NCAA Football

The Biggest Takeaways from Alabama Recruits' Performances at the Opening

BEAVERTON, Oregon — It comes as little surprise to see Alabama as one of the main programs represented with a number of talented prospects participating in The Opening.

Seven members of the Crimson Tide’s 2017 class were on hand—led by 5-star running back and the nation’s top overall prospect, Najee Harris.

Four-star quarterback commit Tua Tagovailoa was one of a handful of passers competing for the coveted Elite 11 MVP award, while Harris and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood were fighting to prove their status as elite prospects at their respective positions.

Additionally, a handful of uncommitted prospects who have heavy interest in potentially playing for Tide head coach Nick Saban were on hand.

What were the biggest takeaways for Tide fans from the event?

Let’s take a look at a few of them here.

   

Tagovailoa Captures Elite 11 MVP

No quarterback entered The Opening with as much momentum than Tagovailoa.

The Alabama commit was impressive at the Elite 11 last month, and he carried his stellar play over to the big stage in Oregon—capturing the Elite 11 MVP in the process.

He’s the second Tide pledge in the last three years to capture the award, joining current Tide passer Blake Barnett, who won it in 2014.

The 6’1”, 215-pounder gushed over his experience at the event and noted the benefits of learning pro-style concepts from the Elite 11 coaching staff. 

“I’ve learned a lot about how to become a quarterback. [Elite 11 head] Coach [Trent] Dilfer always says that when you come into this process into Elite 11, you are just someone who throws the ball,” Tagovailoa said. “You are not a quarterback because you don’t know what it takes to be a quarterback. Your reads and what you need to watch on film, it’s all about the details of the position.”

Tagovailoa steadily improved as the tournament went on and found a rhythm playing on Team Vapor Speed—which happened to be loaded with a number of his future teammates.

“[Winning MVP] means a lot," Tagovailoa told Bleacher Report. "It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as journey. Being able to get the MVP, all glory goes to God with that. It was a team effort, and it couldn’t have been done if the receivers didn’t catch passes and the defense didn’t get us the ball back.”

Another highlight of the event for him was hanging out with five of his future teammates. 

“It’s been a blessing throughout the whole process being able to compete and be with the guys that you are going to be with for the next four years of your life. It gives you security,” Tagovailoa said. “These guys are so big and athletic. To have a guy like Alex blocking for you, it makes things so much easier. Having Najee in the backfield—he’s a great pass-blocker who can run and catch—it makes our backfield so dangerous.”

   

Harris Cements No. 1 Spot

Harris entered the week with a target on his back considering he’s the top overall prospect in the country.

Another dominant showing makes it highly unlikely he will relinquish that spot.

Harris said he’s spent a good chunk of his offseason studying some of the greatest rushers to ever play the game.

“I look at everybody," Harris told Bleacher Report. "I look at Adrian Peterson, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Jim Brown. From old school to new school. Guys like Marcus Dupree to the guys now. All of those running backs I named, they are all different. You take a guy like Adrian Peterson, he’s so fast out of his cuts and he’s very elusive. Same thing with Barry Sanders. Walter Payton had vision. I just try to take those small details and put it into my game.”

While Harris said he hasn’t completely shut down his recruitment, he did note that he enjoyed bonding with the contingent of Tide commits he hung out with during the week.

“We are all turned up," Harris said. "I like all of those guys, man. We just love to compete, and we are all good."

In particular, his bond with one fellow Tide pledge stands out.

“My relationship with Tua, it’s amazing, actually," Harris said. "He’s actually teaching me about other stuff not related to football. Tua is really somebody important to me."

He will now turn his focus to his senior season at Antioch High School in California—where he’s rushed for more than 5,000 yards and 59 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Even with all that he’s accomplished to this point in his career, don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon. 

“I just don’t want to be satisfied with my game," Harris said. "I’m always wanting to work on my game and just keep trying to improve.”

   

Leatherwood Dominates

With seven of the nation’s top 10 offensive tackles present for the competition this week, there was plenty of room for players in that group to make a statement and compete to rise in the rankings.

One player who relished that challenge and performed well throughout the week was 5-star Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood.

The nation’s No. 5 offensive tackle and the No. 20 player overall in the 2017 cycle was dominant and earned a spot among the final five in the offensive line group. 

He spoke on his play and his main goals for the week competing against the nation’s top defensive linemen.

“[I want to focus on] polishing up my technique and just being a sponge," Leatherwood said. "I want to absorb all I can and apply it to my game to be a better athlete. I just want to learn to compete and be coachable. I just want to take everything in and learn from the outstanding coaches they have here for us.”

If that wasn’t enough, the 6’6”, 315-pounder also spearheaded a group of Crimson Tide commits who defeated all comers in a tug-of-war competition following Friday’s practice.

His play throughout the week made a case for him to be rated as the nation’s top offensive tackle in the 2017 cycle.

He did note that he plans to still take some unofficial visits, but he’s firm to the Tide at the moment.

In fact, while he wasn’t dominating the action in the trenches, he was actively trying to help grow the Tide’s 2017 class.

“There’s a lot of dudes I’m trying to recruit to join us," he said. "Trey Smith, Cesar Ruiz and Nico Collins and a bunch of other guys I’m trying to get to join the Tide."

He also enjoyed bonding with the other players in the Tide’s class who were on hand to compete with him during the week.

“We have a great group of dudes," Leatherwood said. "They are great athletes, but more important than that, they are great kids with great personalities, and they are great guys to be around.”

   

WR Board Coming into Focus

Alabama is looking to sign potentially three or four wide receivers in the 2017 cycle.

The Tide only have one pure receiver currently committed in 4-star Tyrell Shavers.

The 6’6”, 202-pound Texas native pledged to Saban and his staff less than a month ago. Still, he insists his recruitment is done.

“It’s definitely over," Shavers said. "I’m only going to take my official visit to Alabama."

Also an accomplished baseball player, Shavers—who is an outfielder and pitcher on the diamond—said he hopes to play both sports while he’s in Tuscaloosa.

“Yes, I do [want to play baseball]," Shavers said. "The last [baseball coach] got fired, but they just got a new [baseball coach]. I’m going to talk to him soon."

Additionally, the Tide are involved with a handful of talented pass-catchers such as 4-stars Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Omar Manning.

For his part, Tagovailoa is actively recruiting Jeudy after the two connected early and often during Vapor Speed’s run to the tournament title.

“[Jeudy is] awesome," Tagovailoa said. "That relationship couldn’t have started if I didn’t feed him the ball or if the coaches didn’t call plays for him."

However, Smith may be the first of that group to make his choice since he’s scheduled to announce on Aug. 15.

While schools such as LSU are courting him, Smith admits the Tide are pushing hardest for his services—including the pitches he gets from his peers.

“It’s mainly the Alabama guys who are coming after me the hardest," Smith said. "VanDarius Cowan, he really comes after me hard. So does Alex Leatherwood."

The 6’1”, 160-pounder also said one current Tide standout and another former Tide great are among the receivers he’s been studying on film in the offseason.

“Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones,” Smith said. “I’ve been really looking into their games and trying to pick things I can use in my game.”

