18 April 2010
The Alabama football team concluded its 2010 spring practice in front of a 91,000+ crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. In an odd moment that can only be described by saying "it's a practice," the white team won 23-17 by throwing a touchdown pass after time had expired. On Monday night the members of the white team will eat steak while the members of the crimson team eat beans. Members of both teams will likely pay a little more attention to the fact that they will receive their SEC Championship, BCS Championship, and National Championship rings during that dinner.
Here's what you need to know:
Bama made it through the spring without a major injury. Any time you can get through a practice period, especially one with three scrimmages, without a major injury, you've got to be pleased.
There were a few guys that missed significant time during the spring, though:
- William Vlachos missed the entire spring after having foot surgery. Bama's starting center is expected to be fully recovered by the time summer workouts begin, and he'll immediately assume his starting role again.
- Milton Talbert was held out of contact for the entirety of the spring with a shoulder injury. Milton is still moving back and forth between defensive end and jack linebacker, and missing practice really hurts him. He's a favorite of the coaching staff and his teammates because of his attitude and work ethic, but I wouldn't be shocked to see him end up on a medical hardship scholarship.
- Earl Alexander missed both the final scrimmage and the A-Day with an abdominal muscle strain. Earl has missed a ton of time in the last two seasons with a variety of injuries. What's made that more infuriating for him is that none of them were of the serious variety. He just can't stay healthy. The depth of pure athleticism behind him on the depth chart has increased drastically since the 2008 season, and he'll really have to have a great summer to move back into the playing rotation.
There were a couple of other guys who missed A-Day - Chad Lindsay, Michael Bowman, and Taylor Pharr - though none of their injuries are severe.
As for the actual game itself... It's hard to get terribly excited or terribly dismayed by much of anything. A good play by the offense means a bad play by the defense, and that works the other way, too. What you have to do is just watch the plays and try to evaluate how guys looked. So...
Greg McElroy is still the starter, despite the fact that he didn't play particularly well. He made some nice throws, and he made some bad decisions. He was also facing the first unit front seven on defense that is going to give a lot of teams absolute fits. His completions percentage would have likely been higher if not for some dropped passes by Julio Jones and the fact that the team threw the ball downfield far more than usual. It's probably worth taking a minute to note that the staff likely did that to test the young secondary players, and they performed pretty well in that regard.
Greg's lone highlight was probably his touchdown pass to Marquis Maze off of a flea-flicker, though Maze was actually out of bounds on the catch. Julio was also more open than Maze and was in the middle of the field.
A.J. McCarron is the real deal, though. In his first action in front of a big crowd he made a lot of really nice throws. He also showed good athleticism in moving the pocket, and would have had several nice gains on the ground if the quarterbacks weren't limited to two-hand-touch. It would not surprise me at all to see A.J. get a series or two in every game during the fall, and I fully expect that he'll get ample playing time any time Bama is up by three or more touchdowns.
His best throws were both touchdowns - one to Trent Richardson, and the other the game winner to Brandon Gibson. Both throws were right on the money, and placed where only the offensive player could catch them. They are also evident of the fact that he is a better passer than Greg McElroy.
The reason that McElroy is still ahead is simple - he gives the team the best chance to win football games. He's more experienced and makes quicker reads and better decisions. He'll also turn the ball over less times. But the future looks very secure in the hands of McCarron.
Star Jackson had his best day as a Bama quarterback. Lots of folks had written him off, but he played very, very well. Moreso than any one thing that he did well, he simply looked comfortable on the field. In past appearances in front of a crowd Star had looked indecisive and very nervous. On Saturday he looked composed, and it showed in his effectiveness. He moved the pocket well and made several nice throws. His best was a touchdown pass to Demetrius Goode - on what looked like the same play where McCarron hooked up with Richardson. Star placed the ball in a perfect spot where Goode was in stride behind the defense.
Phillip Sims didn't end up with great numbers, but he also got very limited playing time. I think everyone who saw him left impressed, though. When you compare how he looked to how Jackson looked last spring or how McCarron looked during last year's fan day, there's just no comparison. He looked like a guy who had been in the system for a lot longer than 15 practices. He was calm and composed, and while he didn't complete a ton of passes, he showed a good arm and a quick release. He's almost certain to redshirt in 2010, but should give McCarron great competition over the next few years.
The fact that Bama has four quarterbacks of this quality is pretty amazing. And, honestly, I don't know if I would have included Star Jackson on that list before Saturday. All three of Bama's backups would be in serious contention to be the starting quarterback at Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU. That speaks volumes about how bad the quarterback situation is at those three schools, but it also says a ton about these three guys. And the development of Jackson and McCarron to this point says a lot about Jim McElwain's ability to coach quarterbacks - though he probably had a lot of help from Mike Groh and Curt Cignetti last season.
