In most years Thanksgiving in Alabama serves as the official introduction to Iron Bowl weekend. Occasionally the stakes for the game are raised by having one team in search of an undefeated season. On the rare occasions that both teams are highly ranked with one in contention for a national championship, the atmosphere is engulfing. Such was the case Friday and our area scout Brent Foshee was in Tuscaloosa for the game. He offers this insight, gives on update on some of the news regarding underclassmen we’ve broken the past two months and contributes additional news that will impact April’s draft!
There were no fewer than five first round prospects and a dozen or so other draft eligible players on hand during this game. They, along with their teammates, did not disappoint.The most well known and controversial college athlete in the nation is Cam Newton. Newton has made a name for himself by running through, past, and around defenders all year long. He was not able to do that against Alabama’s extremely talented front seven and was forced to throw the ball for much of the second half. Newton has terrific size and arm strength, and his athleticism will be evident in the NFL. Against Alabama, Newton made crisp pass after crisp pass, frequently in tight coverage, and always placed the ball safely away from defenders. Newton’s biggest weakness is his tendency to focus too much on the rush. He’ll need to develop a better sense for when to release the ball, although having an offense with more hot reads and contingency options will likely help him.
Auburn’s veteran offensive line has four draft eligible players, all considered mid to late round prospects. Left tackle Lee Ziemba will almost certainly be moved to the right side in the NFL where he will have a chance to use his size and strength in run blocking situations. Ryan Pugh, a fourth year starter, is an intelligent center who plays with excellent technique. Pugh needs to get stronger but certainly has the skills and wherewithal to play center in the NFL. He currently looks like a very good mid round prospect for a pass friendly offense. Guard Mike Berry is a physical specimen. The athletic mauler has the ability to block in motion and moves defensive linemen off the ball.
Tasked with stopping Auburn’s explosive offense was the Tides talented defensive front seven, lead by Marcel Dareus, considered by many to be the top defensive line prospect in the country. Dareus was disruptive all day showing the ability to get penetration and contain Newton. This was the most complete game of his junior season and Dareus improved his already superb standing in the eyes of scouts.
Safety Mark Barron did not fare nearly as well. Barron badly misplayed several balls and was unable to effectively cover any of Auburn’s receivers down field. He is still very effective playing down hill and looks to be best suited as an in the box/strong safety at the next level.
Offensively for Alabama the big winner was Julio Jones. Jones had a superhuman first half of football in which he showed good route running and soft hands. Jones left the game for a period in the 4th quarter with a bruised knee but was able to come back late in the game. Upon returning Jones was unable to get separation from defenders. Even when McElroy threw him the ball he was out muscled by Auburn defenders and could not maintain possession.
Mark Ingram had a rougher day. He is clearly not the same running back he was last year as his knee injury is still hampering his play. Although he finishes his runs with power unlike last year Ingram does not gain much yardage after contact. Ingram did a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield but just didn’t show much straight line speed. Knee injuries can be corrected and Ingram remains a physical one cut runner. He should be the first running back off the board next April without question.
Defensively, Nick Fairley had another in a series of great games. With 2 sacks, one which included a forced fumble that he eventually recovered, Fairley looked unstoppable. He made several plays in pursuit to the sidelines and up the field, harassing McElroy consistently during the last three quarters of football. Fairley can play the tackle position or end in a 3-4 defense. His versatility and play making ability might put him in competition with Marcel Dareus to be the first defensive lineman chosen in the draft.
Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens had his best game of the season. Stevens was able to make plays in the passing game and on the perimeter against the run. Stevens wraps up tackling and drives the ball carrier backwards, finishing his tackles.
Alabama linebacker Donte Hightower wasn’t in a position to make many plays but he was effective in pursuit. When Hightower gets a chance to make a big hit or even secure a ball carrier in the open field he frequently does so.
Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes still needs to do a better job of wrapping up ball carriers. His athleticism and instincts are obvious and he is frequently found around the ball. Bynes, like Stevens looks equally comfortable against the run or the pass.
Alabama Linebacker Courtney Upshaw said after the game that he felt healthy for the first time in over a month and his play showed it. Upshaw had three sacks and was all over the field. With the speed to run sideline to sideline Upshaw really impressed today.
Notes from the Press Box
The New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs both had large contingents at the game. The San Francisco 49ers also had scouts present.
Cam Newton is not speaking to the press. While this is clearly related to the ongoing NCAA investigation, additional sources in Tuscaloosa told TFY on Friday that Auburn expects Newton to leave after this season to take his shot at the NFL. This was first reported during our October 27th podcast. Not having Newton speak to the media minimizes any potential distractions related to these situations.
Courtney Upshaw said he has not considered entering the draft and cited his health as a reason why. He wants to get healthy and see how he plays before making any decisions.
As initially reported by TFY Draft Insider on October 12th, sources in Tuscaloosa on Friday confirmed linebacker Donte’ Hightower appears poised to make the jump to the NFL after the season.
Scouts in attendance have not been impressed by Mark Barron’s play this season. Barron, who gave serious thought to entering the draft before the season began, may have no choice but to return to Alabama based on his performance this year.
Alabama defensive tackle Josh Chapman and receiver Marquise Maze will both consider leaving early depending on their draft grade, sources told us on Friday.