Published October 17, 2012 - 4:30pm
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I walked the playing field at Arkansas on Sept. 15 and something struck me… again. The players from the two teams were grouped by position in warm-ups and Alabama’s players were uniform. Not in uniform, but uniform. By position, the defensive ends looked like the same height and weight and they moved with the same quickness. The corners looked the same, too. 5-11, 195, maybe 6-0, 200.
They were perfect prototypes at each position.
I looked at Arkansas and I did not see the same uniformity. There seemed to be more of a hodge podge. I called a former insider with the Alabama program, someone who helped recruit these players.
“It’s not an accident,” he said.
Alabama recruits to prototypes. It selects players based on height, weight, speed. I wrote a whole chapter about it in How The SEC Became Goliath. That chapter was one of my favorite things to do with the book. When I saw it up close at Arkansas for the first time since writing the book, it hit me again.
It accounts for Alabama’s depth and how it reloads so easily. Year after year, it is difficult to score more than twice against the Tide because the defense fills in with the same guy season after season. He just has a different name.
Nick Saban does not stray in recruiting. He does not recruit a player on the advice of a “friend of the program.” The Alabama assistant coaches recruit with their eyes, not their ears. A defensive end needs to be 265-270 and have long arms and be 6-3 to 6-6, long enough to get their hands on an offensive tackle before the blocker can get their hands on him and move him around.
There is something else about Alabama that needs to be understood. It is more versatile on offense than people give it credit for.
I watched several series against Arkansas earlier this season and saw what the rest of college football (or teams outside the SEC) still don’t get. Bama fans get it; I’m not sure others get it.
On one series, the ball was marked on the left hash mark and the Tide ran power plays into the boundary. That’s like a fist fight in a phone booth. Who can hold up to that physical football? It is putting 300 pound bodies in front of 220-pound running backs and hitting head on. It wears on a defense.
And just when the defense gets geared up for rock-em, sock-em football, here comes the empty set backfield. Quarterback AJ McCarron suddenly has four wide receivers spread out and ready to go upfield or back toward him for screens. There is no back in pass pro, but the ball is coming out quick.
The way McCarron is playing I understand what Ray Perkins said when he told me, “Nick hasn’t even had his best team yet.”
McCarron is a cut above Greg McElroy. Just think what he might be like his senior season in 2013. Just think what Yeldon might be his sophomore season.
The Bama train is running downhill now. Is it a dynasty? We’ll see. Dynasties don’t happen very often anymore. The Yankees probably had the last one from 1998-2002. There are too many good teams out there.
I mean, who sees Texas, with all its resources, continuing to flounder? Can Ohio State amass enough talent to make a comeback? I’m not sure. The manufacturing job losses in the Midwest have crippled the Big Ten, perhaps permanently.
Florida is certainly in a position to stop Bama and so is Georgia and LSU. But none of them have Nick Saban, who will go down as one of the keenest judges of talent and predicting success in a player in the history of college football. He is also a heck of a position coach… any position.
All you have to do is pay attention on the field and see the players stacked up three deep to know the talent is there and the coaching will maximize the talent.