What to Watch For: Week 2
Each week I’ll be briefly profiling a player or two that you should pay special attention to while you kick back, relax, and enjoy your Saturday. However, this week there’s a bit of twist. I won’t be profiling a single player, but rather an entire unit- the Alabama defense. It wouldn’t be fair to single out just one guy to watch because the defense is honestly overflowing with NFL talent.
Let’s start in the trenches, the weak spot, if possible, of the Alabama defense. Not because they aren’t talented along the defensive line, but with the exception of senior nose tackle Josh Chapman, most of the guys haven’t gotten the playing time in past years to make a name for themselves like the back seven of the defense. Chapman has impressive at times, and his experience in the 3-4 could help his draft stock. If Chapman has a strong year, he could sneak into the first round, but he probably projects best as a 2nd-3rd rounder.
Moving onto the line backers. Junior ILB Donta’ Hightower is the leader of the defense, and if he stays healthy we’ll almost certainly be a first round pick. The 6’4″ 260 pound thumper wears number 30, and will be at the center of what Alabama does on defense. Number 41 Courtney Upshaw is the another first round line backer prospect for the Tide. Upshaw plays ILB right next to Hightower, but is a much more dynamic player. A defensive end in High School, Upshaw excels at rushing the passer, and Nick Saban does everything he can to put Upshaw in a position to just that. Upshaw moves outside and rushes off the edge quite a bit, and I’ve even seen him put one hand in the dirt and play defensive end in pass-rushing situations. As a junior, Upshaw put up 7 sacks in 11 games last year and had 52 total tackles (32 solo). I’m going to be more interested in seeing how he plays the run, because if he can show proficiency in that department and continue getting to the quarterback, his draft value could sky rocket. Senior Jerrell Harris plays strong OLB for Alabama, but probably doesn’t have much of an NFL future. At weak OLB junior Nico Johnson and sophomore C.J. Mosley split time to keep one another fresh. Mosley isn’t draft eligible, but he’s a rising star on that defense with a bright future ahead of him. I don’t really know enough about Nico Johnson to project his NFL stock, but from the bits and pieces I’ve seen I’m encouraged.
On to the cornerbacks… 6 foot 3 inch Dre Kirkpatrick is another likely first round pick on this defense. I’ll be watching him particularly in his transition from backpedaling to sprinting, which was the biggest issue I had with his play last year. Because he’s so tall, he’s a little stiff in his hips, so I want to see Kirkpatrick make that transition smoothly before I consider him a first round talent like a lot of others currently do. Opposite Kirkpatrick is JUCO transfer Dequan Menzie who really impressed me in Alabama’s spring game showing some really nice ball skills, and good ability in man coverage. A strong seniore year from Menzie could land him in a mid round selection in April. Senior nickel back Phelon Jones will also be in the mix, and sophomore Dee Milliner played very well as a true freshman last year. He’s a guy to keep an eye on, and will likely be the Tide’s number one corner in 2012.
And finally, the safeties. SS Mark Barron is a highly regarded prospect that was once talked about as a sure fire first round talent. However, his play tailed off down the stretch last year and I’m unsure that Barron is really a special player. We’ll find out on the field. FS Robert Lester is a junior, and should he declare could also warrant first-second round consideration. Lester has good ball skills and reeled in eight interceptions last year.
There you have it. The Alabama defense. By my count there are a mind blowing six draft-eligible players with first round talent. I know I just threw a ton of names at you, and you won’t be able to watch all of them in one game. That’s okay though. You’ll have all season to watch the Tide, and there’s always DVR so you can go back and watch today’s game again! That’s what we’ll do. It’s the best way to really single out a player.
Well that’s it for this week’s “What to Watch for”, be sure to check back next week, and of course- enjoy your Saturday.