Freshmen to provide quick help

Published 5:41 pm Wednesday, July 30, 2008

MONTGOMERY – Antoine Caldwell feels pretty good about the future of Alabama football after observing the latest freshman class all summer.

The group is helping the Crimson Tide’s senior center feel better about the present, too. The nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting class is needed immediately to help out on the field, especially at linebacker and receiver.

“How these guys develop will have something to say about the kind of success we have and how much our team improves this year,” coach Nick Saban said.

The Tide reports Thursday and begins preseason practice Friday.

Caldwell and other veterans have gotten good feelings about the young group during summer workouts, and not just for speed, size or athleticism.

“Everybody’s been going to class, everybody’s been handling their business,” Caldwell said. “This group has really come in with the mind-set that, ‘Hey, we’re going to do everything we can possibly do to play and to compete.’ I feel like competition raises the level of everybody on your football team.

“That’s what they’ve come in and done, and it’s been good for us.”

The freshmen’s impact can’t stop there for Alabama to improve on a 7-6 season. There’s plenty of room for help with a team that lost key receivers DJ Hall, Matt Caddell and Keith Brown along with three starting linebackers.

Plus, onetime starting linebacker Prince Hall’s status remains unclear after he was suspended for spring practices for violating team rules, and converted running back Jimmy Johns was kicked off the team in June following his arrest on felony drug charges.

That leaves an opportunity for linebacker signees like Jerrell Harris, one of the nation’s most highly rated players at his position.

Receiver Julio Jones comes to Tuscaloosa with even more hype. Jones, Alabama’s Mr. Football, was ranked as the nation’s top receiver prospect and one of the Top 5 overall prospects by a number of recruiting services.

All-SEC safety Rashad Johnson hasn’t spent much time covering Jones in drills this summer, but he likes what he has seen when the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder goes against other teammates.

“He is definitely making plays on those guys and that makes me think he can do the same thing on Saturday for us,” Johnson said.

Saban doesn’t want the newcomers worrying about living up to what he refers to as external factors, and that includes the high expectations.

Trying to live up to that hype “can create a tremendous amount of frustration,” he said.

“It’s negative energy and it’s not gonna help you improve,” Saban said.

It’s also not going to help them prepare for life in the Southeastern Conference, much less the season-opener against Clemson in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

There have been plenty of freshmen who look good in workouts but all but disappear once the season starts, but Caldwell doesn’t think that will happen to some members of this group.

“Whatever ‘it’ is, they’ve got it,” he said. “I’ve just never seen a group that wants it as bad as they do. With them coming in and being like that, it’s going to raise everybody’s play. I just feel good about the group they brought in.”