Recruiting: Early impact commitments

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Saturday proved that no stage is too big for freshmen in college football. The freshman trio of Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Geno Smith all played pivotal roles in the win over Georgia, and showed how important last year’s recruiting class is to this year’s run at the national championship.

Whether or not Alabama defeats Notre Dame in Miami, the Crimson Tide will have the same goal next year, and they are hoping the 2013 class can provide the same type of instant impact.

Three names to keep an eye on

TE O.J. Howard (Prattville, Ala.): Alabama has never had a player like Howard at its disposal. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound prospect has the size and strength to play tight end, but he runs and jumps more like a wide receiver. He’s drawn comparisons to former Tide star Julio Jones based on raw athleticism alone. Alabama will lose top pass-catching tight end Michael Williams as well as its starting H-back, Kelly Johnson. You can bet that the coaches find a way to get Howard on the field in some capacity, and it won’t upset quarterback AJ McCarron at all if the incoming freshman makes his way onto the field early on.

DE DeMarcus Walker (Jacksonville, Fla.): As a senior in high school, Walker is strong enough to compete at Alabama. Imagine what happens once he gets into the Tide’s weight program. The coaches are saying he’s going to play the Jack linebacker spot when he gets to Tuscaloosa, but to see the field as a freshman, he might have to play along the defensive line. If he sticks at the Jack, he will most likely have to wait his turn behind Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson. The deciding factor could be ESPN 150 defensive tackle Dee Liner. If Liner flips from Auburn to Alabama, then the coaches might decide to keep Walker at linebacker.

ATH Derrick Henry (Yulee, Fla.): The biggest question mark concerning Alabama’s 2013 class is if Henry ends up a running back. If so, he will have to compete with a pair of ESPN 150 running backs -- Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny -- for playing time in what is already a crowded backfield. Based on Henry’s size, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Tide try him out at H-back as a freshman. Johnson is gone, and Jalston Fowler is coming off a major knee injury. As good as Henry has been in high school, he could make a significant impact even in a limited capacity. Regardless of what position he ends up at, he’s too talented to keep off the field.

Note: All three players listed above will enroll early at Alabama.

Other options: If starting right tackle D.J. Fluker leaves early for the draft, it leaves a void that could be filled by junior college transfer Leon Brown or possibly ESPN 300 offensive lineman Grant Hill. Also, with the impending departure of Dee Milliner at cornerback, both Maurice Smith and Anthony Averett might get a look in the secondary.