With Shavers solidly in the fold and the Tide appearing to be in good shape with Smith, the Alabama’s receiver class is shaping up to be another stellar group headed to Tuscaloosa.

   

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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The Opening 2016: Meet the 8 Recruits Who Committed Live in Beaverton

BEAVERTON, Ore. — The 2016 rendition of The Opening came to a conclusion Sunday night, as more than 160 of the nation's top college football recruiting targets competed in multiple drills, seven-on-seven tournaments and lineman challenges.

Bleacher Report introduced the world to the commitments of 5-star wide receiver Tee Higgins (Clemson), 5-star defensive end Robert Beal (Georgia), 4-star offensive tackle Kai-Leon Herbert (Michigan), 4-star tight end Matt Dotson (Michigan State) and 4-star athlete CJ Holmes (Notre Dame) by way of "Commitment Week."

The Opening, held on the campus of Nike World Headquarters, also included eight 2017 athletes who announced their verbal commitments between Friday and Sunday either live in Beaverton, Oregon, via Bleacher Report or by way of ESPN. Four of those eight announced that they will play in the SEC.

During the live announcements, Georgia picked up two commitments, while LSU and Auburn added one. Florida State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Oregon also added to their classes. Here are the eight athletes, listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

The Opening 2016: Grading Performances of Top 10 Recruits

BEAVERTON, Ore. — The Opening annually challenges high school football's premier players to rise up in the company of elite peers. Held July 5-10 at Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, the event featured 166 athletes from across America and beyond.

Each competitor earned their spot in Oregon by delivering strong performances during past seasons and recent regional showcases. Combined, this collection carries thousands of scholarship offers and will ultimately feature several future college and NFL superstars. 

Some athletes entered the action with higher expectations than the bulk of other attendees, courtesy of elevated ratings throughout the recruiting-analysis industry. We examined the top 10 prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, grading each based strictly on how they performed in Oregon.

Begin Slideshow

Meet Tua Tagovailoa, the 2016 Elite 11 MVP

BEAVERTON, Ore. — For the second time in the last three years, an Alabama commit has been crowned Elite 11 MVP after 4-star Crimson Tide pledge Tua Tagovailoa dominated during seven-on-seven play at The Opening on Sunday.

The 6'1", 215-pounder from St. Louis High School in Honolulu ran away from the competition after tossing four touchdown passes during the first half of Team Vapor Speed's 38-20 victory over Fly Rush in the tournament championship game.

On a team with five other Tide commits, Tagovailoa—who was also named the MVP of the seven-on-seven tournament—shined the brightest on the biggest of stages.

He joins current Tide passer Blake Barnett, who won it in 2014, as the only other Alabama pledge to win the award.

"[Winning MVP] means a lot. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as journey. Being able to get the MVP, all glory goes to God with that," Tagovailoa told Bleacher Report. "It was a team effort and it couldn't have been done if the receivers didn't catch passes and the defense didn't get us the ball back."

His strong showing in the seven-on-seven tournament caps off what has been a stellar showing on the camp circuit during the offseason.

It started in May at the Nike Oakland Opening Regional, where he earned an invite to the Elite 11 Finals in Los Angeles a month later.

With a trip to The Opening at stake in L.A. at the finals, Tagovailoa was arguably the best passer at the event and proved himself to be one of the elite arms in the 2017 cycle.

Still, according to Matt James—who serves as Nike's Director of Grassroots Football—there were some questions Tagovailoa would have to answer about his game.

Could he adapt from his comfort zone of operating a spread offense and work like a seasoned veteran using pro-style concepts? Would he have the necessary discipline to match his footwork with what his eyes were seeing? Could he adjust to an expansive playbook against elite competition?

It's safe to say James found the answers he was looking for.

"Once he got used to that and started picking things up, he just started dealing," James said. "I would say for the last two games of pool play all the way through today, it was special to watch. No one else performed like that."

Equally as impressive as his accuracy, arm strength and touch was his ability to exude leadership.

According to 4-star receiver KJ Hamler—who was one of Tagovailoa's trusted targets on team Vapor Speed—the future Tide passer made it easy for his teammates to rally around him.

"Tua is the happiest, most energetic person I've ever met in my life. Even when we [were] down and losing [Saturday], he kept our spirits up," Hamler told Bleacher Report. "He's a smart quarterback who knows how to take care of business in big situations. He knows what he's doing on every play and I think he'll be very successful in college."

With Alabama operating a pro-style offense, Tagovailoa was eager for the opportunity to work with the Elite 11 coaching staff and use it as a litmus test for what he will face at the next level.

"This experience alone taught me a lot. I will go back home and continue to work on the things I was taught here," Tagovailoa said. "It's going to really help me, going through my progressions and knowing where to go from one through four. There's many things I can take home from this experience here at the Elite 11."

James, noting Tagovailoa's strengths as a runner and his success in a spread scheme, admits he was skeptical about his fit with Alabama after he committed. However, he's now a firm believer that Tagovailoa can beat teams from the pocket with his arm and his mind.

"After what I've seen from him that weekend in L.A. and being with him the last five days, I'm so impressed with him and I think the sky is the limit for him," James said. "If he gets in that offense and he does what he did here, watch out."

The future certainly appears bright for the top overall prospect from the state of Hawaii.

Tagovailoa believes he gained something even more rewarding than taking home the prestigious honor of capturing the Elite 11 MVP award.

"It's a blessing. That's the best word that would be able to describe it. More importantly, it's about the relationships I've been able to create with a lot of the quarterbacks," he explained. "That's the most important thing to me. Winning the MVP was far off from the main goal—which was to create a bond that will last a lifetime with these other quarterbacks."

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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Robert Hainsey to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star OG Prospect

Robert Hainsey, a 4-star offensive lineman from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, announced Sunday he will play college football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The prospect shared the news on Twitter:

Hainsey is the 70th-ranked overall prospect, 17th-ranked player from Florida and fourth-ranked offensive guard in the 2017 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings.

Although he played left tackle more frequently during his high school career, Hainsey tends to get upright as a pass-blocker and is better suited at guard in college.

Despite Hainsey's tendency to raise his pad level, he has tremendous functional strength and is a mauler in the running game. His burst allows him to get to the second level of the defense quickly, where he can use his 6'4 ½", 276-pound frame to pancake opponents.

Hainsey has a relentless motor and aggressively pops defenders upon first contact. It won't be as easy to flatten linebackers at the dawn of his college career, but he has the tools to become a multiyear starter for Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish can either keep Hainsey trim and work on him as a project at tackle or bulk him up and plug him inside at guard. The latter option likely means Hainsey would see the field sooner since the position is more suited to his natural strengths.

With room for improved conditioning, refined technique, added weight and organic growth as he gets more reps, there's reason for Notre Dame fans to be excited about Hainsey's potential.

If he can improve his footwork in pass protection in particular and learn to do better with leverage, Hainsey may be versatile enough to play tackle. He certainly plays with enough tenacity and innate power to play in the trenches at a big-time program.

            

Star rating, rankings and measurements courtesy of 247Sports.

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The Opening 2016 Results: MVP Winner and Finalists Performances

The final day of The Opening 2016 gave the best high school football players in the nation one more opportunity to show what they could bring to the next level.

