TUSCALOOSA — While much of the college football world spent last Wednesday focusing on the here and now, Alabama and head coach Nick Saban had already turned their attention toward the future.
Given another offseason that included even more staffing turnover than a year ago with seven new assistant coaches in the fold, the remodeled Crimson Tide coaching staff spent much of January and the first week of February getting a head start on its 2020 recruiting efforts.
“Well, I think that most of what we did in January was really about next year’s recruiting — the 2020 class,” Saban said last Wednesday. “Basically, two of the three guys that we signed today were committed to us before, so the (new) coaches did a really good job of keeping those guys in the fold.”
After inking 24 new additions during December’s early signing period, including a trio of five-star products, Alabama managed to shore up its top-ranked 2019 signing class with just three signatures on National Signing Day last Wednesday — four-star defensive tackles Ishmael Sopsher of Louisiana and Byron Young of Mississippi, and four-star running back Keilan Robinson of Washington D.C. Both Robinson and Young were among the four players that entered last week as Tide commits.
Of course, there were a handful of coveted targets that opted to sign elsewhere last Wednesday, including four-star linebackers Khris Bogle of Florida and Henry To’oto’o of California, who signed with SEC East rivals Florida and Tennessee, respectively, as well as Georgia tight end-signee Brett Seither of Florida. Bogle and four-star cornerback Christian Williams of Daphne were the other two Tide commits.
“I do think there was probably a player or two out there that, because of the relationship change from the coach that was recruiting them to the new coach, may have been a little bit of a problem for them because those relationships are really, really important,” Saban added.
Which is why Alabama’s new staffers spent much of their efforts over the last month focusing on next year’s recruiting class.
Still, Saban credited the Tide’s smaller-than-normal Signing Day haul with a number of factors, most centering around the ramifications of Year 2 of the early signing period, which led Alabama to sign nearly 90-percent of its 2019 class in mid-December between its appearance in the SEC Championship game and its College Football Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think that when we made this early signing date, there was a lot of us that made the statement that this would become the signing day, the early signing date,” Saban said. “And … I think that’s sort of coming true, so that’s changing the recruiting calendar in terms of how rapidly you have to recruit guys and it also changes what do you do in January.
“If we’re only recruiting a handful of guys, which we may have been recruiting 8-10 guys to get 3-4 guys, you spend most of your time going around looking at juniors, looking at next year’s class.”
Saban, a longtime critic of the early signing period, rededicated Alabama’s recruiting efforts last year to adapt better to the early period, including putting together a younger staff with better recruiting acumen but lacking in on-field coaching knowledge, which proved costly in the national championship game. That, of course, prompted another staffing overhaul as Saban brought on more experienced coaches that were still savvy recruiters like new offensive line coach Kyle Flood, new running backs coach Charles Huff and new receivers coach Holmon Wiggins, as well as veterans like new defensive line coach Brian Baker, new secondary coach Charles Kelly and new outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri.
Their job, for the most part, was to focus their attention on Alabama’s 2020 class, which could see an increase in skill position players like receiver and linebacker.
After focusing inside on the trenches with 11 combined offensive and defensive line signees in 2019, Alabama appears eager to replenish its skill positions with several members of the 2018 class entering their junior seasons next year, including star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the receiver trio of Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III.
Another position of need is linebacker, as outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis enter their senior seasons and inside linebacker Dylan Moses, a former five-star product, approaches his junior year with the potential for early entrance into the NFL.
Alabama already has 10 2020 commitments, highlighted by five-star defensive end/outside linebacker Chris Braswell of St. Frances Academy out of Baltimore, rated the nation’s No. 1 weakside defensive end according to the 247Sports.com composite.
Joining Braswell on the Tide’s commitment list includes four-star Calera defensive tackle Jayson Jones and the Hewitt-Trussville four-star duo of cornerback Malachi Moore and receiver Dazalin Worsham, as well four-star Georgia products in receiver Javon Baker of Powder Springs and Javier Morton of Stone Mountain. Other instate commitments include four-star Muscle Shoals inside linebacker Jackson Bratton and four-star Hueytown running back Roydell Williams.
While it appears set at quarterback for the foreseeable future with rising junior Tua Tagovailoa as the starter, and sophomore backup Mac Jones set to be challenged by a pair of four-star early enrollees in Taulia Tagovailoa and Paul Tyson, expect Alabama to target at least one big name at the position.
The Crimson Tide have offers out to a couple of elite pro-style quarterbacks in five-star California product D.J. Uiagalelei and four-star Jacksonville, Fla., product Carson Beck, who briefly committed to Alabama but recently reopened his recruitment to explore other options.
At receiver, the Tide are targeting two uncommitted five-star products from the Northeast in Julian Fleming of Pennsylvania and Rakim Jarrett of Washington D.C., as well as four-star instate products E.J. Williams of Central-Phenix City and J.J. Evans of Montevallo.
Alabama is also pursuing some of the top linebackers in the class with offers out to each of the five-star products at inside — Justin Flowe of California and Antoine Sampah of Virginia — and outside linebacker — Sav’ell Smalls of Washington and Makhail Sherman of Washington D.C. — among others.
And after only signing one tight end in the 2019 class, expect the Tide to pursue the position aggressively this offseason, both at the prep level and within the transfer market. Alabama has offers out to the nation’s No. 1 ranked tight end in five-star Darnell Washington of Nevada and four-star D.J. Rogers of Washington, as well as a commitment from three-star Caden Clark of Ohio.
“If we saw some opportunity to get a more seasoned player out there at that position, maybe that’s something that we’d look at,” Saban said. “But we’re always going to have our eyes peeled for anybody that can help us improve our roster.”