MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Heading into Saturday’s Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, it’s hard not to peg Team Alabama as the favorite. Some late scratches to the Mississippi roster haven’t helped matters but regardless of the opposition, this Alabama team looks like one of the best to play in the game in a long time.
Ryan Anderson was impossible to miss this week in Montgomery.
Practices have been crisp and competitive and there is talent at every position for Alabama. Even amongst a roster as talented as Alabama’s though, there were still standouts and 247Sports was on hand to identify them.
Top player: Ryan Anderson, OLB
Dubbing Ryan Anderson the top player in Montgomery this week really wasn’t a tough decision. In fact, anyone who coached practice this week, participated in practice this week or witnessed even on practice this week would probably agree. You just couldn’t miss him.
Anderson lined up as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme for Team Alabama and looked like a clone of current Crimson Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw in his style of play. Anderson was so physical, so active and so consistent throughout the week that it was hard not to feel sorry for the offensive linemen and running backs assigned to block him.
The Alabama commit saw his stock rise following an impressive senior year but this week’s performance should propel him even higher in the rankings.
Top offensive player: Jameis Winston, DQB
The weather this week was not made for quarterbacks. There has been gusting winds, blistering cold and sporadic rain (the weather this week was not made for anybody). However, Winston has not let it affect his performance. Every time Winston has stepped under center, the offense runs at a more crisp pace and everything looks sharp and effective.
Winston’s arm-strength has been there, his throws have been accurate and on time and he has yet to even have an opportunity to showcase his athleticism. Both teams have very capable quarterbacks with similar skill sets. All four will thrive in athletic settings but when it comes to the passing side of things, Winston is head-and-shoulders above the others and he has backed up his ranking as the nation’s top passer.
Jameis Winston didn't let the elements affect his play.
Recruitment: Winston is committed to Florida State but that pledge looks increasingly tenuous. This week he added Ohio State and Stanford as schools that he would like to visit. They join LSU, Alabama and Auburn as schools very much in the mix for his signature. Urban Meyer’s presence at Ohio State and Auburn’s recent entry into the race have certainly clouded things for Winston. In the end, it is tough to envision Winston leaving the southeast but a decommitment from Florida State looks like a possibility that is gaining momentum. To date, Alabama probably is the biggest threat.
Future five-star: T.J. Yeldon, RB
T.J. Yeldon’s stock has sky-rocketed with a huge senior year for his Daphne High School program. He has been on the verge of five-star status and his performance this week may have done enough to give him that final bump. With great running back size, Yeldon also possesses instincts and vision that you can’t teach. When he gets out of the backfield, Yeldon caught the ball more naturally than many of the wide receivers. There just doesn’t seem to be anything missing from Yeldon’s tool-set as a running back.
Recruitment: Yeldon is committed to Auburn but has been an emphasis for the Alabama coaching staff of late and even took an official visit to Tuscaloosa. Alabama is not backing down but Yeldon reaffirmed his commitment to Auburn this week and looks like he will stay firm in his pledge. Though the Tide will continue to push, time is running out as Yeldon has plans to enroll early to his school of choice.
Best position group: Linebackers
The linebacker group for Team Alabama is arguably the top position grouping for either team and it is hard to envision much getting past the second level of this Alabama defense. Anderson, the week’s top performer, is joined by fellow Alabama commits Reggie Ragland and Tyler Hayes. UAB commit Larry Pettaway has also looked good this week as has four-star Beniquez Brown who will likely play in the SEC. Even Linden High School’s Terris Lewis – a relative unknown – has shown a lot of ability during practice.
While Anderson has been the most physical and the most noticeable of the group, Hayes has been a real standout as well, primarily due to his ability in pass coverage. Only 205 pounds, Hayes has great instincts, speed and athleticism an is always around the football.
Ragland is the prospect that looks ready to benefit most from the adjustment to full speed, full contact on Saturday. When he finds the football, he gets there in a hurry and he has the maybe the most imposing stature. The odds of Ragland tallying a few highlight film hits are very good if this week’s practice is any indication.
Tyler Hayes was terrific in pass coverage from his LB position.
Recruiting: Most of the linebackers have already committed but four-star Beniquez Brown remains a coveted target. Brown has visits planned to Mississippi State, NC State, Ole Miss and Arkansas after already officially visited Tennessee. This remains a Tennessee-Mississippi State battle though with the Bulldogs currently getting the edge.
FCS steal: Ben Tamburello, OC – Samford commit
Spain Park center Ben Tamburello may be committed to Samford but don’t think he doesn’t have the ability to play with the SEC and BCS talent on the field in Montgomery. Tamburellos hasn’t backed down an inch and he shouldn’t. Though he is limited on the height side of things, Tamburello has plenty of ability, good feet and toughness.
Tamburello’s performance is hardly a surprise though. He actually chose Samford over several mid-major FBS offers. He looks to be a great pickup for the Southern Conference program.
Alphonse Taylor is listed at 6-5, 363. Tyler Nero is listed at 6-2, 290. Taylor’s listing is probably conservative while Nero’s listing is probably generous but both prospects present a major challenge for the Mississippi offensive line in different ways.
Taylor is a massive, space eating tackle that will occupy blockers and cave the line to allow his linebackers to make plays. He needs to shape his body and he needs to play every down but he moves surprisingly well for a prospect of his size. The Florida State commit actually projects to offensive line for the Seminoles and if he gets the mental side down and changes his body, he has shown that he has a lot of potential there.
Nero is not the space-eating defender that Taylor is but rather a penetrating disruptor. Though he’s undersized, Nero plays with a high motor, great leverage and he is very physical and active at the point of attack. He may get blocked initially, but don’t expect him to stay blocked. Committed to Auburn, Nero is a high-energy defender that may not have the NFL upside of others but looks poised to be a college playmaker.