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February 2, 2011TUSCALOOSA _ Wednesday was mostly about formalities for University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, even when addressing reporters.
He began his press conference with the traditional thanks to those who helped and like every other coach was pleased and excited with his incoming recruiting class, but also got into some specifics and other issues.
"I've used this analogy before, just because you pick the best puppy dog with the biggest feet doesn't mean they're going to be the best hunting dog," Saban said after receiving 14 more letters of intent, which in addition to the nine already enrolled gave Alabama 23 new players.
Even with two of the nation's top prospects delaying their decisions, the Crimson Tide had another impressive litter of prospects, which in the waning hours of National Signing Day was rated No. 1 in the nation by Rivals.
"Recruiting is a big part of football," said linebacker Trey DePriest, who is already on campus. "It makes your program what it is.
"We have a great class. I can't wait until they all get here in the fall."
Alabama had to sweat through two last-minute additions, defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan and Brent Calloway of Russellville, who was initially recruited as a linebacker but will first give running back a shot.
However, in a stunning development, Cyrus Kouandijo, older brother of Tide freshman tackle Arie and Rivals' No.4 prospect, announced his commitment to Auburn during his schools signing ceremony only to then not turn in the paperwork as is still considering his options.
Alabama is holding a spot for him and the nation's top recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, won't announce his destination between Alabama and South Carolina until Feb. 14.
Consequently, Hasean Clinton-Dix, a defensive back from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, is for now the Tide's the top addition, ranked seventh overall by Rivals and the top safety.
"He's a fine young man, certainly the kind of character and attitude we need in our program, and he's going to provide a lot of leadership," Saban said during ESPNU's 10-hour broadcast. "I really have a tremendous amount of respect for guys who commit early, they stick with their convictions, they sort of help and become a part of the program. That's what Ha-Ha did and I think he's going to be a good player here."
His high school teammate, running back Demetrius Hart, is rated 19th. Alabama signed seven players in the Rivals 100.
The Tide ended up signing just seven in-state players, but may have had its most far-ranging class ever in terms of distance with additions from everywhere between California and North Carolina, not to mention defensive tackle Jesse Williams, who hails from Brisbane, Australia.
As for positions, defensive line was an obvious priority, with Alabama adding six and hoping to get more athletic especially in pass-rushing. Yet only two offensive linemen were added and no one who can play left tackle.
Otherwise, Saban talked extensively about recruiting issues, including the criticism he's been taking over oversigning.
"We have never gotten rid of a player because of his physical ability, and any player who has left this program prematurely has created his own exit problem, he's created his own conditions for leaving, in a sense, whether they're academically, some violation of team rule and policy, whatever it is some of these things we're not allowed to comment on," he said. "We have so many seniors. We have some guys going out for the draft. Nobody knows for sure how many guys we really had on scholarship last year but we didn't have 85, I can tell you that. We had some guys who could not finish the season who will probably not be able to continue to play and can be replaced, and we have several players who can graduate and may not come back for their fifth year and have redshirted. When you add all these things up, plus we may have guys who may not qualify, and there may be a guy who does not appear on this release who was committed that may already be in junior college someplace.
"But to criticize based on numbers when you don't have all the facts and you don't have all the internal information I think is a little premature and unfair. For people to go out and use that against you in recruiting is even more unfair."
Saban also touched on the practice of grayshirting, having a recruit defer enrolling for a semester like defensive lineman Wilson Love and wide receiver Roland Carswell just did.
"I think there's a lot of criticism in grayshirting that's unfair," he continued, noting that there can be numerous reasons for doing so including academic, physical development, injury and maturity. "We have never, ever grayshirted a guy here, who when he decided to come here didn't know the circumstances."
Although Saban will keep an eye on the two remaining possibilities, he's already turned his attention to the Class of 2012 and estimated that he talked to 20 players for next year while waiting for the fax machine to crank out sheets Wednesday.
Pagan and Calloway may have been enough to lock up another Rivals national recruiting title, which won't be determined until every high-ranking recruit turns in his LOI. Pagan was originally committed to Clemson and Calloway flipped back from Auburn.
"He was committed to us for a year," Saban said about Calloway. "He dismissed us for a while and then came back, that's all I can say about that. Then he visited for a while and decided he wanted to come back here. It's tough on these guys, it really is.
"I actually wish, if we want to make a commit worth something, then when a guy commits people ought to stop recruiting him and in the Southeastern Conference when a guy commits that just makes him a target. It's not like that everywhere else in the country We got a couple of guys too, I'm not saying we're squeaky clean because there's a couple of guys who we got who were committed to someplace else.
"It's just the way people do business here in the Southeastern Conference."