LITTLE ROCK — Substitute Kareem Jackson for Dre Kirkpatrick, Orlando McClain for Dont'a Hightower, mix in a couple of seniors, and it's Alabama's defense, circa 2010.
LITTLE ROCK — Substitute Kareem Jackson for Dre Kirkpatrick, Orlando McClain for Dont’a Hightower, mix in a couple of seniors, and it’s Alabama’s defense, circa 2010.
Instrumental in the Crimson Tide’s 2009 national championship, cornerback Jackson and linebacker McClain decided to pass up their final year of college eligibility and enter the NFL draft. McClain was the No. 8 pick; Jackson was No. 20.
Vital in Alabama’s 2011 national championship, cornerback Kirkpatrick and linebacker Hightower said bye to the Crimson Tide with a year remaining.
The 2010 draft also included Alabama seniors such as lineman Terrence Cody and defensive back Javier Arenas; the 2012 draft includes Alabama seniors such as linebacker Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron.
Take those very similar circumstances, recall what happened in Fayetteville on Sept. 25, 2010, and there is reason to believe Arkansas will have an opportunity to upset the Crimson Tide on Sept. 15.
Two years ago, Alabama’s defense was still a work in progress and Arkansas led 20-7 with barely 20 minutes to play. Robert Lester, who is still at Alabama, intercepted a Ryan Mallett pass to set up the go-ahead touchdown and Kirkpatrick picked off another one in the final two minutes.
With the departure of Hightower, Kirkpatrick, and the seniors, I’ve got to see to believe what people say is true, that Alabama has stockpiled talented defensive players to the point that there will be no drop off.
Last September, Kirkpatrick was almost perfect in Alabama’s 24-point victory over the Razorbacks. Arkansas’ Joe Adams, Chris Gragg, and Jarius Wright caught a total of 14 passes, but those catches netted only 94 yards because the completions were in front of Kirkpatrick and others who never missed a tackle.
Alabama fans will contend that the 2012 opener against Michigan and Denard Robinson will have the Crimson Tide well prepared for Arkansas, but Robinson is a helter-skelter quarterback and the Wolverines’ offense is a far cry from the Razorbacks’ sophisticated passing game.
In addition to losing those superb defensive players, Alabama must find somebody to complement running back Eddie Lacy. Alabama’s m.o. has been to operate a tandem — Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, then Richardson and Lacy.
LSU also lost underclassmen to the NFL, including defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Morris Claiborne, and under-used wide receiver Rueben Randle. South Carolina, the next-best SEC team on Arkansas’ schedule, lost wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the NFL. Arkansas didn’t lose any underclassmen to the draft.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.