December 4, 2007

Freshman Follow-Ups: Offense

Alabama's football freshman class, a mix of recruits from former coach Mike Shula's staff and a few add-ons by new coach Nick Saban, is through its first regular season. Today,'s Chase Goodbread takes a one-year look at the offensive players in the class. Tomorrow, check back with BOL for Matt Scalici's breakdown of the class' defensive players.

Patrick Crump
Rivals prospect rating: Three stars
Freshman Recap: Originally recruited with a grayshirt plan, the former Hoover High prospect ended up coming in with the rest of the freshman class in the fall. He spent the majority of the fall working with either the second or third team and was redshirted. Crump carries his weight very well and looks bigger than 267 pounds at a glance. Coach Nick Saban remarked earlier this year that Crump was among the reserve offensive linemen who benefited from extra practice reps when suspensions and injuries rattled the lineup. Crump has potential at either guard or tackle.

Nick Fanuzzi
Rivals prospect rating: Three stars
Freshman Recap: The Texas native played briefly in a season-opening blowout of Western Carolina but did not attempt a pass, and did not see the field again. When asked about Fanuzzi's status earlier this season, Saban said he was among several freshmen whose availability to practice was limited by injury. In all likelihood, the NCAA will grant him a medical redshirt to preserve his eligibility. Fanuzzi has impressive arm strength and athleticism. He is very quick with his drop steps, allowing him to get an early survey of the field. Watch for Fanuzzi to challenge Greg McElroy in the spring for the No.2 spot on the depth chart. Chasing down incumbent starter John Parker Wilson will be a taller task, but Wilson's play over the season's final month leaves no reason to believe it won't be an open competition.

Brandon Gibson
Rivals prospect rating: Four stars
Freshman Recap: Gibson found a logjam at his position as one of 10 scholarship receivers entering fall camp. The Mobile native redshirted and looks to enter a wide-open competition for playing time next fall. With three of the Crimson Tide's top wide receivers graduating, this is the time to make a depth-chart move. There will be more experienced candidates such as Will Oakley, Nikita Stover and Mike McCoy), but none were impressive enough last season to make many assumptions. Gibson has good size and soft hands.

Demetrius Goode
Rivals prospect rating: Four stars
Freshman Recap: The signee from Hargrave Military tore a knee ligament on the first day of fall camp in a non-contact drill. At the time, Alabama was deep enough at the position that it wasn't considered too much of a blow to the depth chart, particularly given that Goode had not had a chance to prove himself anyway. Over time, however, it became clear that Goode's chance for playing time would have been strong, if for no other reason than attrition. Goode worked on a stationary bike during practice for most of the season, then began jogging and light cutting drills late in the year. It remains to be seen how much he will be able to participate in the spring, but all indications are that his recovery is ahead of pace.

Jeramie Griffin
Rivals prospect rating: Four stars
Freshman Recap: Griffin was a late academic qualifier and did not join the team until just before fall camp began. An impressive physical specimen, the Mississippi native brings enough athleticism to the position to be more than just a blocking back. If UA's offensive sets in 2007 are a good indicator, however, being the best fullback on the roster may not buy very much action. The three-receiver sets UA commonly used suggest that Griffin would have to join a stiffening competition at running back in order to make much of a ball-in-hand impact. More likely, Griffin stays at fullback with hopes than UA's graduation losses at receiver create a few more fullback sets in 2008.

Darius Hanks
Rivals prospect rating: Three stars
Freshman Recap: Hanks, like Fanuzzi, played briefly against Western Carolina and was not heard from again. He caught one pass for six yards in that game, and will likely be among the freshmen to receive medical redshirt status. Like all the freshman receivers, his practice reps were limited by UA's depth at the position in the fall, so his adjustment to the speed of the college game remains ongoing. Although he doesn't appear to possess the physical strength of fellow freshman wide out Brandon Gibson, Hanks' quickness and overall game suggest he will be a factor in the spring competition for action at receiver.

Marquis Maze
Rivals prospect rating: Three stars
Freshman Recap: Maze was among the signees Saban secured on his own after taking the UA coaching job last January, and redshirted in the fall. Maze is what Saban refers to as a "space player", meaning a smaller, quicker player who can create missed tackles in the open field. While there is no shortage of receivers on campus, Maze may be the only one who really fits this definition, unless Jonathan Lowe switches back to receiver. That as much as anything may serve to accelerate his rise. That same style may also open the door for kickoff return duty, although the duo of Javier Arenas and Lowe will be a very difficult nut to crack, barring injury.

Jamar Taylor
Rivals prospect rating: Three stars
Freshman Recap: Taylor enrolled early from prep powerhouse Lakeland (Fla.) High and showed well enough in spring practice to earn some playing time in the A-Day game. During the summer, Taylor transferred to South Florida for personal reasons.

Chris Underwood
Rivals prospect rating: Two stars
Freshman Recap: Underwood was a little-known prospect who Saban added late in the recruiting season last January. Clearly the smallest of UA's scholarship tight ends, Underwood redshirted in the fall. While undersized, the Birmingham native is arguably the most athletic of the tight ends and projects well as a receiving threat. Despite his size, he shows no shortage of aggressiveness when it comes to blocking, which means added weight may be the only thing preventing him from challenging for playing time. All of UA's tight ends return in 2008, but three will then graduate, leaving the position wide open for Underwood and Preston Dial in 2009.

William Vlachos
Rivals prospect rating: Three stars
Freshman Recap: Like Crump, Vlachos was uncertain of his enrollment status until the summer, when UA's new coaching staff called and told him his grayshirt status was off and he was needed in fall camp. Vlachos was among the freshmen who saw action against Western Carolina but none the rest of the season, and should receive a medical redshirt. Although his 6-1 listing is probably generous, Vlachos makes up for it with all the attributes coaches look for in an interior offensive lineman: quickness, aggressiveness, and strength. He saw some practice reps with the second team when UA's offensive line was decimated late in the season by suspension and injury. A starting guard spot will open in the spring with the graduation of Justin Britt, although Evan Cardwell's emergence at center may punch that ticket for Antoine Caldwell before Vlachos and other reserves.

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