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December 29, 2013
Insider Report: Cyrus Kouandjio '50-50' about turning pro
Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said Sunday that he is "50-50" on whether he would stay for his senior season at Alabama or enter April's NFL draft.
There's one thing he's a little more certain about: He won't be thinking about it until after Thursday's Sugar Bowl.
Kouandjio, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound junior, was widely considered one of the top offensive line prospects entering the year.
Thinking about that hurt his play early in the 2013 season.
"I think that's what happened at the beginning of the season for me that I didn't play up to the standards I wanted to because I was thinking about all this draft stuff," Kouandjio said. "And I just stopped caring about all that stuff and just started worrying about the games, game after game."
Kouandjio fought the same distractions as a highly touted high school player out of Hyattsville, Md., saying the recruiting process often took his focus off the field, even while he was on it.
"I realized that the more I thought about that, the less attention I would pay to games. I had some bad games because of that," he said. "I'm going through a game and I had a visit I had to go to the next day so all I'm thinking about is how much fun I'm going to have on the visit … that's during the game and it distracted me and I didn't have a good game at all. I realized that I'm a fan of doing things right, there's a progression for everything, taking one step after the other, doing things right all the time and go from game to game to game I'll have a better season."
If the draft experts are to be believed, any early struggles haven't cost Kouandjio a solid first round grade in April's draft.
Kouanjio is rated as the No. 14 overall player in the 2014 draft by ESPN's Scouts, Inc. and the No. 6 overall player by NFLDraftScout.com. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projected Kouandjio to go as the No. 10 overall pick in his latest mock draft.
If the feedback Kouandjio receives aligns similarly, it would be a major surprise to see him return to Tuscaloosa next season.
But he claims he won't be thinking about that again until Thursday's game is complete.
"It's exciting to hear stuff like (first-round projections), it's nice, but I put that aside and work on this game and after this game I'll look at it," Kouandjio said.
Ready for the next step
The likely next step for second-year Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is to be a head coach.
Nussmeier, 43, interviewed for that then-vacant Washington head coach position in December. He said he was thankful to UA coach Nick Saban for the opportunity to interview.
"I would like to be a head coach some day in the right situation...," Nussmeier said. "... having the ties that I have to the University of Washington and understanding what that program is about, that was an opportunity for our family and Coach Saban fully supported it, that it was a very good experience..."
Nussmeier's ability to develop quarterbacks, including his two years with AJ McCarron, will be needed next season with the starting position up for grabs.
"…obviously very, very excited and happy to be a part of this program," he said.
Oklahoma comes into Thursday's game as a 15-point underdog, a role that doesn't seem to bother the Sooner players.
"No, someone got to ride up (as) the underdog, we don't mind that, we don't care nothing about that," Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker said. "They're a great team just as well as they think we're a great team. We've just got to go out there and play ball.
"I do see it as a challenge, a big challenge. We all know they're No. 1 even though they lost. They're still No. 1 to me."
The university asked for and sold an additional 2,500 tickets for Thursday's Sugar Bowl, according to UA.
Alabama fans snapped up the initial allotment of 17,000 Sugar Bowl tickets when tickets first went on sale.
Cover me if you can
Alabama receiver Amari Cooper said Sunday that he doesn't believe anyone can cover him when he's healthy, and pronounced himself healthy after a season plagued by injuries.
Can Oklahoma's secondary can cover him in the Sugar Bowl?
"No," he said, "I don't think so."
Cooper said the bowl game against Oklahoma offers a chance for redemption for an Alabama team that had a possible shot at a third straight national championship derailed by a loss to rival Auburn.
"It was pretty tough," he said. "Obviously we wanted to go to Pasadena (to play in the BCS National Championship Game). We have to move forward, we know that we can't do that.
"We still have a chance to go out and prove we're the No. 1 team in the nation, that's what's motivating us. I think if we win this game how we want to win this game we'll probably move up to No. 2 and everybody can view us as No. 1 and say that's the best team in the nation if we go out and dominate Oklahoma."
Respect for AJ
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has said that he would have voted for AJ McCarron if he had a Heisman Trophy vote. That respect is evident in hearing OU defensive players when they talk about Alabama's senior quarterback.
"He is a field general," defensive end Chuka Ndulue said. "He sees everything. From watching him play, how he makes check and just calls everything, I'd say he spends a lot of time in the film room."
Ndule likened McCarron to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was leaving the Saints' practice facility earlier in the week when Oklahoma was arriving to work out there.
"Practice is over at 3 (o'clock) and he's leaving at 7, so the last four hours he is watching film," Ndulue said. "That's a pretty critical part of the game. Everyone has seen what Drew has done, AJ is doing the same thing. He is probably watching film right now."
OU defensive back Gabe Lynn admires McCarron's efficiency.
"He's not the flashiest guy but he doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Lynn said. "He's definitely a leader out there and he controls everything. When you're playing him you can't give him anything, because if you give him anything it's a touchdown.
"He's definitely sharp before the play as well, so we're going to have to do a good job of disguising stuff and not giving away things and making it easy for him."
Tommy Deas contributed to this report.
Reach D.C. Reeves at DC.Reeves@tuscaloosanews.com or 205.722.0196.TideSports coverage on Facebook