On Sunday, the festivities wrapped up with the seven-on-seven championship game and the naming of the The Opening's most valuable player. 

 

 

The Opening Championship

In the final game of The Opening, Team Vapor Speed, made up largely of University of Oklahoma and University of Alabama commits, defeated Team Fly Rush 38-20:

Team Vapor Speed dominated the championship game, quickly jumping out to a 22-0 lead to put any sort of competitive questions away. 

Alabama quarterback commit Tua Tagovailoa opened the scoring with a short touchdown pass to fellow Alabama commit Tyrell Shavers on Vapor Speed's first possession of the day, via Bleacher Report's Tyler Donahue:

It quickly became 16-0 when Tagovailoa picked apart the Fly Rush defense, exhibiting his ability to complete the intermediate throws with pinpoint accuracy, via Donohue:

Tagovailoa's third touchdown pass of the first half found another Alabama commit, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who showed his ability to make a quick cut upfield and make a defender miss even while playing a one-hand touch game of football, via Donohue:

He spread the love to Oklahoma commits too, as his fourth and final touchdown of the game went to wide receiver Jalen Reagor. It wasn't an easy throw either, as he had to thread the needle in between a pair of defenders to find his receiver, via Donohue:

Jeudy recorded two touchdown receptions on the day, his second coming from Oklahoma commit Christopher Robison as Vapor Speed's final score of the game.

 

 

 

Most Valuable Player

Tagovailoa won the seven-on-seven and Elite MVP thanks to his dominant four-touchdown performance in the championship game. 

Elite 11 showed him accepting his award with former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer:

The dual-threat quarterback hailing from Honolulu is the No. 1 recruit out of his state and the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the nation, per 247Sports' composite ratings

Given that quarterbacks during the seven-on-seven tournament had only 3.5 seconds to get rid of the ball before the officials would call them for a delay of game, Tagovailoa wasn't able to show off half of his game, which is his above-average athleticism with his legs. 

For Alabama coaches and fans watching, it would be hard not to feel good about Tagovailoa's performance at The Opening, as the young recruit will only get better with time and could one day be the man starting under center in Tuscaloosa.  

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless noted otherwise.

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Andrew Thomas to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star OT Prospect

The Georgia Bulldogs weren't about to let one of their state's best offensive linemen slip through their grasp. On Sunday, the Bulldogs received a commitment from offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, who announced his decision during ESPNU’s broadcast of The Opening finals.

Trent Smallwood of UGASports.com shared video of Thomas' announcement: 

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Thomas is the 10th-best OT in the 2017 recruiting class. The 4-star recruit also ranks 49th nationally overall and fourth in the state of Georgia.

A head coaching change can occasionally alter a school's chances of landing a prized recruit. For Georgia, firing Mark Richt and hiring Kirby Smart didn't deter Thomas from wanting to come to Athens. The school's spring game might have been a decisive factor in Thomas' decision.

An SEC-record 93,000 fans packed inside Sanford Stadium to watch the exhibition, per ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach.

"It was ridiculous; I didn't think that many fans would come to a spring game," Thomas said, per Dawgs247's Jake Rowe. "It was surreal. It made me want to put the pads on."

He also sent out this tweet after the game:

Smart can't take all or even most of the credit for the trend, but he's continuing Georgia's habit of reeling in offensive linemen who are very good but don't necessary crack into the elite class of recruits. Below are all of the road-graders who joined the Bulldogs in the last five years and where they ranked in 247Sports' composite rankings:

Although Thomas has played on both sides of the line for Pace Academy in Atlanta, there's no question his future lies on offense. He still has a somewhat slight frame for the position (6'5", 295 lbs), but he is built much more for offensive tackle than he is for defensive tackle.

Offensive line coach Sam Pittman will need to work with Thomas right away, though, since he's such a work in progress. Not only does Thomas need to get a bit stronger, but his technique can be lacking at times. Especially in the SEC, his slow first step could turn into a major issue if he doesn't iron it out early in his Georgia career:

Thomas' motor and work ethic on the field aren't in question after he has spent time at two different positions in high school. There's little doubt he'll be willing to put in the work to address his flaws as a blocker.

He's also a good enough athlete that he won't be limited to playing on the right side, and once he adds muscle, Thomas will have little trouble physically battling the edge-rushers he'll see at the next level.

Georgia fans shouldn't expect the Bulldogs' newest commitment to make an immediate impact upon his arrival. He'd be a liability on the line if Smart and his staff elevate Thomas to a prominent role in the offense.

If his coaches are patient, though, and let Thomas gain some experience and grow as a player, he should be one of Georgia's most important linemen in a few years.

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Toneil Carter to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Georgia added a big piece to its backfield ahead of the 2017 season, securing the commitment of Toneil Carter on Sunday.

The talented ball-carrier revealed his college decision in an announcement at The Opening:  

Carter is the fifth-ranked running back in the 2017 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. The 4-star recruit also sits No. 107 overall and No. 16 in the state of Texas.

The Langham Creek High School standout grabbed the attention of head coaches across the country after running for 1,382 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2014 and following up with 1,206 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2015, per 247Sports.

It's no surprise Carter had scholarship offers from a number of top schools, including Alabama, LSU, Georgia, TCU, Baylor, Michigan, Michigan State and Texas A&M. Last August, he discussed how he was happy to take his time before making a final decision.

"I get asked all the time if I'm committing early, and I'm not," Carter said, per ESPN Recruiting Nation's Jeremy Crabtree. "There aren't too many guys in my situation, and I want to enjoy the process some before I make a decision. I owe it to myself to not be in a big rush."

Carter's vision and ability in the open field stand out when watching his highlights from his sophomore year. He's patient enough to let the play develop before he accelerates into the second level:

247Sports' Colt Barber also shared a short clip of Carter running drills to lower his center of gravity when he carries the ball:

Learning to run with his shoulders lower will only help Carter at the next level. An upright running style doesn't necessarily make a running back any more or less effective, but it could leave Carter more susceptible to injury.

That critique aside, Carter is an otherwise well-rounded back. Despite his 5'10 ½", 197-pound frame, he isn't afraid to welcome contact and attack the defender. He also possesses a nice blend of strength and agility, which allows him to use a more finesse-based approach in the open field in order to elude a tackler.

Carter isn't the kind of running back who needs to take a seat on passing downs either. He can be a target out of the backfield or stay back and help ward off would-be rushers in pass protection.

It would be unfair to expect Carter to deliver immediate results in the way Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley—two of the better true freshman running backs in recent years—did upon heading to college. However, Carter could unquestionably help Georgia's offense in 2017 given his versatility.

And in another year or two, he could potentially be one of the best in the country at his position.

Georgia has boasted the likes of Gurley and Nick Chubb in recent years, though, so Carter has big shoes to fill as he prepares to join the mix in the Bulldogs' backfield.

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The Opening 2016: Results, Rankings, Highlights and Reaction from Saturday

The best talent that high school football has to offer in the United States has descended upon Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, for The Opening, one of the most prestigious showcases that young athletes take part in. 

