On Wednesday, February 4, 2009, I saw something I had never seen before: Nick Saban was happy and grinning. I guess I should give you my definition of grinning. A smile is what you see from Nick when he's introduced to your mother. A grin is a wide, upturned mouth that is so big your eyes squint a little. It is not a brief emotion like a smile, but an attitude that transcends your whole face.
When Alabama Coach Nick Saban finished his obligatory press conference at just before 5 p.m. and walked into "The Zone" at Bryant Denny Stadium to the thunderous whoops and applause of the Red Elephant Club members assembled, he had a grin. The look on his face was that of a guy who had just run a punt back for the winning score in the Super Bowl, got kissed by the prettiest cheerleader, and now was coming to the bench to be mauled by his teammates.
He had just finished his second top recruiting class in a row, reeling in more top talent and leaving in his wake a trail of coaches left pulling their hair out and wondering, "How does he keep doing this?"
This story originally appeared at BleacherReport.com
He walked to the podium acknowledging the accolades with a walk and swagger that reminded me of John Wayne after leaving the bar and beating up the bad guys.
Today, at least, he was John Wayne, the 500-pound gorilla in the room, and Moses parting the other coaches to bring the top recruits to this, our promised land. Everyone in the room knew that to be true, and on Signing Day, at least for a while, Nick knew it, too. And it showed.
But signing talent alone doesn't add up victories in the win column, and Saban brought that up in his usual coach-speak. But the grin kept giving away that this was a man pleased with himself, his staff, his school, and his fans. Today, all the planets were aligned in Saban's world, and if for once he let it show, so be it.
Though any coach's comments made at a Red Elephant meeting are confidential, I can give you insight on why Nick was so happy, why Bama fans should be happy, and just what this class brings to the Crimson Tide.
Depth on the offensive line
By signing seven offensive linemen, the Tide will have depth on the offensive line for the first time in many years, even going back to the Shula days. And it's more than depth, it's quality depth. Each recruit can and will compete for starting jobs during their next four years. Nick said he'd never been anywhere that is going to have the quality and depth that our offensive line is going to have, and that is saying a lot.
Five-star lineman and maybe the top high school lineman in America, DJ Fluker, may come in and start for four years at left tackle. He's just that good.
Four-star players Brandon Moore and James Carpenter could also be counted on soon, as well as three star players Kellen Williams, Chance Warmack, Anthony Steen, and Darius McKeller.
Continuing depth in running backs
Everyone was counting on the No. 1 high school running back in America, Trent Richardson coming to Alabama, and we all knew the impact he could have right away. But adding the No. 6 running back Eddie Lacy and his 4.4 40 speed means that we have depth there for years to come.
And Mike Marrow and his big 240 pounds could be the fullback to carry us for years.
Even our most hated opponents would have to acknowledge that Alabama now has the most talented backfield in the SEC, and perhaps one of the best in the nation.
More receivers? You bet!
The addition of Kevin Norwood, Kendall Kelly, Michael Bowman, and Kenny Bell, all four-star receivers who could play this year makes 11 scholarship receivers for Alabama! You want depth at a position, and this is it.
Quality depth on the defensive front seven and a pair of robbers
With three quality defensive linemen such as four-star Darrington Sentimore and Quentin Dial and three-star lineman Chris Bonds, we add youngsters who could play significant roles as early as next season and provide some depth for this season as well.
Three big, fast, and ready prospects head to Tuscaloosa to vie for defensive end spots. Four-star prospects William Ming and Ed Stinson, along with three-star Anthony Orr, may finally bring some much-needed sack numbers to the defense.
And at linebacker, boy did we pick up some doozies. Five-star Nico Johnson is truly one of the nation's best, and four-star Tana Patrick is not too far behind in talent. Add this to a couple of great three-star prospects, Jonathan Atchison and Petey Smith, and you have quality depth you can count on.
Though Nick did laughingly remind us that the best puppies don't always make the best hunting dogs, these gifted, large, and fast hunters leave little doubt as to what they can accomplish with a little time and training.
Two good robbers were also brought in for good measure. If there was any area that left Nick wanting more it was here. But he did get two of the best in five-star Dre Kirkpatrick, one of the best in the nation, and four-star Rod Woodson, maybe the best cornerback from Mississippi.
This means that Alabama, who finished third in the nation in total defense, will actually improve this year and for many more to come. If that sentence alone doesn't send a chill through the football world, I don't know what will.
And a partridge in a pear tree
The Tide signed just one QB this year, which is something that's odd for most teams. So for anybody out there that thinks Alabama is doomed because John Parker Wilson graduated, take heed the next sentence. Nick Saban said we didn't need to sign more because we had great quarterbacks in the pipeline and he couldn't find anyone he liked better than A.J. McCarron out of Mobile.
"If there was no one out there any better than the one we already signed, why keep looking?" Nick asked. That shows the faith that Saban has in both McCarron and the QBs already at Alabama with years remaining on their scholarships.
In a nutshell
I asked a fellow from a recruiting service how Alabama wound up with a No. 1 class again when according to "stars" and "statistics" it was a virtual dead heat with LSU. His response was that these players would make an impact the earliest. Also, Alabama added a walk-on field goal kicker that would have been at least a three-to-four-star prospect. Though walk-ons are not added in the final tally, everyone was aware of him and the impact he too could make on the team.
The tremendous talent brought in by Saban this year, as well as last, invokes the old football euphemism that this team is not rebuilding, but reloading. And if that doesn't give Nick Saban the chance to sport a well deserved grin, what does?
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