing guru Enos is another in a long line of Michigan State connections to Nick Saban. Enos was a Quarterback for State when Nick Saban was a defensive coordinator there. After his playing days he became a running back coach and eventually became head coach at Central Michigan for four years. Enos was most recently a thorn in Alabama’s side when he was the OC and QB coach of Arkansas. In 2016 his offense torched Alabama for 400 yards passing in a 49-30 shootout which Alabama eventually won. Saban snatched Enos away from Michigan who had hired him in wake of the Arkansas staff being fired. So with Enos and Gattis you have two innovative passing experts to help bring Alabama’s offense out of the dark ages. Enos in particular got a crap ton of mileage out of the questionably talented Allen brothers at Arkansas.
Tosh Lupoi, Defensive Coordinator: Tosh was promoted from linebacker coach to the DC. He played at Cal and coached there as well. He joined Alabama as an analyst, moved to on field coaching and now to coordinator. He is very popular with players and is a top recruiter. He has never called a defense before but his Co-DC Pete Golding has and will no doubt help him. You may see Golding or Lupoi in the booth while the other is on the sideline and see some sort of collaborative effort. This will work fine as long as Lupoi is the one who makes the final decision. (unless Saban intervenes).
Pete Golding, Linebackers: was hired to coach linebackers and is the Co-DC. He was the DC at Texas-San Antonio and was considered a young up and comer. Golding may be someone who is being groomed to take over the DC position down the road if Lupoi is successful and moves eventually to a head job. Goldings experience out west will be utilized in recruiting.
Karl Scott, Defensive backs: Scott coached defensive backs at Texas Tech University. Texas Tech was 124th in passing defense nationally but two of his DB’s were all Big-12 selections last season so there were some some good results there. He did his work with questionable talent, so much so that one of his top DB’s was listed as a Wide Receiver as well. Though as a team they were statistically putrid they did collect a fairly high number of interceptions. Scott coached at Louisiana Tech, Southern Louisiana and played college ball in Abilene, Texas so he will likely be a strong recruiter in the talent rich Louisiana and Southern Texas region. Scott may have been a recommendation of new defensive CO-DC Pete Golding who worked with him at two different stops.
Jeff Banks, special teams: Banks was a big recruiting pickup, part of the Texas A&M staff that was fired a month or so back. Alabama’s special teams have been nose diving since the 2015 season. This is the first season I can remember in which Alabama had no significant returns either kick or punt and place kicking has been putrid for several seasons. Banks will be tasked with turning this weakness around. One oddity with Banks is that he was a long time assistant for infamous former Alabama coach Mike Price.
Stevon Moore was hired as an analyst. Moore a former Ole Miss and NFL player has coached in the NFL and college for many years. He may be someone you see move from analyst to an on field job in a year or two. Moore has been coaching in Mississippi since 2002 and knows the high school coaches and players there. He cannot recruit but he can definitely inform those who do. Moore was part of the now famous Browns staff headed by Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. Just a name to keep an eye on.
In wake of Alabama’s unexpectedly poor showing on Signing day scuttlebutt is that former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll who has spent his career in the NFL was a poor recruiter and did not relate well to college/high school kids. New OC Mike Loxley by contrast is considered a top recruiter who is beloved by the players. Another member of the staff Karl Dunbar who has coached the defensive line was let go. Some blame Dunbar for slow playing Huntsville defensive lineman Malik Langham who ended up signing with Florida and for possibly being the reason Bobby Brown did not sign with Alabama after being committed to them for so long.
So how did things go on the second National Signing Day?
In a word, Badly…
Alabama had a small number of open scholarships available this season so this class was already going to be smaller than normal but after the initial 15 guys signed on the early date Alabama had only 8 slots available. Alabama actually told one or two players they should sign elsewhere because they were full. On Wednesday FIVE guys who told the staff they were going to sign with Alabama grabbed another colored hat at the table. One to Florida, Two to Texas A&M, one to Ohio State, and one to Clemson. Were it not for Alabama landing a five star receiver out of Texas late in the day Alabama would have fallen out of the top 10. As it stands they landed at 7. Ahead of them were some familiar names like Ohio State and USC and some unfamiliar like Georgia, Texas, Penn State and Miami.
In Saban’s press conference he stated that because of their success Alabama was a target. This statement may have several meanings but it does appear that players are “flipping” from Alabama to get national media attention. Each player who “flipped” from Alabama got national press coverage as if they were the most important player in the country. For a moment they were the center of the universe. It would not be national news if they flipped from any other school, it has to be Alabama. Next season Nick Saban may be more aggressive in managing these last day signers. There were even some comments nationally by some current and former college players suggesting the events Wednesday were intentional and that the results may have seemed like fun and games for the person doing it, but asking did they realize that they cost someone a scholarship? This is a reality because there were at least 2 guys or possibly 3 that would be on scholarship at Alabama today had these young men handled themselves more honorably.