The festivities began Wednesday and included two days of drills and practices where some big names in the NFL managed to give these recruits some pointers, via Bleacher Report NFL:  

Positions were stacked up against one another in one-on-one drills, such as wide receivers against defensive backs, which exposed and highlighted each individual's skill set:

It helped create the Nike+ SPARQ ratings system:

On Saturday, it was all about the seven-on-seven games between six different teams. Here are the rosters for each team, where the players are headed to college if available and some of the day's best plays:

The seven-on-seven games did not have any tackling, as it was one-hand touch below the shoulders. With no offensive lines, quarterbacks only had 3.5 seconds to throw the ball before a delay of game was called, which signified a sack. 

All drives started at the 20-yard-line, where offenses would only get three downs to work with. Once they entered the red zone, then they would get four downs. 

Saturday's Best Plays

Team Alpha Pro wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey, who is uncommitted, made sure that he stood out even if his catch from Georgia commit Jake Fromm wasn't exactly highlight-worthy, via Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani:

Fromm was able to thread the needle on that play while showing off his accuracy. In a game against Team Vaporspeed, he recorded three first-half touchdowns.

Ohio State commit and fellow Alpha Pro teammate Tate Martell also had a chance to show his pinpoint eye with a completion to Wisconsin tight end commit Jake Ferguson, via Kirpalani:

That didn't mean there were no wide receivers capable of making some sterling catches. Team Mach Speed's James Robinson, who is uncommitted, made this crazy one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone, via Kirpalani:

On the defensive side of the ball, Oklahoma commit and Team Vaporspeed cornerback Tre Brown provided one of the defensive plays of the day with this pick-six against Michigan commit Dylan McCaffrey of Team Hypercool, via Andrew Nemec of the Oregonian:

But McCaffrey had a big moment of his own, leading Team Hypercool to a last-second win over Team Lunarbeast by hitting tight end Josh Falo in the back of the end zone, via 247Sports' Tom Loy:

It wasn't the only last-second heartbreak Team Lunarbeast would experience either, as MaxPreps showed:

The final day of The Opening will come Sunday and determine a seven-on-seven champion. 

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Grant Delpit to LSU: Tigers Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

LSU added a playmaker to the backend of its future defense Saturday when safety prospect Grant Delpit committed to its 2017 recruiting class, per Ross Dellenger of the New Orleans Advocate. 

The 6’3 ½” and 181-pound Delpit is a 4-star recruit, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and the No. 92 overall player, No. 9 safety and No. 20 prospect from the state of Florida in the 2017 class.

Delpit garnered interest from some of the nation's top schools before he ultimately chose where he wanted to attend. LSU and Baylor received all of 247Sports' "Crystal Ball Predictions," as of April 20, but blue-chip programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame, USC and Oklahoma were also included on his 247Sports’ college list.

There is a reason so many marquee schools pursued the hard-hitting safety. Delpit boasts the overall skill set and versatility to play right away at the college level, especially because he delivers blows across the middle of the field to receivers and running backs but can also play in coverage if needed.

Gabe Brooks of Scout.com provided a breakdown of Delpit’s abilities and pointed to his instincts and how often he “gets his hands on a lot of passes.” Brooks also noted Delpit is a threat to take it the distance when he gets interceptions because of his speed and athleticism and praised the safety for his aggressive style of play.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports was impressed by what he saw from Delpit at the Pylon 7-on-7 National Championship in Las Vegas, the Bootleggers 7-on-7 event and The Opening New Orleans Regional. Simmons pointed out Delpit “looks comfortable on an island in coverage” in addition to his ability to play center field as a safety, which gives his new coaching staff the opportunity to mix and match where they put him in the secondary.

With that type of versatility and athleticism, Delpit will likely see the field during his freshman year.

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Les Miles, Kevin Sumlin Reportedly to Be Deposed in LSU Lawsuit vs. John Chavis

LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin will reportedly both give depositions as part of LSU's lawsuit against former defensive coordinator John Chavis, per the Advocate's Ross Dellenger.

Chavis, whom the Aggies hired ahead of the 2015 season, filed a lawsuit against both LSU and Texas A&M in February 2015 regarding the buyout clause in his contract with LSU.

A Texas judge threw out Chavis' lawsuit in August 2015, citing a jurisdictional problem, yet he and LSU remain embroiled in a legal dispute. According to Dellenger, the school is looking to recoup $400,000 as part of his move to Texas A&M. Chavis and the Aggies, meanwhile, argue he didn't start working for the school until after he gave his required 30-day notice to LSU about taking a new job.

NOLA.com's Ron Higgins reported Chavis' since-dismissed suit said he gave the Tigers his resignation on Jan. 5, 2015, and then stopped being paid by the school on Feb. 4. That time frame would nullify the need for Chavis or A&M to pay the buyout.

However, Higgins noted Chavis may have been working for the Aggies earlier than he said:

Yet, there are pictures of Chavis wearing Texas A&M gear while recruiting that hit the Internet Jan. 15 and Jan. 23. In the Jan. 23 photo, Chavis, dressed in a Texas A&M coaching pullover, is giving the camera two "thumbs up" while flanking Northeast Oklahoma Jr. College cornerback Justin Martin along with Aggies' defensive back coach Terry Joseph. Martin, ironically, ended up signing with Tennessee where Chavis was D-coordinator from 1995-2008 before coming to LSU.

The caption of the picture, which first appeared on a Facebook site called Juco Football Frenzy (which apparently no longer exists), reads, "Justin Martin was just visited by Texas A&M D Coord John Chavis & DB coach Terry Joseph."

In December 2015, Chavis' attorney, Jill Craft, argued an admission by LSU that it made "nominal" alterations to his contract in 2012 hurts the school's standing in terms of pursuing the buyout, per Dellenger:

It's exactly what coach has been saying all along, that the contract was altered after he signed it in 2012. You can't alter a contract and try to claim it's valid, and you certainly can't sue over it. One of the things they did admit that was altered was the buyout provision. In some sense, it's vindication.

Dellenger didn't specify when Miles and Sumlin will give their depositions in the case but wrote they're scheduled for later this month.

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Nick Brahms to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star OG Prospect

Nick Brahms, a 4-star offensive guard prospect from Navarre High School in Florida, announced his commitment to play college football for Auburn Saturday.

Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports had the news of Brahms' decision and included comments from the standout blocker:

One of them is his bond with Tigers offensive line coach Herb Hand, who joined the staff earlier this year.

“Me and him have been talking a lot lately,” Brahms said. “We have a good relationship. He’s intense and he’s full of energy. He’s the right guy.”

The vibe at Auburn was another plus, Brahms noted.

“Just the family — how close they are,” Brahms said. “The players, I’ve talked to them, too, and I like them.”

Brahms is the class of 2017's ninth-ranked offensive guard, the 30th-best player from Florida and the No. 153 overall recruit in the country, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

After not really being on the recruiting radar following his junior high school season, Brahms burst onto the scene with a strong performance at the New Orleans Nike Opening Regional. He earned an invitation to The Opening's national showcase and promptly went from a 0- to a 4-star recruit.

"We feel he's a top-20 guy, and we don't pay a ton of attention to the ratings," said The Opening director Todd Huber of Brahms in April, per Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani. "The guys that do it are smart guys, but I think you will see that [his] rating will catch up to reflect how good of a player he is."

