Nine freshmen to watch as Alabama approaches game week prep for Miami

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News
Linebacker Dallas Turner (15) works on rushing skills as Crimson Tide players work on drills in practice Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Alabama football coach Nick Saban doesn’t usually dwell on freshmen in the preseason. That’s not to say the Crimson Tide will not make the occasional allusion to freshmen who might have an impact. 

The topic isn’t exactly off limits, especially when Saban suspects that future recruits might be listening. Two scrimmages into the fall, with Miami straight ahead on Sept. 4, here’s a look at nine freshmen who might matter, based on Saban’s comments and past history.

To be clear, players who played in 2020 but didn’t technically lose a year of eligibility because of last year’s COVID-19 exception aren't on the list like Bryce Young, Malachi Moore and Jase McClellan, who may spend the year in a time-sharing arrangement with Brian Robinson and perhaps more. This is a quick glance at nine players who could make their debut, and an impact, in the Mercedes Dome.

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First, there are offensive tackles J.C. Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer.

Alabama under Saban has had a history of using freshmen at the right tackle spot. Jonah Williams, Jedrick Wills, Alex Leatherwood and Evan Neal all come to mind. Later in their careers, after some seasoning, they could move to left tackle as needed and make room for the next young prospect. 

Cam Robinson stepped right into the left tackle spot and started for the next three years, so he is something of an exception. But this year, the right tackle spot opposite Neal may require the pattern of youth to be repeated by one of the five-star signees, Latham or Brockermeyer, as Saban has alluded to shuffling to cope with nagging injuries along the line after both scrimmages.

There was buzz in the spring after Agiye Hall had a solid performance at A-Day.

In the fall, that buzz has shifted somewhat to JoJo Earle, a speedster who also figures to be a factor in the return game. Freshmen play quickly at the wide receiver spot, as all of Alabama’s recent run of high NFL Draft choices, including this year with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, made immediate impacts. Look for both Earle and Hall.

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Because what fun is a season without a little quarterback spice added to the recipe, one has to mention Jalen Milroe.

That’s pushing up to the fine line of “rat poison” with Saban because predicting the presumed third-team quarterback to see action underestimates Miami, a Top 25 preseason choice. That won’t stop many Alabama fans from expecting at least a glimpse.

Defensively, linebacker Dallas Turner certainly looks the part of a disruptive force.

There is a crowd at the inside and outside positions, but Turner may find his way onto the field regardless.

In the secondary, while Saban does not mention newcomers often, as the “assistant position coach,” he likes to say, it’s hard not to see the athletic ability of Terrion Arnold and Kool-Aid McKinstry, freshman cornerbacks who would also form 40% of a strong intramural basketball roster. 

Then there is the freshest of all the freshmen, Australian punter James Burnip, who has never played the sport at any level. He wouldn’t be the first Aussie to play for Alabama, but he might be the most intriguing.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt