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Tide roll in another top class

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In pro sports, the championship team is assigned a drafting position at the end of every round so that the worst teams can pick the best players and move towards contention quicker.

In college sports, two-time national champions like the Crimson Tide don't have to worry about waiting until the 120th pick. They can just swoop in and take who they want, when they want, as was the case on National Signing Day.

Adding more depth to a team which could win a third consecutive BCS title next January, Alabama signed 25 players, 17 of which are four or five-star athletes. It put particular emphasis on landing speed rushers and defensive backs in order to better defend spread offenses.

"I think we added fast-twitch, pass-rushing athletic guys to the defensive line category as being a higher priority because of spread offenses and more athletic quarterbacks," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "We have to be able to adapt to that kind of athleticism and that means we have to be more athletic to do that."

Five-star defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, along with in-state product Dee Liner, should beef up the pass-rushing corps. Four-star defensive backs Jonathan Cook, Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson will supply more fresh bodies to the backfield and to special teams.

Alabama didn't ignore the offensive side of the ball, either, inking five-star players at running back (Derrick Henry), wide receiver (Robert Foster) and tight end (O.J. Howard). It even made a foray into Utah for A.J. McCarron's possible replacement, Cooper Bateman.

About the only miss on the Tide's wish list was safety Antonio Conner, who stayed home to flesh out Mississippi's top five recruiting class. Still, no one's going to have any sympathy for Saban after he attracted another No. 1 class to Tuscaloosa.

"We certainly like the guys that we got; they have shown a lot of potential to this point," Saban said. "They have been very successful in their production and performance. We feel like we have a very good character class, which is important to us."

TOP OF THE CLASS

DE Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge, Leesburg, Virginia, High) -- Although he weighs 264 pounds, Allen moves well enough that he could project as an outside linebacker. He notched 119 tackles as a senior, along with nine sacks, eight pass breakups and six blocked kicks.

LB Reuben Foster (Auburn, Alabama, High) -- Some made light of his Auburn tattoo, but the Tide coaches overlooked that after viewing Foster's work on the field. The 6-foot-1, 244-pound inside linebacker recorded 102 tackles as a senior, including 22 for a loss, and six sacks.

RB Derrick Henry (Yulee, Florida, High) -- All Henry did was break Ken Hall's 51-year old high school rushing record with 12,124 career yards, compiling 4,261 as a senior. He rushed for a state-record 510 yards in one game and averaged 327.8 yards per game, along with 9.2 yards per carry.

SPRING SNAPSHOT

Practice priorities: With A.J. McCarron heading into his senior year, the coaching staff will try to identify his potential replacement. That freshman Cooper Bateman enrolled early to go through 15 spring practices will only speed up his development.

Other things to watch are position battles in the secondary, where Milliner and SS Robert Lester must be replaced, and who has the task of picking up the pieces for C Barrett Jones and LG Chance Warmack. Both will be starting for NFL teams in the fall.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:

--QB A.J. McCarron can go where no signal-caller has gone before -- three consecutive national championships. McCarron developed nicely under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier last year, throwing 30 TDs and just three interceptions, and became a player you can game-plan through to win games instead of the guy you just want to manage the game.

--RB T.J. Yeldon should be the starter next year with Lacy gone to the NFL. Yeldon rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a backup in 2012 and has all the tools needed to be a workhorse tailback. If he can cure his habit of occasional fumbles, Yeldon will be even tougher to stop.

--LB C.J. Mosley is back to serve as an anchor for what should be another tough defense in 2013. Mosley was especially tough against spread offenses, using his speed, instincts and long wingspan to cover sideline-to-sideline. All he has to do is prove he can hold up a bit better against power running games.
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