The near-overnight stock boost Brahms received wasn't without merit. His blend of size, athleticism and technical brilliance earned him the distinction as one of the nation's premier offensive line prospects.

Although he lined up at right tackle most often during his junior year, Brahms projects well to guard in college. The 6'4", 285-pounder already has a sturdy frame and doesn't carry a lot of excess weight, which bodes well for his NCAA transition.

Brahms is surprisingly agile and is therefore a big asset in pass protection. As a run-blocker, he plays with a clear fervor and aggressive streak, but he could stand to be more consistent with his pad level.

Since he has only recently begun to realize his upside, there's no telling how good Brahms can be when he receives excellent coaching from Auburn's staff at the next level. At the very least he should be a quality starter—perhaps as early as his true sophomore year.

The fact he projects well as a guard and has experience playing tackle bodes well for Brahms' bid to see the field for the Tigers sooner rather than later. With a strong showing in early practices, he could make a push to start in his first year on Auburn's campus.

     

Star rating, rankings and measurements courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

One Trap Game for Every Power 5 College Football Team in 2016

College football fans love to look ahead. Hypotheticals and what-ifs are emotional currency in a game where only four teams ultimately compete for the season’s biggest prize in the College Football Playoff. Too often, a program’s destiny is not completely within its control. Other teams must win or lose for your team to reach its goals. That isn’t easy to handle, so fans think two moves ahead.

Not coaches. Veteran coaches have seen too many bad things happen a week before “the game” or a week after an important contest. Maybe a team is looking ahead or coasting on its glory, and bad things happen. These are “trap” games.

They're games a program normally shouldn’t lose but gives up for reasons well within its control. As always, college football is full of them in 2016. We’ve identified a potential trap game for each Power Five program. They’re matchups against deceptively tough teams or at bad points on the schedule, or both. Where is your team’s trap located? Read on.

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Quarterbacks That Could Be Transfer Candidates If They Don't Win Jobs This Fall

Quarterback competitions own the college football news cycle during the summer and early in the regular season, but the result of those battles can lead to winter headlines.

Partly due to the increasing popularity of the graduate transfer market, players are more likely to pursue what they feel is a better opportunity to start. Trevor Knight (Oklahoma to Texas A&M) and Davis Webb (Texas Tech to Cal) highlight the group of immediately eligible signal-callers this season.

But they're not alone. Other younger quarterbacks slipping out of the conversation for 2016 and beyond may elect to flip schools, too.

Depending on the outcome of these competitions, several quarterbacks could make a similar move next year.

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The Opening 2016: Biggest Takeaways from Day 4

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Friday arguably was one of the most action-packed days The Opening has seen in years.

The day featured intense one-on-one battles pitting linebackers against running backs, defensive backs against wide receivers and offensive linemen against defensive linemen. The day also included a bench- press challenge, a verbal commitment with a Lamborghini as a prop, a tug-of-war battle and tons of recruiting news.

Additionally, Friday saw some of The Opening names of the past return to help the names of college football's future.

Here are some takeaways from Friday's The Opening action:

   

 

A day loaded with The Opening alums

Gone from Friday's The Opening were Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Tennessee's Josh Dobbs, Miami's Brad Kaaya and BYU's Tanner Mangum—the college quarterbacks who served as camp counselors.

Friday's roster assistants featured a few athletes who once graced The Opening grounds. Among them were LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Georgia running back Nick Chubb, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson, Alabama tight O.J. Howard, Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan and many others.

"I was here in 2013. It seems like yesterday," Adams said. "It's just unreal to get back and see all these guys, the alumni, coming back giving back to the kids. That's what it's all about. I think there's no better feeling to change somebody's life and help them get better at their game. I know I'm excited, but we're all excited to be out here to help.

Additionally running backs Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, two The Opening alums who are now seeing time in the NFL, were also on hand. Elliott, a former Ohio State national champion, not only helped coach the players on the field but also had the chance to hand the Nike+ Football Rating Championship to a Buckeyes commit—4-star all-purpose back J.K. Dobbins.

"It's just great to get back out here," Elliott said. "I think The Opening was one of the most fun times I've had with football. You get to compete against the best. I want to come out and make sure I help these guys have an experience as special as I had."

   

 

 

A Lamborghini and a Laborn pledge for Florida State

Virginia Beach, Virginia, 4-star all-purpose back Khalan Laborn admitted he's never trended nationally on Twitter. That happened Friday with the help of a commitment to Florida State—and a Lamborghini.

Laborn was a part of a Bleacher Report showcase that included handpicked one-on-one battles. Before entering the field, he was in the passenger seat of a Lamborghini Gallardo and ran to the field waving a Florida State flag.

"It was a lot of fun, and I'm excited," Laborn said. "I've always wanted to go there. I mean, Deion Sanders is my favorite player. I'm ready to get to work."

In regard to style points, Sanders and other Florida State fans would approve of the Gallardo, an all-black ride with tinted windows and black rims. Seminoles spears were placed on the doors. Chief Osceola was on the hood.

And when it was time for Laborn, the nation's No. 2 all-purpose back, to compete in his one-on-one battle with linebacker Owen Pappoe, he scored two victories, with the first win resulting in a Laborn backflip.

Florida State now has 11 commitments with Laborn's pledge. He is the Seminoles' top-ranked offensive commit.

   

 

No. 1 DT Wilson to set 2 official visits

Houston defensive tackle Marvin Wilson was one of the last athletes to show up in Oregon Thursday night. His flight landed around 9:30 p.m., and he showed up at the host hotel around 10 p.m.

The time change wasn't a disadvantage, as he showed why he's the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle and the No. 3 overall player in the 2017 class.

"It's one of the greatest feelings ever to come out here and see where you compare against the best of the best before you go into your senior season. It all works out, because we all want to just get better this week."

Wilson announced he's looking to set two official visits to USC and Florida State this fall. He's visited Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Alabama and Florida State during the spring and summer. Wilson added that he'll take in a trip to USC before the start of his senior season.

"I'm going and seeing where I can be comfortable," he said. "In my mind, if you can't be comfortable wherever you go, you won't be able to develop. If it's far away and I feel comfortable, that's where I'll go."

   

 

Comfort key in ATH Ahmed picking from top five

Kirkland, Washington, 4-star athlete Salvon Ahmed dropped his top five of Notre Dame, Oregon, Stanford, USC and Washington Thursday evening. The nation's No. 6 athlete said those schools also will be the ones to receive an official visit this fall.

Look for Ahmed to make a well-informed decision, as he's strongly considering his academic career in his final decision. He's looking to major in business marketing and also study media communications.

"Those five schools really stood out," said Ahmed, who has 11 reported offers. "A lot of them talk to me about being a man outside of football and what I could do outside of football a lot more than about me just playing the sport. I want to know what I can do after sports and be successful."

Ahmed said he plans on taking his official visits and then making a decision. 

"I want to know how I'll feel when I step on campus," he said. "I want to know how I feel in a game atmosphere and be a big part of it. Would I be happy being there if I couldn't play football anymore? Those are some of the main things I'm looking for."

