TUSCALOOSA | Stay in school, or turn pro?
It's the question that will be in the front of the minds of a number of the University of Alabama's top juniors once the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 9 is behind the team, and they'll only have a few days to make up their minds under the National Football League's deadline to declare.
But one thing none of those players will lack is information to make the right decision. UA coach Nick Saban said the feedback he obtains from the NFL to help players make the decision includes nearly half the league. Saban endorses projected first-round draft picks to make the early jump to the NFL if they want to do so.
"This is based on information I gather from probably 12-14, pretty close to half the teams in the NFL," Saban said. "This is how they evaluate them, this is where they would draft them. ... Every guy that has gone out the last couple years (early) has been a first-round draft pick, and that's the information we had. The guys who chose to stay in school were probably second or third-round draft picks based on the evaluations we got from these teams."
Trent Richardson and Dre Kirkpatrick are among UA's top juniors who are projected by draft services as potential first-round picks, though there are others.
One decision is already made.
Offensive tackle D.J. Fluker released a statement through UA media relations last week, which made it clear he is not considering an early jump to the NFL. Fluker said the intent was to end speculation that had become a distraction.
"I had a lot of people asking me if I was coming out this year. That's not my process now. My process is to stay in school and get my degree," Fluker said. "... I felt I had to put it to an end and do what was best for the team. I just had to put it to rest."
Saban said he was pleased with Fluker's decision, noting that feedback from the NFL suggested it was the right one. Saban said the players with a decision to make have done a good job remaining focused on the upcoming game against LSU.
"Our guys have done a really good job of shutting all this stuff down," Saban said. "We don't have lots of guys really worried about all that.
If tackle Barrett Jones makes the same decision to stay at UA that Fluker did, UA should have four returning starters on its offensive line in 2012. Barrett is a fourth-year junior and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top lineman two weeks ago.
Back to basics
Earlier this week, Jones commented that December practices have been very similar to fall camp, with a focus on fundamentals. Tight end Brad Smelley agreed.
"It definitely has that feel. We're doing a lot of good on good stuff, not really working as much scout team things," Smelley said. "They've been some fast practices. We're really getting after it."
"My mindset right now is I just want to play this game and focus on that right now. After that, I'll have a few days to make a final decision with my family. Obviously, I've been thinking about it some and talking to my family. Listing the pros and cons and that kind of things." - Offensive lineman Barrett Jones on the possibility of declaring early NFL Draft eligibility.
Chapman to Senior Bowl?
Nose guard Josh Chapman said he has received an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but is undecided on whether to play. It is unclear which other UA players have received an invitation, but other strong possibilities include Mark Barron, Marquis Maze and Courtney Upshaw.
Saban said defensive back Phelon Jones has missed practice this week with an illness. ... Linebacker Courtney Upshaw missed the early part of Wednesday's practice for personal reasons. ... Tight end Harrison Jones has injured his hand, but Saban said there is no word on the severity of the injury yet. ... The first of Alabama's three Outland Trophy winners, former offensive tackle Chris Samuels, was among the visitors to practice Wednesday. Samuels won the award in 1999 before becoming a first-round pick of the NFL's Washington Redskins. ... Brothers Arie and Cyrus Kouandjio, UA offensive linemen recovering from knee problems, rode stationary bikes under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran Wednesday. UA players withheld from contact but participating in individual drills include running back Dee Hart and linebacker Jonathan Atchison. ... Alabama will hold two more practices before the Christmas holiday, and the team is expected to resume practice on Dec. 28. ... With the BCS title game being played in a dome, Alabama practiced indoors for the third consecutive day Wednesday.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.