20 October 2009
The Alabama football team was back in full pads today as they continued preparations for the Tennessee Vols. The weather in Tuscaloosa was brisk and clear, similar to the forecast for Saturday afternoon - a high of 57.
Here's what you need to know:
All of the guys who were listed as day-to-day yesterday practiced again today - Javier Arenas (rib), Josh Chapman (abdominal strain), Michael Bowman (patellar tendon), Dre Kirkpatrick (back spasms), and Rod Woodson (patellar tendon). It's good news to see these guys medically cleared to practice, though I'm guessing most of them will be "game time decisions".
Two Bama players were sporting new numbers today - Jerrell Harris with #10, and Chris Rogers with #1. It's pretty common for players working on the scout team to wear numbers representing a player from the opponent. But #1 for Tennesse is wide receiver Brandon Warren and #10 is shared by wide receiver Marsalis Teague and defensive back Tyler Wolf. It's unlikely that either Harris or Rogers would be working as a receiver on the scout team, and Harris is not likely to simulating a defensive back; at least not a 6-0 200 lb one.
The greater likelihood is that these two guys have changed numbers to allow for them to play on special teams with other guys who have similar numbers. Both Harris (in 2008) and Roy Upchurch have played on the kick coverage unit, though not at the same time because they have shared the #5. Julio Jones and Chris Rogers have been sharing the #8, which means they also can't be on the field at the same time (though I think they were on Bama's first punt return against South Carolina).
It's possible that Harris has changed to #10 to allow for him to join Bama's somewhat depleted kick coverage unit. Both Rod Woodson and Dre Kirkpatrick have been mainstays on the coverage unit, and both guys are dealing with injuries that could keep them out Saturday. Even when completely healthy it would be a bit of an understatement to say that this particular unit has had some struggles.
Rogers to #1 is likely a move being made to allow for the possibility of he and Julio being on the punt return team together, preparing for the possibility that Javier Arenas will miss Saturday's game. Bama had an inordinate number of penalties on punt returns Saturday, and part of the problem could have been Rogers being absent from that squad.
If Rogers does change to #1 permanently, that probably answers the question regarding a potential redshirt for B.J. Scott. It was pretty well assumed that Scott, a sophomore who played wide receiver in 2008, was taking the year as a redshirt to learn the cornerback position. After seven games it's easier to identify likely redshirts, but seeing a guy who plays the same position possibly switching to the same number makes it even easier.
As for the on-field work... Nico Johnson was getting more looks at the will linebacker in the nickel package. Cory Reamer has played two outstanding games at the will in the nickel formation, but it looks like the staff is giving consideration to Nico getting more playing time. Rolando McClain was bragging about Nico's work ethic yesterday, as it looks like he's taken the freshman under his wing - similar to how he treated Dont'a Hightower last year.
My guess is that we're seeing Nico get more work with the nickel package simply to give him more reps in passing situations. Tennessee is a run-first team, which means that Bama will likely play more of its 3-4 base defense on Saturday. That means the will linebacker will have to be able to shift into coverage more often to account for the screens and play-action plays that make up a large part of Tennessee's offensive game plan.
Look for Bama's depth on the defensive line to be an issue Saturday. The Vols are used to pounding Monterio Hardesty and Bryce Brown against defenses, and when they are successful, it wears a defense out. Bama has eight guys who have played significant snaps on the defensive line this season - Terrence Cody, Brandon Deaderick, Lorenzo Washington, Josh Chapman, Marcell Dareus, Luther Davis, Kerry Murphy and Nick Gentry. Even with Chapman's status for the game uncertain, the Tide has tremendous depth up front. Throw in the fact that Courtney Upshaw, Alex Watkins, and Chris Jordan have also seen playing time behind the Tide's four starting linebackers (and Jerrell Harris being eligible), and the Tide should have plenty of talented bodies to counter-act Tennessee's offensive strength.
Tennessee had success against Georgia in the passing game by rolling Jonathan Crompton away from pressure. That's easy to do when you can indentify where the pressure is coming from. Considering that Nick Saban is known for how well he disguises blitzes, and this year's defense appears to finally be running those blitz packages, look for that to be the X-factor Saturday. Crompton has shown zero ability to play well when faced with defensive pressure, and Bama is among the league's best at pressuring the quarterback.
Also of note today, the backup offensive tackles - Alfred McCullough and Tyler Love - worked at the opposite tackle position than normal during the media viewing period. Love was on the left and McCullough on the right. This is an interesting development, and we'll keep an eye on this to see if it was a one day experiment or a more permanent situation.
The Tide will practice again on Wednesday, and every day that the injured guys continue to be cleared for contact is a possible good sign. We'll have our normal report.
Oh yeah... I hate orange.
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