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Alabama Football: Top 10 Most Improved in 2014

Sports writers and college football analysts coined 2014 as Alabama’s rebuilding season. Head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide responded by winning a Southeastern Conference title and securing a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Saban has controlled previous Alabama teams with an iron fist, but he decided to let the personalities play out this season.

He’s witnessed growth, passion and a strong bond with this team. Some players took on more responsibilities, while others improved and made huge contributions. Alabama’s had many unsung heroes, but listed below is a breakdown of the top 10 most improved players.


10. Bradley Sylve, Cornerback

  • Bradley Sylve was an object of conversation in the 2014 offseason.
  • Alabama beat writers raved about his speed and coverage skills.
  • Sylve had a rough outing in Alabama’s season opener against West Virginia, but remained confident in his abilities.
  • He earned an opportunity against Auburn and excelled, totaling three tackles and two pass breakups.
  • Sylve was involved on a crucial play in the second half of the Iron Bowl. He wasn’t credited with an interception, but his effort sparked Alabama’s defense.
  • He ended the 2014 regular season with eight tackles and two pass breakups.

9. Nick Perry and Geno Smith, Defensive Backs 

  • Nick Perry and Geno Smith both emerged as playmakers down the stretch.
  • 2014 will go down as Perry’s best season at Alabama.
  • He recorded 74 tackles (fourth on the team), two interceptions and six pass breakups.
  • Smith suffered a sophomore slump in 2013, but finished this season with 50 stops.
  • He’s recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
  • Perry’s finest performances came against LSU (8 tackles, pass breakup), Mississippi State (12 stops, interception) and Auburn (13 tackles, one interception and a pass breakup).
  • Smith’s best game was against Auburn, accounting for 10 tackles. He had five stops apiece against Mississippi State, Missouri and Texas A&M.

8. Eddie Jackson, Cornerback

  • Eddie Jackson is a warrior. He injured his knee in the spring, yet returned in time for the 2014 college football season.
  • He’s the lone defensive back that’s registered a full sack.
  • Jackson’s appeared in 10 games, but has given maximum effort on the field.
  • He’s tied for ninth on the team in tackles (37).
  • Jackson has five pass breakups, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and an interception.
  • His best performance came against Mississippi State. Jackson collected seven tackles and three pass breakups.
  • He had solid games against Arkansas (6 tackles, sack), Florida Atlantic (4 stops, forced fumble) and Tennessee (4 tackles, fumble recovery).

7. Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver

  • It is weird seeing Amari Cooper on the list, but his leadership and route running has improved this season.
  • His trust in Alabama’s quarterback, Blake Sims has made Cooper a reliable target.
  • He’s made plays in a variety of ways, and has opened up opportunities for teammates.
  • Cooper has 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.
  • He stands as Alabama’s all-time leading receiver with 219 catches for 3,392 yards and 29 touchdowns.
  • Some of Cooper’s finest moments have come against quality SEC competition.
  • He totaled 200+ receiving yards against Florida, Tennessee and Auburn.
  • Cooper’s averaged at least eight catches in 11 games.
  • He was a recipient of the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year Award and Fred Biletnikoff Award.

6. Ryan Anderson, Outside Linebacker

  • 2013 was dismal for Ryan Anderson.
  • Alabama’s defense lacked a consistent pass rush.
  • Anderson’s been an unsung hero this season.
  • He has 24 tackles (7.0 tackles for loss), three sacks and a fumble recovery.
  • Anderson is second on the team in quarterback hurries (9).
  • He secured a season-high six tackles against Texas A&M.
  • Anderson was instrumental in Alabama’s 14-13 victory over Arkansas.
  • He had three stops, a sack and a fumble recovery against the Razorbacks.

5. Reggie Ragland, Inside Linebacker

  • Reggie Ragland has admirably replaced C.J. Mosley at inside linebacker.
  • He’s been instinctive and tough against the run.
  • Ragland has 88 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and an interception.
  • His consistency sparked senior linebacker Trey DePriest.
  • DePriest is third in tackles (82) with three pass breakups, forced fumble and a safety.
  • Ragland anchors a front seven that’s allowed 88.6 rushing yards per game.

4. Xzavier Dickson, Outside Linebacker

  • Like Anderson, 2013 should have been Xzavier Dickson’s breakout season.
  • It didn’t happen according to plan, but Dickson has been stellar this year.
  • He leads the team in tackles for loss (10.5), sacks (8.0) and quarterback hurries (10).
  • Dickson’s done a fine job stopping the run, totaling 37 tackles.
  • He’s guided Alabama’s defense to 29 sacks, a vast improvement from its 22 sacks in 2013.

3. Arie Kouandjio, Offensive Line (Left Guard)

  • His brother, Cyrus Kouandjio, is in the National Football League, but Arie has held his own at Alabama.
  • He’s improved in both run blocking and pass protection.
  • Kouandjio anchors an offensive line that’s allowed 13 sacks (Sims, 10) this season.
  • Alabama’s offense has averaged 6.7 yards per play.
  • Kouandjio has helped the offense achieve balance, posting 281.0 passing yards and 209.5 rushing yards per game.
  • Alabama’s accounted for 32 rushing touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon (932 yards) and Derrick Henry (895 yards) both are nearing 1,000 yards rushing.

2. Cyrus Jones, Cornerback

  • Cyrus Jones was picked on a lot as a first-year starter in 2013, but he’s matured into Alabama’s best coverage cornerback.
  • He plays bigger than what his size (5-10/194 pounds) dictates.
  • Jones has 44 tackles and two interceptions, but he leads Alabama’s defense with nine pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
  • His best games were against Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU.
  • Jones has three stops, an interception and a pass breakup against the Volunteers.
  • He shutdown LSU’s receiver Malachi Dupre, allowing one catch for 14 yards.
  • Jones totaled four tackles, two pass breakups and an interception against Mississippi State.

1. Blake Sims, Quarterback

  • Blake Sims is the definition of perseverance.
  • He didn’t let a subpar performance in Alabama’s 2014 spring game deter him.
  • Sims watched four quarterbacks transfer elsewhere (Star Jackson, Phillip Sims, Luke Del Rio, Parker McLeod and Phillip Ely), but he remained at Alabama.
  • He has thrived this season under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
  • Sims has completed 64.8 percent of passes with 32 total touchdowns (26 passing, 6 rushing).
  • He is Alabama’s single-season passing leader, registering 3,250 yards.
  • Sims’s averaged 250 passing yards per game.
  • He became a fan favorite after his performance against Florida.
  • Sims tossed for 445 yards and four touchdowns in Alabama 42-21 win over the Gators.
  • He engineered a game-winning drive against LSU, and game-saving drives against Mississippi State, Tennessee and Missouri.
  • Sims’s showed much resiliency against Auburn.
  • He overcame three interceptions, and guided Alabama to a 55-44 victory over the Tigers.
  • Sims’s 85.2 completion percentage (23/27) against Missouri set an SEC title game record. He threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama won 42-13.
Alabama’s Instrumental Players in 2014
Name Position Stats
Jonathan Allen Defensive line 31 stops,  9.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks
D.J. Pettway Linebacker 22 stops, 3 PBUs, one sack
Ryan Kelly Center 490.5 yards, 37.1 points
Jarran Reed Defensive line 52 stops,  6.5 TFLs, 5 PBUs
Reuben Foster Linebacker 20 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, one sack

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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