When I think back to the debacle that was Spencer Pennington, Marc Guillon, and Brandon Avalos, and then look at the current state of the position, it puts into stark clarity the difference in the program now - though, really, the national championship should probably have done that for me. Regardless, the quarterback position is probably as talented as it has ever been when you are talking about a 4-deep. All four guys need to continue to develop, but things look really great right now.
There's not a whole lot to say here because the teams simply didn't run enough to really take note. Mark Ingram had a 60 yard run that was keyed by a great block from Kellen Williams and a great downfield block from Marquis Maze. Otherwise, the real contributions from these guys came in pass protection and pass reception.
Ingram pretty much set the tone for the day on the first play when he completely leveled B.J. Scott on a simple toss play. Scott is a pretty physical player, and Ingram made him look like a speed bump. Forget the stats, this play should tell you everything you need to know about Mark. He came into this game looking to send the message that a Heisman Trophy and a National Championship have not made him content. He played with the same intensity that we saw all last season, and I expect we'll see that again in 2010.
Trent Richardson is probably the most talented running back in the country. It's just that simple. His combination of power and speed is just plain ridiculous, and then you combine that with the two catches that he made... wow. The fact that he is #2 on Bama's depth chart is just silly. Don't be surprised to see the split of carries between he and Ingram be much closer to 50/50 than we saw last year. And I'm hoping like hell we see him on kick returns. He just mauls people when they try to tackle him.
Eddie Lacy had a nice debut, including showing nice vision on a touchdown run - the only ground TD of the day. I would have liked to have seen more from him, simply because we've heard so much about him over the last few months, but the playcalling limited what we saw. Having said that, I think it's clear that he is the #3 guy in the rotation, and I expected we'll see him get more carries than an injured Roy Upchurch got in 2009. I don't think he'll have the same role as Upchurch, because I don't see him being the designated third down back.
I also don't think we'll see the staff wait and use Lacy late in games after Ingram/Richardson have worn defenses down. Instead, I think we'll see him get a handful of carries throughout the game to help keep the top two guys fresh, and allow the staff come with a rested Ingram or Richardson late in games. These three guys are all big and hard to tackle, and Richardson has elite speed. Bama will run a lot, but I expect we'll also see these guys heavily involved in the passing game.
Demetrius Goode and Jeramie Griffin didn't get many opportunities, which is likely to be the case in the fall. Goode does have a completely different skill-set than all of the other players, and Griffin is a pure power back. That could lead to some situational opportunities for each guy, similar to how we saw Terry Grant used before his injury in 2009. The good news is that these two guys are talented enough to be in the rotation at nearly half of the schools in the SEC, and they are role players at Alabama.
This was kind of a mixed bag. Julio didn't have a good game, and that's going to leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. He suffered from the same drop problems that plagued him during the 2009 season, and that's simply got to improve. Bama isn't an explosive team in the passing game, and drops simply can not happen - especially not from the team's top receiver. He did get a lot of separation from the defensive backs, and was open a good bit more than we saw last year. Unfortunately pass protection kept Greg McElroy from getting him the ball in several situations.
Marquis Maze looks like he might have finally cured the drop problems that held him back early in his career. Now he's got to work on getting open with more frequency. He's certainly athletic enough to make plays, but he needs to continue to work on running better routes. That's especially true when teams go to zone defenses, which begs Bama to get him the ball in open spots on the field. He can be more than just a speed guy, and that's likely his goal for the offseason.
Darius Hanks played pretty much the same way he always played. He caught everything that was thrown his way, and he and McElroy have a nice rhythm. But, like Maze, he's simply not open quite enough. If he can work on getting into and out of his routes quicker, he'll be the guy that really takes advantage of the double teams that will likely still go Julio's way.
Brandon Gibson was the star of the group on A-Day, finally showing the fans what made him a top 100 national player coming out of high school. He and McCarron clearly have a great ryhythm, and he made Bama's young second team secondary look bad. He's not a speed burner, but does a nice job of running quality routes. He's evidently had a hard time impressing his position coach Curt Cignetti, but since Curt was one of the white team's coaches on Saturday, he might have had that break through.
Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell looked to have made nice progress in their redshirt years. Norwood compares to Hanks, while Bell compares to Maze. Bell seemed to go downfield more than any other receiver, and only great coverage by John Fulton kept him from having several big plays. Norwood was solid on shorter routes. But if you were on the white team and not named Gibson, you didn't catch many balls.
I'll go ahead and throw the tight ends in here, because they simply didn't do enough to warrant their own category. Michael Williams dropped the only two passes thrown his way, and those were the only two thrown to a tight end all day. Brad Smelley handled his snap and lateral well when he was the quarterback in a wildcat set that led to a long McCarron to Richardson pass.