   

 

Rating contest top three: Potential Buckeyes teammates?

The winner of the Nike+ Football Rating Championship earns bragging rights for being the best high school football athlete in the country. La Grange, Texas, standout J.K. Dobbins, an Ohio State pledge, won the competition with a ratings score of 146.76.

Dobbins ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.09 seconds. He had a vertical jump of 43.1 inches and threw the power ball 42 feet. His efforts helped him win the title and, ultimately, have Ezekiel Elliott award him the trophy.

"It feels great. It's what I've worked for every day," Dobbins said. "I didn't do all that I wanted to do, but I'm going to keep working hard every day so I can get better."

While Dobbins finished first, defensive back Jeffrey Okudah placed second (142.56), and 5-star running back Cam Akers (140.13). Okudah and Akers, two players ranked among the top 12 in the 2017 class, are 5-star players who are considered heavy Ohio State targets.

Dobbins said he is doing his part to recruit them.

"With Jeff, I'm trying to get him. I hope he joins me as a Texas guy," Dobbins said. "With Cam, I always talk to him, too, about joining us. It would be great having them both.

"If we get all those guys, we could potentially win two championships instead of one. Maybe even three."

   

 

USC RB commit Carr: Many 'dream of this opportunity'

Fontana, California, 5-star running back and USC commit Stephen Carr is someone who has made it a priority to relish in the moment.

Carr called The Opening a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and said he's making the most out of the week as one of 166 selected athletes across the country. It's something he said he won't take for granted.

"I know many kids dream of this opportunity, so I'm just blessed to be here with some of the top-notch athletes," Carr said. "That's just the type of person I was raised to be. I've had athletes before me at my school who have made it to The Opening. I get it from them in a way, and I see what they did and didn't do. I work off of that."

Carr, a USC commit since March 2015, said he's using the tutelage from this week to help him grow into a player better prepared for Pac-12 competition. He added that he was "100 percent to USC" but will take all his allotted official visits to get a feel for different campus experiences.

"I haven't scheduled any visits yet, but I know I'll take all five," Carr said. "I'm not sure where I'll go yet. I'll know more later on."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Opening 2016: Top 40-Yard Dash Times from Nike Football Ratings Championship

BEAVERTON, Ore. — The Opening annually attracts elite talent to football fields on Nike's sprawling world headquarters campus. Regardless of which college football program you support, it's easy to appreciate the sheer athleticism on display during competition between the country's premier high school prospects.

Recruits put their physical talents on full display Friday morning when more than 150 participants completed four phases of the Nike Football Ratings Championship. This combine-like testing features a 40-yard dash, agility shuttle, vertical leap and power-ball toss. 

Let's place our focus on speed here, pointing to players who torched the turf during 40-yard dash efforts. Here's a look at eight who claimed the quickest times and how things are progressing in their respective recruitment processes. 

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Jalen Pitre Comments on Remaining Committed to Baylor Despite Art Briles' Firing

Baylor is in the process of trying to rebuild its image in the midst of a sexual assault scandal involving numerous allegations against former football players, which has led to substantial changes behind the scenes. 

The biggest change for the football program was head coach Art Briles parting ways with the program after the two sides reached a contract settlement. His departure has had a profound effect on future recruits with the exception of 2017 defensive back Jalen Pitre.   

As Andy Hutchins and Bud Elliott of SB Nation noted in June, seven recruits for next year have decommitted from the program and reopened their recruiting. 

Pitre is the lone commit right now for 2017. He is a 3-star recruit and the 58th-ranked safety in the 2017 recruiting class, per 247Sports

In an interview with Max Olson of ESPN.com, Pitre explained that his decision to remain committed to Baylor was partly because the school did not pull its scholarship offer to him after he tore his ACL last October. 

In the time since Briles has been fired, Pitre did note that he has not yet spoken with new acting head coach Jim Grobe:

I haven’t talked to Coach (Grobe), but I’ve talked to Coach [Cris] Dishman recently. He just told me to keep working, keep getting my knee stronger and he wants me to make the best decision for my family. I’m trying to head up to one of their practices and want to build up a good relationship with Coach Grobe.

Pitre did say that being the only 2017 commit to the school is "lonely at times" because he doesn't "have any other commits to talk to," but he remains grateful for "the big picture of college and trying to go get an education for free."

As far as the information that has come out about Baylor over the last two months, Pitre said "it’s not really good" before stating that one reason he remains committed to the program is he doesn't "believe some of the stuff that’s been coming out."

Grobe is Baylor's head football coach on an acting basis. Pitre admitted that if the school decides to bring in all new coaches that it "would have a big effect," though he did say he thinks he would still stay.

Pitre concluded by saying that he hopes to be enrolled in school early in an effort to help recruit for the 2017 class. 

Baylor is still dealing with the serious allegations that have come out against the football program and university. It is doing all it can to move forward, including giving Brenda Tracy, who says she survived a 1998 gang rape that involved two Oregon State football players, an opportunity to speak with the football players. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet JK Dobbins, 2016 Nike Football Ratings National Champion

BEAVERTON, Oregon —In the aftermath of claiming the 2016 Nike Football Ratings National Championship, 4-star running back and current Ohio State commitment JK Dobbins wasn’t satisfied with his performance. 

The 5’9 ½”, 199-pounder out of LaGrange High School in Texas captured the crown as the nation’s most athletic talent in the 2017 cycle with a cumulative score of 146.76.

To claim the top spot, Dobbins busted off a time of 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, jumped 43.1 inches in the vertical jump, threw the powerball 42 feet and posted a time of 4.09 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.

It was impressive enough to best more than 160 of his peers on hand at The Opening. The super intense and hyper-competitive Lone Star State standout didn’t hesitate when asked which of his individual scores he was pleased with. 

“None of them. Honestly, I felt I should’ve done better,” Dobbins told Bleacher Report. “But, I came out on top and that’s been the main goal the whole time.”

In particular, his 40-yard dash time irked him—even though he was 0.01 off from the best time he’s ever run.

“I wasn’t happy with my 40 time. The fastest I ever ran it is 4.44. But I wanted to go 4.3 today. I didn’t get it so that just tells me I need to keep working harder so I can make that goal,” he said.

Dobbins, who is rated as the nation’s No. 3 all-purpose back and the No. 50 player overall in the 2017 cycle, has also gotten it done on the field. 

Over the last two years, he’s rushed for 4,971 yards and 72 touchdowns while averaging more than 10 yards per carry.

He admits that one of his goals was to show that he’s more than just a speed back. 

If any benefits are to come from his most recent achievement, he’s hoping it erases any doubt about his power and strength.

“Yeah, [my score] also shows my power too. You have to throw the powerball pretty far to be in this competition and I did that. I’m just trying to prove to everybody that I’m one of the best in the country,” Dobbins said.

As an added bonus, he was thrilled to meet former Buckeyes star and current Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott—who is at The Opening to serve as one of the college counselors at the event. 

Dobbins accepted the trophy from Elliott, who made sure to give him some good-natured ribbing about how to accept the trophy.

“It’s cool, man. He was an Ohio State running back and I’m going to be the future there, hopefully. He’s a great guy,” Dobbins said.

