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TUSCALOOSA — One of the biggest fallacies within the recruiting world is that Alabama doesn’t play true freshmen.

As evidenced by last year’s Crimson Tide defense, which featured six different true freshmen starters at various times throughout the season, Nick Saban is willing to use freshmen when needed.

In fact, eight true freshmen started for the Crimson Tide last season, including four — offensive lineman Evan Neal (13), linebackers Shane Lee (13) and Christian Harris (12) and nose guard D.J. Dale (10) — who started at least 10 games in 2019.

The year before, five-star cornerback Patrick Surtain II started the final 12 games of the 2018 season.

If a player is talented enough and has the ability to handle the responsibility of considerable playing time, Alabama will play him, regardless of his year in school.

With that in mind, here are 12 freshmen — both true and redshirt — who Crimson Tide fans should watch throughout spring practice, which begins Friday:

1. Bryce Young, QB: The prized jewel of the most recent signing class will also be the biggest attraction of the spring with many fans already anticipating the five-star California product supplanting interim-starter Mac Jones as Alabama’s starting quarterback.

Since arriving on campus in January, Young has already impressed many with his maturity and leadership, regularly guiding his fellow freshmen throughout Alabama’s Fourth Quarter workout program this offseason.

As the nation’s No. 1-ranked dual-threat quarterback according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, Young was among the country’s most decorated high school seniors last year. That including earning the distinction as 2019’s high school quarterback of the year by the National Quarterback Club and the Maxwell Award’s high school offensive player of the year after combining for 4,885 total yards and 68 total touchdowns last season for Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.

He was also highly proficient as a passer, completing 72.6 percent of his passes for 4,528 yards and 58 touchdowns to just six interceptions as a senior.

It’s because of that success, and some extraordinary highlight-reel plays, that many Alabama fans are ready to name Young as Tua Tagovailoa’s successor before he ever steps on the field in Tuscaloosa.

That won’t happen, especially after Jones impressed in four fill-in starts in place of injured QB Tua Tagovailoa last season, throwing for 1,172 yards and 13 touchdowns on 71.4-percent passing (70-of-98) in those games. A let’s not overlook sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother who served as the third-string quarterback much of last season before being promoted to backup late in the year.

Still, it’s hard to gloss over Young’s sheer natural talent and, given what Tua Tagovailoa did when handed the reins to Alabama’s offense in the 2017 national championship game, Saban could certainly be more inclined to give Young a chance sooner than later.

2, 3. Traeshon Holden and Thaiu Jones-Bell, WR: Unlike the questions surrounding the quarterback position, the Crimson Tide appears solid at receiver, where it returns rising senior DeVonta Smith and fellow three-year starter Jaylen Waddle as its top two options. Smith broke out with a team-leading 1,256 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019 while Waddle ranked third on the team with 1,227 all-purpose yards and eight total touchdowns.

Still, with the early departures of fellow standouts Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III to the NFL this offseason, there will be opportunities to be had within Alabama’s receiving corps.

Rising sophomore John Metchie III was an early enrollee like both Holden and Jones-Bell and managed to impress in his first spring with the team, so much so he was named MVP of the annual A-Day spring game after hauling in five catches for 133 yards last April.

While Metchie seems like the obvious front runner to be elevated to starter-level status, both Holden and Jones-Bell also have the natural size and athleticism to make an early impact as well, especially with strong springs. Both also are from the South Florida recruiting hotbed that’s served Alabama so well in recent years with Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, and Jeudy to name a few.

Look for both to contribute throughout spring and possibly earn some opportunities next fall.

4, 5. Jase McClellan and Trey Sanders, RB: Following the unexpected return of talented junior tailback Najee Harris, the Crimson Tide’s backfield looks particularly loaded once again, especially with the recent additions of four-star tailbacks McClellan and Roydell Williams.

While Harris and rising senior Brian Robinson Jr. should receive a majority of the carries next season, Alabama’s coaches have favored spreading the ball around its backfield, including involving multiple freshmen in the past.

That sort of approach should mean big things for both McClellan and Sanders, the latter a former five-star signee who sat out his entire true freshman year with a preseason foot injury.

When healthy, Sanders certainly has the immense talent to contribute and was expected to have a role last season after impressing during summer activities. But a preseason injury and subsequent surgery forced the nation’s No. 1 tailback in 2019 to delay his arrival, though all indications are he’ll be available to play a major role this season.

Meanwhile, McClellan was a bit of a Signing Day surprise after flipping from a previous pledge to Oklahoma on the first day of the early period last December, but the 5-11, 200-pound Texas product certainly has the goods to contribute early. A consensus Top-50 player nationally last year, McClellan totaled more than 6,400 rushing yards on 842 carries and 122 touchdowns during his high school career at Aledo (Texas).

6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Will Anderson Jr., Chris Braswell, Jackson Bratton, Demouy Kennedy and Drew Sanders, LB: As indicated earlier, Alabama has shown a willingness to play true freshmen at linebacker and even with the healthy returns of veterans Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon to the fold.

But while Moses and McMillon will certainly restock things at middle linebacker, and potentially moving both Harris and Lee back down the pecking order, the offseason departures of starting outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis open up opportunities on the edges for an array of talented freshmen options.

That includes five highly touted early enrollees in Anderson, Braswell, Bratton, Kennedy and Sanders — with all five arriving as four- and five-star talents with an eye on contributing early.

Anderson, Braswell and Sanders are the three five-star additions with the natural size and athleticism that will help them translate well into the SEC, with Anderson and Sanders arriving on campus at 6-4 and 6-5 and 230 pounds, respectively, while Braswell — of familiar St. Frances (Maryland) Academy — is no slouch at 6-3 and 220-pounds and growing. In-state products Bratton and Kennedy, of Muscle Shoals and Theodore, respectively, also tip the scales at 6-3 with broad frames that should help them as pass rushers.

And while there are also several returners capable of stepping in to fill the holes left by Jennings and Lewis, don’t count out the true freshmen that have come to campus ready to assert themselves into the mix despite their youth.

11, 12. Brandon Turnage and Jahquez Robinson, DB: Despite redshirting last season, Turnage did more than enough to climb the depth chart in his first season to see practice reps with the second team at cornerback before finding his way onto the field against Western Carolina late last season.

Meanwhile, Robinson has already impressed after being the first member of Alabama’s 2020 signing class to arrive on campus, landing the day after signing in mid-December and immediately participating in practice.

With the defensive back departures of three starters — cornerbacks Shyheim Carter, Trevon Diggs and Xavier McKinney — Alabama will need to replenish its defensive back depth and both Turnage and Robinson fit the mold of what Saban likes out of his cornerbacks at 6-0 or taller and at least 180 pounds.

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This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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