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February 1, 2012

Saban welcomes signees

TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama football fan who believes linebacker was UA's biggest need for the 2012 signing class got the nation's top-rated group of them Wednesday on National Signing Day. The fan more concerned about three lost starters in the defensive backfield saw the Crimson Tide bring in four new faces for the secondary, including a Rivals.com five-star prospect in Landon Collins and a pair of junior college transfers at cornerback who already are enrolled and will compete in spring drills. Even fans wanting more competition for the kicking role got their wish in the form of Adam Griffith of Calhoun, Ga.

The phrase "filling needs" is a common one on National Signing Day and has relative meaning depending on the college program. For the defending national champions, UA coach Nick Saban said, it meant finding explosive players on offense and adding competition on a defense that lost several key members from a 12-1 team. By day's end, the Crimson Tide had added 26 new players, eight of them already enrolled and readying for spring practice.

And according to both Rivals.com and ESPNU, it made for the nation's No. 1 class as of Wednesday night.

"I think we filled some needs with this class. We started out with a goal of explosive players on offense, running back, receiver, those kinds of guys. We felt good about the guys we were able to attract from that standpoint," Saban said. "We're obviously losing a lot of very, very good defensive players. Even though we have some good defensive players here, we felt it was really important to have a really good year on the defensive side of the ball. We feel good about the five defensive linemen, five linebackers, four (defensive backs) we were able to attract in this class. And we feel like we got a great specialist and kicker that we got this year, and how he can contribute in the future. It's very, very positive."

Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said earlier in the week that the five linebackers in the class -- Ryan Anderson of Daphne, Dillon Lee of Buford, Ga., Reggie Ragland of Madison Bob Jones, Denzel Devall of Bastrop, La., and Tyler Hayes from Thomasville -- are the best group at the position signed by any school in the nation. For explosiveness offensively, the Crimson Tide picked up five-star running back T.J. Yeldon, wide receivers Chris Black and Amari Cooper, and another five-star in Eddie Williams, who can play several positions but is expected to begin his career at wide receiver.

"To me, Alabama has a model for success, and that is defense and running the ball," said Rivals.com analyst Keith Niebuhr. "So they absolutely loaded up on defense, particularly at linebacker, and added two really dynamic running backs, including T.J. Yeldon, who may be the most athletic offensive player in the entire class. They didn't deviate from the plan too much."

The secondary was bolstered with Collins, Rivals.com four-star prospect Geno Smith, and JuCo transfers Deion Belue and Travell Dixon.

"We were pleased that we were able to get both those guys," Saban said of Belue and Dixon. "We felt that with DeQuan Menzie graduating and Dre (Kirkpatrick) deciding to go out early for the draft, you always have to assess, do you have potential starters at those positions? ... Deion Belue is a guy we recruited in high school and thought he was a very, very good player. Travell is a guy who we thought was one of the best junior college corners out there. Again, we don't know how they're going to progress in our system, in our program here, but we're excited about the ability they have and how they may contribute, and how it gives us a little more experience, a little more mature player to play at a position that we have a need created by the guys we lost."

On the defensive line, Alabama added 6-foot-6, 360-pound nose guard Alphonse Taylor, as well as Korren Kirven, Dalvin Tomlinson, Dakota Ball and Darren Lake. Only on campus for a few weeks, Taylor is already echoing one of Saban's common remarks about the importance of players making daily progress.

"You get up every day, work hard in class, work hard in the weightroom and get better every day, because you never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse," Taylor said. "You wake up every morning and work to get better."

Taylor was committed to Florida State at one point, but like Yeldon, who was once committed to Auburn, he changed his mind late in the recruiting process. Kirven and Tomlinson represented two players whose plans weren't publicly clear entering signing day, although Saban said he and his coaching staff had a clear idea of what to expect when the day began.

It's far from the first time Saban has brought a No. 1-ranked signing class to UA, his first coming in 2008 with the likes of Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Mark Barron. But national signing class rankings aside, the coach cautioned that it takes years to properly evaluate a signing class.

"Recruiting is not an exact science. Nobody knows for sure how these players are going to develop in the future," Saban said. "That's certainly something we work hard on here as coaches and teachers -- to help these players develop. How adolescents are going to respond two and three years out, nobody can really predict that. We feel like these young men were recruited here because we felt that they can be successful at this institution."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.


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