For his part, Elliott admits he's proud to see the future of the Buckeyes' backfield is in good hands with a talent such as Dobbins on the way.

"The thing that motivated me at Ohio State was continuing the lineage and upholding the reputation of the great pedigree of running backs," Elliott told Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles. "To see the next guy up, come out and represent for the Buckeyes, for that running back role that so many greats played in, it’s really good to see that."

To earn the title, Dobbins beat out his good friend and fellow Texas native 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah—who finished second.

But instead of rubbing it in, Dobbins plans to put on his recruiter hat for head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

He’s one of 10 current Ohio State commitments who made The Opening roster from a class currently rated as the nation’s top overall group. If he has his way, that number will increase sooner than later.

“You know what, that’s my boy," Dobbins said, referring to Okudah. "Jeff needs to come join me at Ohio State, too."

Don’t expect Dobbins to slow down anytime soon. After all, his competitive spirit has been a large part of what has helped him arrive on this stage.

“It means a lot. This is what I work for. I knew I was one of the best, but I just have to keep working. This doesn’t change anything for me. I won’t stop,” Dobbins said. “My mindset is just to go out and work every single day. That’s all I do. I’m going to keep working and keep going hard with the same type of drive. I just have to keep going.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

The cast of characters will be different for defending national champion Alabama in 2016—a new defensive coordinator for the first time in the Nick Saban era, an inexperienced first-string backfield and replacements for key players in the trenches.

But that doesn't change much for the Crimson Tide, who are projected to start the upcoming season once again as the No. 1 team in the country. College football's biggest target continues to stay put on Alabama's back, and several powerhouse teams in a loaded SEC will be gunning for its conference crown.

The strengths of this 2016 Alabama team are clearly defined, as a tradition of stifling defense is showing no signs of slowing down after years of collecting the best recruiting classes in the game. The weaknesses, however, will be more evident when the Tide have the ball in their own hands.

There's a distinct mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar in Tuscaloosa this season as Alabama looks to defend another national title under Saban. And the Tide will hope that generates a few pleasant surprises across the depth chart.

With SEC media days—the unofficial start to college football season—coming up next week, let's take a look at the strengths, weaknesses and possible secret weapons for the 2016 Crimson Tide.

    

Strengths

Devastating defensive front

The Alabama defensive front played at an incredible level last season, as the Tide allowed just 75.73 rushing yards per game, 2.43 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns in what turned out to be a 15-game national championship season. They were also third nationally in sacks per game and second in sack yardage.

Yet even with the losses of players such as Jarran Reed, Reggie Ragland and A'Shawn Robinson from that elite defensive front, Alabama has the potential to be even better in the trenches this fall.

The Tide will continue to be able to go as many as three-deep across the front seven with former blue-chip players. Defensive star Jonathan Allen, ace pass-rusher Tim Williams and veteran outside linebacker Ryan Anderson combined for 28.5 sacks last season. Reuben Foster was second on the team in tackles. They're all back for 2016.

Sure, Alabama will have to replace Reed and Robinson on the defensive line, and Ragland is a tremendous loss at middle linebacker. But when the rising reserves include former 5-stars Da'Shawn Hand, Daron Payne and Rashaan Evans—more on him later—there are plenty of reasons to be confident.

"There are some new faces we have to get used to on the defensive line, but we are still a big family," senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said, per Charlie Potter of 247Sports. "It won't be different for too much longer."

Alabama should continue to be like a boa constrictor in run defense, and more of its efficient pass-rushing specialists from last season should see more of the field in bigger roles. You won't find a better collection of defensive talent anywhere else in college football.

    

A secondary that could improve even more 

The Alabama defensive front has numbers and star power. The Alabama secondary, though, has numbers, star power and additional starting experience.

Once the weakest link in Tuscaloosa, the Alabama secondary stepped its game up in a huge way last season. Opponents had the eighth-worst combined QB rating against the Tide pass defense, and it ranked in the top 10 in interceptions. Not bad for a unit that entered the season with only one returning starter at the cornerback, safety, nickel and dime positions.

Now, in 2016, Alabama welcomes back All-American cornerback-turned-safety Eddie Jackson and young star cornerbacks Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey to its starting lineup. Ronnie Harrison, who picked up a start as a true freshman last season, is set to take over for Geno Matias-Smith at free safety.

As Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh wrote earlier this year, the talented depth Alabama boasts up front carries over into the secondary. Almost all of the defensive backs on the roster were 5- or 4-star recruits. One of the lone 3-stars was none other than Jackson, who became a household name with six interceptions and two touchdowns last year after his position switch.

"Similar to how Alabama's defensive line could attack in waves this past season, the secondary might be able to do likewise in 2016 and give opposing offenses a multitude of looks," Walsh wrote. "The talent is there again, with some experience mixed in that will only improve over the [offseason]."

The Alabama defensive front will get a ton of deserved attention this fall for the huge amount of collective size and skill it has built up there. But the secondary could be the unit that leads the way for another potentially legendary Saban defense.

     

Deep talent pool at receiver

While there is still a question mark at quarterback for Alabama heading into fall camp, whoever wins the job is going to have plenty of weapons to spread the ball to this upcoming season.

Alabama brings back its top two receivers from last season—Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart—and a tight end in O.J. Howard who had the game of his life in the national championship victory over Clemson.

Ridley averaged nearly six catches per game as a true freshman and posted four 100-yard performances. He has the look of a potential All-American in 2016. Stewart was ultra-reliable, catching multiple passes in all but one game last season for the Crimson Tide. The experienced Howard might be the most skilled tight end in the country with more consistency.

Alabama also replaces breakout transfer Richard Mullaney with Gehrig Dieter, who caught the ninth-most passes in the country last season as a key figure in Bowling Green's uptempo attack. The 6'3" Dieter won't be expected to put up the same kind of numbers in Lane Kiffin's offense, but he has the tools to be a game-changer this fall for the Crimson Tide.

The Crimson Tide also get back Robert Foster and Cam Sims this season. Derek Kief caught the lone touchdown of Alabama's A-Day game, and he has the chance to break into what is a deep rotation. 

Alabama has the talented bodies to keep up a high level of competition among the receiving ranks throughout the rest of this offseason and into the regular season. That should turn into even more improvement for the wide receivers and tight ends in what is now an experienced corps.

            

Weaknesses

Inexperience in the backfield

A new starting quarterback is nothing new for Alabama. In the last two seasons, the Tide have had first- and only-year starters at signal-caller, and they won the SEC both times. 

Breaking in new running backs isn't completely unexplored territory for the Tide under Saban, either. Alabama had a different top rusher each year between 2010 and 2014. Once again, the depth of the Crimson Tide is a huge advantage when faced with major roster turnover.

However, Alabama is facing a combination of the two scenarios in 2016. Another large quarterback derby is set to continue into fall camp, while a new starting running back must replace Heisman winner Derrick Henry.

Junior Cooper Bateman has one game of starting experience at quarterback for Alabama, and younger players with high potential such as Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts will continue to push for the top job. The lack of offensive production at A-Day was discouraging for the Tide, but it did come against what could be the best defense in the entire country by season's end.