I'm hoping Glen will give us a "From the Couch" so someone with a better eye for line play can give you some real analysis. I know there were a ton of sacks and that jumps out at folks, but I think it's important to remember three things:
- The quarterbacks being "down by contact" led to several of those sacks. A "live" QB would likely have side-stepped several of those sacks and continued on with the play. Of course, a "live" Greg McElroy might be a "dead" Greg McElroy if Courtney Upshaw had been free to hit him on one sack.
- The first and second units haven't been together very long. Good offensive line play takes a cohesive unit, and these guys have been grouped together for the 6 practices. Also, after the first half, there were a lot of weird combinations out there.
- Bama's front seven on defense (both the first and second unit) will spend a lot of time in the backfield this year. D.J. Fluker got beat a lot, but Marcell Dareus, Courtney Upshaw, and Dont'a Hightower are going to beat most right tackles when they are matched up one-on-one.
Otherwise, I don't have enough of an eye for line play to give you anything real here. Sorry.
Marcell Dareus is a disruptive player. He's developed as a run stopper, and may be Bama's best defensive end since the Copeland/Curry duo in 1992.
Josh Chapman isn't a significant drop-off from Terrence Cody, and the big fellow was a two-time All-American. He's not quite as much of an unmoveable object, but he's also capable of playing more snaps. The good news is that Kerry Murphy is talented enough that he probably won't have to play more snaps.
Damion Square, Luther Davis, and Darrington Sentimore will probably have to rotate at one end spot, because I think the coaches are going to find it tough to pull Dareus off of the field. All three of these guys spent time in the backfield Saturday, and all three could start anywhere in the SEC with the possible exception of Florida. And I haven't even mentioned Brandon Moore or Brandon Lewis, who both played well. The line depth on this team is unbelievable.
Dont'a Hightower look fluid and healthy. The good news is that he is no where close to being 100%. He'll be so much better in the fall that it's not even funny. He's carrying close to 270 lbs. right now, which is simply amazing given his quickness and speed. I'm guessing he'll be closer to 260 in the fall, and I'm guessing he'll be even faster.
Courtney Upshaw might be Bama's first true jack linebacker under Nick Saban. He's gained considerable bulk and doesn't appear to have lost his explosiveness. He's coming from the opposite side of Dareus on the pass rush, and that should collapse and awful lot of pockets in the fall. The really good news is that he looked like a different guy in run defense.
Chris Jordan saw extensive action in the middle, and played solid. I'm not sure we'll see him with the first unit in the fall, but he's a freak of an athlete. I don't remember him jumping out and making any huge plays, but I also don't recall seeing the white team have any real success up the middle in either the passing game or the rushing game. Since that's where Jordan was stationed, I'm guessing that means he played pretty well.
Jerrell Harris was moved around a lot, and he's starting to demonstrate why folks have been salivating to get him on the field. The fact that he's capable of playing the sam, the will, and the money in the dime is ridiculous. Look for him to be on the field a lot, and look for him to be the guy that really confuses opposing quarterbacks. He'll blitz a lot, and he'll cover a lot. I'm guessing he'll be the guy that opposing QBs have to key on when making their pre-snap reads. Hopefully he'll be adept at disguising his role.
Nico Johnson had the unfortunate pleasure of being asked to guard Trent Richardson and Demetrius Goode on three wheel routes, and he got abused on all three. He's not 100% healthy after a knee sprain in the first scrimmage of the spring, but even healthy he can't run with Richardson or Goode. The good news is that nobody else has linebackers than can either. Nico will likely end up in the starting lineup in the fall, but either way, he'll play a lot.
Tana Patrick, Ed Stinson, Jonathan Atchison, and Jalston Fowler all got solid playing time, nd all played fairly well. These are likely the guys who will make up the core of the linebacking corps in three years, and that's a good thing for the future.
It's not quite as bad as we though. Dre Kirkpatrick looked really solid, and John Fulton looked like he might be ready to play. B.J. Scott and Phelon Jones had up and down days, which has pretty much been the story all spring.
Kirkpatrick's best play probably came on a rushing play where he planted Trent Richardson in the open field. Not many guys will bring Trent down one-on-one, and Kirkpatrick made it look easy. He'll be the "field" corner this year, which means he'll be the guy put on the big island by himself. Thankfully he has the athleticism and skills to play the position, and the swagger to forget when ge gets beat... and he will get beat some.
Fulton was a blanket on Kenny Bell all day, especially when Bama went downfield. He's got to get more physical, as I'm guessing that Jones, Maze, or Hanks would have likely dismissed him at the line of scrimmage. But he shows great cover skills, and that could have him on the field early in 2010.
