TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — The spoils of Alabama’s football success these days go well beyond the trophies and rings accumulating on the second floor of the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility.
Arguably more significant is coach Nick Saban’s development of the players that helped haul in the hardware.
Saban begins what he calls “the process” by selling recruits on an opportunity to grow in Alabama’s pro-style program, everything from the way they are coached to the way they are treated. Those that blossom could compete for national championships using a blueprint he offers, which also happens to detail the path for the elite to reach the NFL.
Last week, the NFL announced the names of more than 300 prospects invited to the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 22-28 in Indianapolis. Nine Alabama players were invited, the most this year from any school.
Last month, Saban met with reporters at the Senior Bowl. Seven former Alabama players accepted invitations to the annual showcase. The week leading to the game marked the unofficial start of four-month grind of workouts and tests leading to the NFL draft April 26-28.
So why does Saban think his players are more prepared than others for the NFL?
“There’s two things: the fact we play sort of a pro-style offense, defense, special teams and sort of approach the things we do the same way the NFL does,” Saban said last month.
“But I think the second thing is they make a better transition because we take pride in the fact that we try to teach our guys being responsible for their own self-determination, which is accountability. So when someone defines their role or what their job is they can be accountable to it, and I think that helps them make a better transition in the NFL when you don’t have all these support personnel like we do in college around them.”
Last year, Alabama had four first-round draft picks taken for the first time in program history — defensive end Marcell Dareus (No. 3, Buffalo Bills), wide receiver Julio Jones (No. 6, Atlanta Falcons), offensive tackle James Carpenter (No. 25, Seattle Seahawks) and running back Mark Ingram (No. 28, New Orleans Saints).
This year, some NFL draft experts expect five Alabama players to be first-round draft picks — running back Trent Richardson, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, safety Mark Barron and linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
Barron, however, will not participate. He is recovering from double hernia surgery.
Other Alabama players joining them at the NFL Scouting Combine are nose guard Josh Chapman, wide receiver Darius Hanks, wide receiver Marquis Maze and cornerback DeQuan Menzie.
“As I’ve told them, I’ve been around first-rounders that’ve been cut within two years; sixth-, seventh-rounders and free agents that have become Pro Bowl players and Hall of Fame players,” Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said at last month’s Senior Bowl. “It’s what you do once you get your opportunity, but you are going to get an opportunity if you’re invited here to be on an NFL roster. That’s pretty special.”
Players such as center William Vlachos and tight end Brad Smelley, who both played in the Senior Bowl, will have another chance to impress NFL scouts March 7 when Alabama hosts its annual on-campus pro day.