Running back, on the other hand, is filled with inexperience. Alabama returns just 296 rushing yards from last season, which is by far the fewest in the Saban era. In the past, the Tide have been able to replace their No. 1 back with an established reserve. That's not the case this year with Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.

Both Scarbrough, a Henry clone who put up ridiculous numbers in spring scrimmages, and Harris, one of the lone bright spots on offense at A-Day, are extremely talented. But they will both be thrown into the fire this fall alongside a brand-new starting quarterback. That's a rather unfamiliar issue Alabama will have to work through in 2016.

     

Consistency, new blood on special teams 

All in all, the special teams unit for Alabama played well at the perfect time last year. Shaky starts gave way to top-notch play for both kicker Adam Griffith and punter JK Scott as the Tide rolled their way to another title.

But the consistency issues reared their ugly heads this spring, especially for Griffith. The up-and-down kicker missed four field goals in A-Day before tacking on a pitch-shot effort from 21 yards out. In the two seasons that Griffith has been the top kicker for Alabama, the team has finished 97th and 82nd nationally in field-goal percentage.

Griffith has shown incredible power and accuracy at times for Alabama, as he drilled several clutch field goals in wins last season over Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. Scott can make a claim as the nation's best punter when he's on his game, like when he averaged more than 48 yards per boot in five different contests last season.

The key for Alabama's special teams unit, which will now be led by running backs coach Burton Burns, will be keeping that consistency throughout the 2016 season. The Tide need to re-establish that beginning-to-end confidence while also breaking in new starters—possibly Ridley and Xavian Marks—at both kick and punt returner.

"If you're going to be in those positions as a punt returner or kickoff returner or even as a slot receiver, your ball security has to be something that everyone can depend on," Saban said this spring, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "And I would say that to anybody that was going to do that on our team."

The punt-return game will be a special spotlight this fall, as Cyrus Jones gave the Crimson Tide four big-time touchdowns in that category last year. Alabama had some newfound success on special teams in 2015, and several question marks stand in its way of a repeat performance this season.

              

Secret Weapons

LB Rashaan Evans

In his first two seasons at Alabama, Evans lined up at outside linebacker and had modest success there as a reserve. Last year, Evans was fourth on the team in sacks with four, including two against Deshaun Watson in the national title game win over Clemson.

But Evans was at a new position this spring at Alabama, and he took full advantage of it. The Crimson Tide moved him inside to help with the loss of Ragland. Evans then recorded a team-high 17 tackles at A-Day—a number that was far bigger than any other Tide defender in the scrimmage.

"We recruited him because he had a great fast-twitch ability to rush on the edge, and he did a good job of that last year," Saban said in the spring, per Marq Burnett of SEC Country. "We still have every plan to use him at that, but we were looking at where can he develop as an every-down position player the best."

Evans brings an added injection of speed and pursuit to the inside linebacker spot with the likes of Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Keith Holcombe. Whether he lines up there in special packages or becomes a regular at inside linebacker, the Tide can use him to provide extra pressure up the middle and security in passing situations.

"I've seen greatness in him, like footwork, all that," Foster, who played with Evans in high school at Auburn, told Potter. "He brings a lot. For our defense, he moves quick, and he can get to the ball much faster, so that's a win."

Evans' move makes the Alabama defensive front even more dangerous for 2016. He should bring an additional dimension to a defense that offenses aren't used to seeing from the Crimson Tide.

     

WR Robert Foster 

Foster won't be a completely secret weapon to anyone who was paying attention during the first three weeks of Alabama's 2015 campaign. But his return has been somewhat overshadowed with Ridley, Stewart and Howard set to start again for the Tide.

The junior was in that starting lineup for Alabama early last season, starting in the opening trio of games against Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee and Ole Miss. Foster posted nearly identical stat lines—four catches for around 50 yards and a touchdown—against the Badgers and the Blue Raiders before suffering a torn rotator cuff against the Rebels.

Foster got back into action this spring for the Crimson Tide, and he picked up right where he left off in the fall. Saban sounded pleased with his improvement and consistency after the injury.

"He's playing with a lot more confidence and has got better knowledge of the position," Saban said in March, per Walsh. "I think sometimes you can learn a lot when you don't play."

The former 5-star recruit has the talent to be a breakout star for the Alabama offense, as he has both the height (6'2") and speed that teams love to see in a top-notch wide receiver. He's reportedly the fastest receiver on the team, as Matt Zenitz of AL.com noted he was clocked at a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash. 

Foster was just beginning to become a key playmaker for the Crimson Tide when he suffered a season-ending injury. Now armed with the lessons he learned from the sidelines, Foster should take that huge leap forward in 2016.

          

CB Anthony Averett 

One of the secret weapons Alabama could deploy in its deep and experienced secondary this season is junior Anthony Averett, who has been patiently waiting as a reserve cornerback for the last couple of seasons.

Averett has a great shot at some major playing time this season. Fitzpatrick slid over to nickelback last season for the Crimson Tide when they went with five-defensive back sets. That leaves a hole at cornerback opposite Humphrey, and Averett fits that position well.

Like Humphrey, Tony Brown and several other defensive backs on Alabama's roster, Averett is a high-quality speedster. According to Zenitz, he is a former New Jersey high school state champion in the 55-meter sprint, and he's been clocked in the 40-yard dash at a team-high 4.34 seconds.

That amount of speed will be a real weapon at cornerback for Alabama, especially when it moves Fitzpatrick to his favored nickel role. Although he doesn't have the bulk of most Tide defensive backs, Averett is tough to beat on deep balls and brings plenty of experience in the system.

"He's come a long way since freshman year and even since last year," former Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith said, per Zenitz. "He's learned a lot of the plays, and he's starting to play faster on the field. You can definitely tell. And with his speed, it makes it a lot easier playing corner on that island."

Averett was one of the winners of the Bart Starr Award this spring, which is given to the most improved players on the roster. Don't be surprised if he keeps that momentum going toward a key role on another fantastic Alabama defense.

          

Stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Kirk Merritt Transfers to Texas A&M: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Former 4-star recruit Kirk Merritt announced his intention to transfer to the Texas A&M Aggies on Friday, according to a post on his official Twitter account

Merritt played for the Oregon Ducks in 2015 after committing to the Pac-12 power following a standout career at Destrehan High School in Louisiana, but the electric playmaker decided to bolt from the program after just one season. 

A heralded athlete prospect during his time at Destrehan, Merritt emerged as the seventh-ranked player in the state of Louisiana and the fifth-ranked all-purpose back among 2015 recruits. Overall, he ranked No. 171 nationally in his recruiting class. 

During his lone season with the Ducks, Merritt largely saw time in a multitude of roles on special teams. According to Sports-Reference.com, he caught five passes for 61 yards and carried the rock just three times for 13 yards as a freshman. 

He also tallied seven total tackles and returned one kick for 28 yards. 

With the Aggies, Merritt should get more opportunities to showcase his athleticism and flaunt his game-breaking capabilities. 

Adding Merritt to the mix will also give head coach Kevin Sumlin another weapon to deploy in an offense that flirted with explosive potential throughout the 2015 season to the tune of 425 yards per game

    

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com

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