Analysis: Tide five flying under the radar
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
In all sports, winning championships takes maximum effort from star players and the occasional big game or two from some players who fly under the radar. Alabama’s usual suspects like AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley, will always perform at a high level, but players fans seldom read about will also need to be at their best if the Crimson Tide hope to hoist another BCS national championship trophy.

Earlier this summer, we broke down the Tide’s 2013 schedule and featured returning stars who’ll play a major role in the Tide’s chances of three peating.

Here are a few Tide players who don’t get a lot of headlines, but could have a big impact on the team’s success in 2013.

Kevin Norwood

The rising senior wide receiver is one of quarterback AJ McCarron’s favorite targets because he always shows up in big games. As a sophomore, Norwood exploded onto the scene during Alabama’s 2011 BCS national championship victory over LSU after his catch of then-Tigers defensive back Tyrann Mathieu became one of the games memorable images.

He finished his junior season as the team’s second leading receiver with 29 receptions for 461 yards and four touchdowns. But he was clutch when it mattered most, with 24 of his 29 receptions going for first downs (80.8 percent).

Freshman sensation Amari Cooper emerged as the Tide’s big play threat, while Norwood was a sure handed possession receiver. It was Norwood’s three catches on the Tide’s final drive at LSU that helped set up running back T.J. Yeldon’s game-winning touchdown. If Norwood can avoid the nagging injuries he played through in 2012, look for him to be one of the top senior receiver prospects in next year’s NFL draft.

John Fulton

The rising senior defensive back played in 12 games last season and finished with 15 tackles and five pass breakups. He had his best game in the Tide’s loss to Texas A&M, recording four pass breakups and five tackles (four solo). He was limited down the stretch due to a toe injury. Fulton overshadowed by Dee Milliner and Deion Belue last season, but with Milliner leaving early from the NFL, Fulton will be counted on as one of the Tide’s most experienced players in the secondary.

Kenyan Drake

Drake is the Tide’s only running back not named T.J. Yeldon that has game experience and isn’t coming off an injury. While he only played when games were well in hand, Drake made the most of his opportunities racking up 281 yards and five touchdowns. Saban has shown that he likes to feature a two-back system and Yeldon is expected to be the guy getting the bulk of the carries. But look for Drake to battle countless newcomers along with Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart for snaps.

Christion Jones

Like Norwood, Jones doesn’t get many headlines for his production. He’s the team’s swiss army knife, with the ability to play receiver, defensive back and return punts and kickoffs. Jones caught 27 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns as the team’s slot receiver last season. During spring, the Tide experimented with playing Jones at defensive back, the position he played most in high school. Jones may get the credit he deserves this season as he was named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list, which goes to the nation’s most versatile player.

Brandon Ivory

The defensive lineman spent the last two seasons learning from the likes of Damion Square and Jesse Williams. Now, Ivory will battle Darren Lake for the starting nose guard spot. Ivory played in 12 games last season, totaling 22 tackles and a fumble recovery. He isn’t as big as Terrence Cody, Josh Chapman and Jesse Williams, but he hopes to have the same impact as those three. If Ivory does win the starting role, the only question will be can he demand a consistent double team.
© 2013