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April 25, 2012

This could be record-setting day for UA football program

TUSCALOOSA | What will be an unforgettable weekend for as many as 10 former University of Alabama football players could include a record-setting day for the Crimson Tide program thanks to five of them. When the first round of the National Football League Draft unfolds tonight, as many as five UA players could be first-round choices, which would be a school record.

Last year's total of four set a UA draft-day standard.

Running back Trent Richardson, linebacker/defensive end Courtney Upshaw, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive backs Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron could all be gone within the first 24 picks, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

While Richardson, Barron and Kirkpatrick are considered consensus first-round picks, Upshaw and Hightower are projected toward the latter end of the first round and potentially could fall to the second round, scheduled for Friday night.

"The first thing that makes a defensive player a really good player is that he's hard to block, especially in the front seven," UA coach Nick Saban said. "Courtney is really hard to block. A physical player, very strong, has the ability to pass-rush. I think he has adequate ability to play in space. I think he can be an every-down player for somebody."

The Pittsburgh Steelers, with the No. 24 pick, are considered a possibility to take either of the two linebackers, although one or both could already be claimed by the time the Steelers' pick comes. The Steelers operate a 3-4 defense similar to Alabama's, and favor bigger linebackers. At 265 and 272 pounds, respectively, Hightower and Upshaw fit the Steelers linebacker mold.

The wait won't be as long for Richardson, who is expected to be drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 4 pick, or by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 5. Speculation Wednesday was that the New York Jets, with the No. 16 pick, could be maneuvering to trade up in the first round in order to select the Heisman Trophy finalist.

All five are in New York City for the three-day event.

Richardson, for his part, isn't concerning himself with his destination.

"I'm the type of person who doesn't even like to watch TV when it comes to football because there is a lot of 'me' stuff that comes with it," Richardson told ESPN Wednesday.

Barron, considered the draft's top safety, is NFL-ready, according to Saban.

"I think he's ready to play in the NFL. He's got a lot of experience here," Saban said. "We do a lot of the same stuff (at Alabama) that we did in the NFL, so he's been exposed to a lot of those types of coverages, adjustments and different things.

All those things enhance a guy's ability to have a smooth transition into the NFL and be a productive player early on."

Other UA players expected to be drafted include defensive back DeQuan Menzie, nose guard Josh Chapman, wide receiver Marquis Maze and tight end Brad Smelley. Other late-draft possibilities include center William Vlachos, receiver Darius Hanks and linebacker Jerrell Harris.

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



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