RECRUITING UPDATE: New Tiders ready to move in as Bama bids greats farewell

With just under three weeks to go until National Signing Day, Alabama head coach Nick Saban is in the mix to sign the nation’s top recruiting class, again.

The team that won back-to-back National Championships loses just thirteen contributors (not necessarily starters), including underclassmen Dee Milliner, DJ Fluker and Eddie Lacy. Many mock drafts project Milliner and Fluker as going early in the first round, while only one I found projects Lacy as a 1st round pick.

The biggest gap left with this year’s team through graduation and departure is the offensive line. Ryan Kelly, the highly touted OL from West Chester, Ohio from last year’s class figures to be Barrett Jones’ replacement at center. But a couple of JUCO’s in this year’s class could be in the mix to help at the right tackle spot. Twice before Saban has sought immediate help at tackle from the JUCO ranks (James Carpenter and Aaron Douglas). That may be his thinking again with Leon Brown and Brandon Hill, who sources say is already impressing with this work ethic in Tuscaloosa.

This year’s class has an unusually high volume of quarterbacks. The return of AJ McCarron for his senior season helps the Tide get a new field general ready for 2014, but with Blake Sims, Phillip Ely, and Alec Morris back on the field for Bama next season, Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and walk on Luke Del Rio will round out what will be the deepest quarterback position at Bama since Saban arrived. It was no secret what he felt about quarterback play while in Miami, and how it essentially ended his NFL career before it started. Maybe this thrust for depth is an indication of how much longer he’d like to be at Alabama.

In addition to the eight who’ve already enrolled, here is a look at those already committed to the Tide in this year’s class:

Jonathan Allen, DE Ashburn, VA (Stone Bridge) 6’3″, 255 (4.5-40) ***** Rivals 6.1

Anthony Averett, ATH Woodbury, NJ (Woodbury) 6’1″, 175 (4.4-40) *** Rivals

Bradley Bozeman, OL Roanoke, AL (Handley) 6’5″, 315 (5.3-40) **** Rivals

Jonathan Cook, DB Spanish Fort, AL (Spanish Fort) 6’0″, 185 (4.5-40) *** Rivals 5.6

Robert Foster, WR Monaca, PA (Central Valley) 6’3″, 170 **** Rivals 6.0

Grant Hill, OL Huntsville, AL (Huntsville) 6’6″, 315 **** Rivals 6.0

Tyren Jones, RB Marietta, GA (Walton) 5’8″, 185 **** Rivals 6.0

Walker Jones, LB Cordova, TN (Evangelical Christian) 6’3″, 230 (4.6-40) *** Rivals 5.7

Cole Mazza, OL Bakersfield, CA (Liberty) 6’1″, 240 *** Rivals 5.6

Darius Paige, DT Foley, AL (Foley) 6’3″, 295 **** Rivals 5.8

Maurice Smith, DB Sugar Land, TX (Dulles) 5’11”, 174 (4.5-40) **** Rivals 5.9

ArDarius Stewart, ATH (Fultondale, AL, Fultondale) 6’1″, 190 **** Rivals 6.0

Altee Tenpenny, RB (North Little Rock, AR, North Little Rock) 6’0″, 212 (4.5-40) **** Rivals 6.0

Tim Williams, DE (Baton Rouge, LA, University Laboratory School) 6’4″, 230 **** Rivals 5.9

Notably, Bama looks to secure the runningback spot with three talented backs. TJ Yeldon returns as the bell cow next season, joined by a healed Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. But Saban likes bruisers in his backfield, and that’s exactly what Derrick Henry is. Think of Trent Richardson or Eddie Lacy when you think of physical runningbacks. Richardson played at a weight of 228lbs. Lacy 220. Derrick Henry steps on campus at 243, and while some of that will probably fade with a good dose of Scott Cochran, he’s that style of back. Tenpenny isn’t far away, coming in at 212. All in all, the trio come in as the 4th, 6th and 7th best at their position, according to Rivals.

OJ Howard should see time immediately as a freshman. He’s a tight-end that plays like a wide receiver…a player with freak-like ability who’ll be getting ready for the 2016 NFL draft after three years in Tuscaloosa. Ardarius Stewart is an athlete that will come in getting the dreaded David Palmer comparison. But it fits. He has that start-stop gear that makes tackling him very frustrating.

Defensively, five-star defensive end Jonathan Allen is a big man that plays in a bad humor, looking to bring the pass rush Alabama has lacked as of late. Allen will be joined by Baton Rouge defensive end stand out Tim Williams,, Foley defensive tackle Darius Paige, and defensive back Maurice Smith of Sugarland, Texas, to name a few.

The Tide is in rare air compared to some programs; there will be several from this year’s class that see the field next season, but very few will have to. For instance, defensive back Landon Collins would have been starting or at least in the rotation at over half the other SEC schools last year, but he was given the opportunity to get his “sea legs” under him in Tuscaloosa playing special teams. Nick Saban has built a dynasty at Alabama where top talent has the luxury to come in, develop, then step in when ready to make an impact and prepare for their NFL careers. Numbers don’t lie, and the number of players he’s placed in the NFL’s first round (11) while at Alabama tell a top recruit that he’s a man you want to take seriously when he comes a’callin’. Nine of those first-rounders were underclassman.

Nick Saban’s system is in place at Alabama, and is working just fine, thank you. It draws talented players who want to come in, work, earn the right to see the field among the best in the land, and then earn big bucks at the next level. And it attracts players from everywhere; Bama’s current commit list covers thirteen states.

It’s that system that may just still attract more talent, as Bama still has a little wiggle room in this year’s class. Several top players may well make the step to play for the Tide, including Dee Liner and Reuben Foster, both former Auburn commits. Foster is scheduled to be in Tuscaloosa for an official visit this weekend, Liner was there last weekend. Bama also factors into the mix for safety Vonn Bell, defensive lineman Montravius Adams, runningback Alvin Kamara, and Texas Longhorn OL/DL commit A’Shawn Robinson.

Recruiting is a shaky busisness, and anything can happen when you’re dealing with 17 & 18 year old kids. But As Nick Saban and his staff prepare to harvest another group of ultra-talented young men, it appears the Tide will continue to roll in. The most reliable services (Rivals, ESPN) place Bama in the #2 or #3 position for team rankings for this class.

National signing day is Wednesday, February 6.

(Follow ITK on Twitter for Bama news, commentary and smack.)