Grading Alabama's freshmen: So far, so good
The inevitable by-product of seeing 87 players selected in the NFL Draft over the past 11 years is that the amount of turnover on the Alabama Crimson Tide depth chart is always high.
And with 10 players making the jump from Tuscaloosa to the pros in the 2019 draft, there was quite a bit of playing time available for talent rolling in via recruiting. Factor in preseason injuries, too, and Alabama has had 7 true freshmen and 1 redshirt freshman start in the first 2 games of the season.
Because those games were against Duke and New Mexico State, which the Crimson Tide won by a combined 104-13 score, 18 true freshmen have played so far this season: Marcus Banks (DB), Jordan Battle (DB), Scooby Carter (DB), Darrian Dalcourt (OL), DJ Dale (DL), Christian Harris (LB), DeMarcco Hellams (DB), Shane Lee (LB), John Metchie (WR), Evan Neal (OL), Will Reichard (PK), Keilan Robinson (RB), Taulia Tagovailoa (QB), Byron Young (DL), Jahleel Billingsley (TE), King Mwikuta (LB), Pierce Quick (OL) and Tanner Bowles (OL).
For this article, we will grade the freshmen who have made the most impact through 2 games:
MLB Shane Lee (6-0, 246)
Coaches didn’t anticipate the highly-touted Lee to start in just his first season, but he has shown he is up to the challenge of replacing Dylan Moses just a couple of days before the Duke game after Moses tore his ACL. Coach Nick Saban called Moses’ loss a “character check” for his team, and especially for Lee — who responded with 2 solo tackles and 4 tackle assists against the Blue Devils. Lee followed with 2 solo tackles, 3 tackle assists, 1 tackle for loss and 1 fumble recovery against New Mexico State. Simply put, he is a future star in a constellation of Alabama linebackers.
WLB Christian Harris (6-2, 244)
Like Lee, Harris wasn’t expected to be thrust into the mix so soon. He made a meteoric move up the depth chart during preseason, and was penciled in to start when 5th-year senior Joshua McMillon suffered a season-ending knee injury during Alabama’s first preseason scrimmage on Aug. 10. Harris also shined against the Blue Devils, totaling 2 solo tackles and 4 tackle assists. Harris had a quieter afternoon against New Mexico State, recording just 1 tackle assist. Nevertheless, Harris is poised for a big season and will be relied on from start to finish.
PK Will Reichard (6-1, 180)
Reichard was the nation’s top-rated kicker coming out of Hoover, and beat out incumbent sophomore Joseph Bulovas — who was 14-for-18 on field goals last season (77.8 percent) but missed 6 extra points. So what does Reichard do against Duke? Only doink 2 FG attempts off uprights to trigger fresh nightmares among Alabama fans. Saban was encouraged by Reichard’s overall game against the Blue Devils, though, as he provided 6 touchbacks, and Reichard came back strong against Duke — nailing field goals of 48 and 49 yards with room to spare.
NG DJ Dale (6-3, 308)
Dale is a 4-star prospect from Clay-Chalkville High School who won Class 6A first-team All-State honors his senior season. He started his career against Duke with 3 tackle assists and 1/2 a tackle for loss, and followed with 2 tackle assists and a QB hurry against New Mexico State. As part of a unit that allowed 107 rushing yards to Duke and 101 to New Mexico State, Dale appears to be a fixture already at NG.
SS Jordan Battle (6-1, 201)
One of the nation’s top-rated safeties out of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, Battle earned his first career start against New Mexico State over senior Shyheim Carter primarily because the Crimson Tide started in their “dime” defensive set. Battle recorded an interception against Duke as a reserve in the final minute of the 4th quarter. Against the Aggies, Battle had 3 solo tackles and 5 assists as part of a secondary that allowed just 161 yards and 1 TD in the air.
RB Keilan Robinson (5-9, 190)
Robinson is the lone freshman graded who has yet to earn a start in 2019. The 4-star recruit from Washington, D.C.’s St. John’s High School played in the 4th quarter against Duke and finished with 2 carries for 5 yards. But his real impact — and why he is on the list — was because of his effort against New Mexico State. Robinson took his first handoff against the Aggies late in the 3rd quarter and raced 74 yards for a touchdown. He finished as the Tide’s leading rusher, with 5 carries for 80 yards, and solidified himself as a solid change-of-pace back moving forward in 2019
LG Evan Neal (6-7, 360)
Weighing as much as 390 pounds as a elite offensive tackle prospect from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Neal showed the kind of power, strong hands and quick feet that amazed coaches, and his athleticism and versatility meant he could play several spots along the offensive line. With Alex Leatherwood entrenched at left tackle, Neal beat out Emil Ekiyor Jr., for the starting nod alongside Leatherwood against Duke and New Mexico State. Alabama has struggled to establish a strong running game so far in 2019, but Neal will continue to grow and mature in his role.
RB Jerome Ford (5-11, 212)*
Ford gets the asterisk because he isn’t a true freshman, instead a redshirt freshman. He earned his first career start against Duke because Najee Harris and Brian Robinson were serving suspensions. Ford finished with 10 carries for 64 yards and his first career rushing TD against the Blue Devils, but his fumble on the Tide’s second possession of the game earned a bit of negative notoriety. Undeterred by the turnover, though, Ford remained in the mix for carries all game long — even as the discipline of Harris and Robinson was lifted. With just 1 carry for 5 yards against New Mexico State, however, it is clearer that Ford will be a fourth or fifth option as the season rolls on.