DeMarcus Milliner got beaten pretty badly several times, but it's important to remember that he is new to the position. He played safety in high school, but the staff sees his future being at corner. He's got a full summer to improve, but I wouldn't be totally shocked to see him redshirt.
The safety position (other than Mark Barron) is still a big question mark. We saw Will Lowery, Robert Lester, Rod Woodson, Kendall Kelly, and Wesley Neighbors all play the spot, and none of them played particularly well. They got a lot of help from the pass rush, and that might simply be what we see in 2010. All of these guys have the full summer and fall camp to get better, and Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams will add depth to the mix in the summer. With Nick Saban, Jeremy Pruitt, and Kirby Smart on the staff, I'm guessing we'll see a servicable safety back there in the fall, but Robby Green will be missed.
The good news is that Cade Foster made a game tieing kick with just over three minutes left in the game. Jeremy Shelley also made his only field goal attempt, and both guys hit all of their PATs.
The bad news is that Foster struggled to get both distance and hang time on his kickoffs. He did bang one through the end zone, but the trajectory was ridiculously low. Fans that are so starved to see a Bama kicker get a touchback didn't seem to notice, but I guarantee you that the staff did. He's clearly capable of hitting the ball well, but the staff wants him to have both length and height on kickoffs. If one of those low kicks doesn't make it out of the end zone, a big return will surely follow. It looked to me like the staff was having him work on his hang time, as most of his kicks were closer to the 10 yard line than the goal line. Those kicks did have good hang time, though.
He missed a 52 yard field goal by a good distance, but that's not a kick I really expect a 17-year old to make when it's his first attempt in front of a large crowd. The overall timing on the snap and hold of the place kicks was pretty poor overall, though the kicks all ended up getting away. That's got to improve before the fall, or we'll see a lot of blocks. It was interesting to see A.J. McCarron holding, and if that remains for the fall, it opens up a whole new world of potential fakes.
The punting wasn't quite as bad as you might think, either. Zach Goelher was the only guy who punted, and he ended up with an average of 36.3 yards for his 14 kicks. While that isn't exactly a great average, you have to factor in that his first three punts went for a combined 81 yards. After that he averaged a little over 38.1 yards per kick. He was clearly nervous on those first three kicks, and did much better after he settled down a bit. The real problem is that several of this kicks would have likely been blocked by Demetrius Goode had the players been allowed to block kicks.
The reality is that Bama offered a scholarship to punter Jay Williams, and he won't be here until the summer. He's being counted on by the staff to come in and take the punting job from day one. When was the last time that Bama had a true freshman punter? P.J. Fitzgerald. It isn't ideal, but when you lose a 4-year starter, you're typically going to replace him with someone with no experience.
The announced crowd was 91,312, which given it was on national television, makes it even more impressive. That means in the Nick Saban era, Bama's attendance for A-Day has been 92,138 in 2007, 78,200 in 2008, 84,050 in 2009, and now 91,312. It is important to note that due to construction the stadium is down around 800 seats, so the stadium was full on Saturday. Auburn announced a record crowd of over 63,217. The Tigers are pretty well known for embellishing their numbers, but even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, that number is still 5th best among spring game crowds in the state over the last four years.
The big crowd paid dividends for Bama on the recruiting front, as well. While none of the three were a big surprise, Bama did pick up three commitments for the class of 2010 over the weekend, and all three mentioned the A-Day crowd. They were:
- Hasean Clinton-Dix - 6'2, 190 - Orlando, FL - likely the top safety in the country
- LaMichael Fanning - 6'6, 285 - Auburn, AL - on the Rivals 250 watch list
- Jabriel Washington - 5'11, 165 - Jackson, TN - possibly the top player from the state of Tennessee
As a bonus, the A-Day crowd was also mentioned by a basketball prospect who not only committed, but signed to play for the Tide in this upcoming basketball season. Junior College point guard Kendall Durant is a 3-star prospect at Rivals, and at 6'3 is capable of playing both the point and the shooting guard position. He'll hopefully join Trevor Releford in attempting to lock down the point guard position, though that will depend on whether or not Releford qualifies. If the last name Durant jumps out at you as a basketball fan, he is reportedly a cousin of the NBA's leading scorer Kevin Durant.
Bama basketball has a new website - check it out here.
A big congratulations goes out to Mic Potter and the Alabama Women's Golf Team for winning the school's first ever SEC Championship. They join the football team and the men's cross country team in winning SEC Championships during the 2009-2010 athletic calendar. The women's softball team still has a shot to make it four championships later in the spring.
And, finally, a reminder that the Women's Gymnastics team will head to Gainesville for the NCAA Championships beginning on Thursday night. The Tide are seeded third in the meet after being ranked #1 for much of the year. The final day of team competition will be on Friday night, with the top three teams from each of two sessions on Thursday making of the Super Six. Individual titles will be decided on Saturday.
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