June 24, 2008

Johns arrest thins already-thin LB corps

Jimmy Johns' football career at the University of Alabama ended Tuesday after felony drug charges were brought against the Crimson Tide's linebacker from Brookhaven, Miss. Johns' off-field troubles are only just beginning, and his career closed much as its first three years passed - with unfulfilled potential.

Accounts of the arrest left Alabama coach Nick Saban with little choice but to dismiss Johns from the team immediately.

"This type of behavior obviously will not be tolerated and he is no longer a part of our program," Saban said in a statement.

Police described Johns' drug sales as "pretty wide open", but said he tried to hide what he was doing from teammates.

"He didn't want them to know he was involved in it," Capt. Jeff Snyder of the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force said.

According to Snyder, Johns' arrest was the result of an undercover operation in which Johns sold cocaine to police five times in less than two weeks. That included two sales that occurred on the UA campus. Police also discovered ecstasy pills in Johns' apartment.

While many players lodge with roommates, Johns lived alone in an apartment and,
according to Snyder, no other Alabama players were involved.

That might be the only good news from a team perspective. The fallout from Johns' arrest couldn't have come at a worse time, or at a worse position.

The futures of two other key linebackers - Prince Hall and Ezekial Knight - are already in doubt as the season opener against Clemson looms just five weeks away. Hall was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules prior to spring practice, and has yet to be reinstated. Knight has a heart condition that prevented him from participating in spring drills, and his medical status may end his playing career as well.

The absence of Johns, Hall and Knight puts an already-thin corps of linebackers in an even greater shortage of depth. The only returning starter, sophomore-to-be Rolando McClain, was injured in a motorcycle accident earlier this summer, but should be ready for fall camp.

Johns' absence creates a greater opportunity for reserve Cory Reamer at either the strongside or weakside positions. Then, there are the incoming freshmen, whose chances for early playing time continue to appear better and better.

Jerrell Harris, who is expected to work at the strongside position, will join Don'ta Hightower and Courtney Upshaw in a wide-open competition when fall camp commences.

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