So what did Alabama get? Alabama had needs at Wide Receiver, Defensive Line, and Defensive Back. Alabama got help at all three positions but would have preferred to get one more Defensive lineman. It’s possible Alabama may try to bring in someone from Jr College or possibly a Senior Transfer. It also means one or more of the bigger linebackers they signed may get a look at defensive line.
Probably the one guy Alabama needed the most was five star Patrick Surtain Jr and they got him. Surtains father Patrick Surtain Sr. played at Southern Miss and played 11 years in the NFL for the Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs. Long considered an LSU lean Nick Saban getting this kid was considered a major recruiting Coup. Alabama has all 5 starting positions open in the secondary with little to no experience returning so getting a possibly game ready player out of high school was critical. Even if he doesn’t win a starting job he will be needed to take snaps in reserve or to replace someone who is injured. Surtain is the #1 rated corner in America.
Alabama also signed the #1 rated corner in Junior College, four star Saivion Smith out of Mobile, Alabama. He will get head start this spring at winning one of the three corner jobs. Smith like Surtain and every single defensive back Alabama signed is 6 feet or over.
Alabama also got Josh Jobe, a four star out of Connecticut (originally from Tampa) who they flipped months ago from Miami. They also signed Eddie Smith. Smith was not highly rated but multiple sources are telling us to watch this guy because he could be special. Smith strongly resembles former Tider and current Chicago Bear Eddie Jackson. Smith was a late bloomer who is actually the cousin of current Tide player and National Title game hero Devonta Smith. Also like Jackson he played wide receiver and even kicks field goals.
The next biggest need position was Defensive Line. Alabama struck out Wednesday entirely. Alabama normally signs high school defensive ends to play outside linebacker. They signed a number of those types and one or more may get a look at moving to defensive end but I will focus on the most likely candidates for down lineman.
Four star Christian Barmore is 6′ 6″ 290 lbs and comes to us from Philadelphia, PA. He is the 19th rated defensive lineman in the country.
The other is four star rated Stephone Wynn who is 6′ 5″ 285 lbs. Wynn was at IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida but is originally from South Carolina.
The other guys are all 6′ 5″ and in the 225 to 235 range. If one of them were to bulk up a lot this summer it’s conceivable they could play DL. One in particular five star Eyabi Anoma is one of the most insanely overwhelming big athletes I’ve ever seen on film and I figure he could play anywhere. Alabama may also look strongly at a senior transfer or junior college to see if any help can be found.
Alabama lost it’s top 3 receivers to graduation and the NFL and though they have three young receivers from last years class who played regularly Alabama regularly rotates six. Alabama needed to land about three receivers and that’s exactly what they got. The most exciting of those is the Jaylen Waddle one of the top receivers in the nation. He is fast, explosive, and can get open. He was the only top player in Texas that Texas A&M or Texas didn’t sign. Waddle will immediately compete for a starting spot or at lest a spot in the rotation.
Slade Bolton is is only a three star but is considered a Swiss army knife of a player who could be the devil to cover out of the slot. Alabama also signed four star Xavier Williams out of Florida.
Alabama mostly struck out at inside linebacker which had some needs so they ended up taking Jalen Moody. Moody is only a two star player. I don’t recall us signing a 2 star guy during Saban’s era so this is definitely unusual. He originally did not have the grades to get in but in the last year he straightened out his grades and had a better than expected senior season. He had offers from Ole Miss and Arkansas and the Alabama stuff offered him over some 3 star players so I have to trust their evaluations.
Alabama got totally robbed by Tennessee and former DC Pruitt for the two higher rated linebackers they wanted. Losing a coordinator to anther SEC team always results in them stealing recruits as they walk out the door. UT however has a long way to go to get back to winning ways and one of those linebackers may be a stretch to qualify, though qualifying at Tennessee may just mean he has most of his teeth and can identify his mamma in a photo array.
As of this writing Alabama is trying to get a senior transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew. Misnshew won a national title in junior college and was the team captain of the East Carolina squad but a family emergency has him transferring to a place within driving distance of home. Minshew would be an insurance policy in case Hurts transfers and Tua got hurt. He still has a red-shirt available so he could stay two years if he did not play. Alabama could also take a Defensive Lineman if they can find one worth a scholarship.
Currently Saban is searching for a new defensive line coach. The last one was hired on the fly after former coach Bo Davis got in trouble with the NCAA and was fired. They make take their time looking for someone who is probably younger and a better recruiter. Recruiting for the 2019 class is already full speed ahead as Nick Saban will do everything in his power to return Alabama to their rightful place at the top of the polls.
So we have a month or two of weight lifting before Spring Training. At last count Alabama will have only four or five freshman reporting early to participate in spring. So the spring game will be very similar to what we saw on the field on the last few drives of the National Title game. Until then we can continue to celebrate another Bama National Title