24 August 2010
With all of its preseason scrimmages out of the way, the Alabama football team began its final week of pre-season practice on Tuesday. After back-to-back days off for the first time since fall camp began, the Tide worked in shells today.
Here's what you need to know:
DeMarcus Milliner was the only player in a black jersey. He's missed a week with an ankle sprain, though he was out of the protective boot and was running around today. That's a really good sign for a kid who might jump into an immediate playing role in the nickel and dime packages once healthy.
Still no word on when Kendall Kelly will be back at practice. Coach Saban indicated that he wouldn't be considered for playing time for San Jose State based on how much time he's missed, so there's no real hurry in getting him back. At this point he's been absent for three weeks, while continuing to change positions. That's not a good combination.
There was some thought that Trent Richardson might be held out of today's practice after bruising his shoulder in Saturday's scrimmage, but the Tide's "backup" running back was at his customary spot in the running back rotation today. He also looks to be the front runner to be the primary kick off return man.
Blake Sims was cleared for contact and back working with the running backs. He has practiced with the safeties, the quarterbacks, and the running backs during his time with Bama as the staff tries to find the place where he can be most beneficial. He is a unique athlete who could bring a whole new dimension to the wildcat package. He's buried behind some pretty good players at the running back position, so don't be shocked to see him continue to move around some.
Seeing players move around some was a theme at today's practice. Bama won't begin work on San Jose State until Monday of next week, so this week will be used for finalizing the depth chart. That means that the staff will probably experiment some this week, especially early in the week. Changes right now are not necessarily permanent, but could indicate where the coaches see either a deficiency or an opportunity.
The first group offensive line saw a different group for the first time this fall. Redshirt freshman DJ Fluker was not working with the first group after seemingly locking down the spot in spring practice. Returning starting right guard Barrett Jones worked at right tackle, with senior Alfred McCullough working at right guard. McCullough has practiced everywhere except for center recently, and the staff looks to be taking a solid look at seeing if he can go from a super-sub to a starter.
This could also be a bit of a situational package. Fluker is a dominating run blocker, but he's struggled a bit in obvious passing situations. It's abnormal for teams to have a different package for different situations, mainly because it can tip off plays. But when the Tide is in obvious passing situations - like the 2-minute drill or trailing late in the 4th quarter - we could see Fluker give way to a more pass oriented line.
With McCullough working with the first group, true freshman Arie Kouandjio moved from the right side to left tackle with the second group. I still think we'd see several other guys at tackle (McCullough, John Michael Boswell, Jones) if there was an injury to the front group, but Kouandjio is proving to be a very promising young player.
One of the more interesting battles has been at the will linebacker spot, where Chris Jordan has been with the 1s since late in the spring. Coach Saban indicated in his post practice press conference that Nico Johnson has been "teetering between being a starter and not." The solution? Nico practiced with the sam linebackers today.
Coach Saban also said not to read too much into that, though it is worth noting that neither Jerrell Harris, nor Chavis Williams have put a lockdown on the sam linebacker spot. If Nico is "1B" behind Jordan, and is one of the four best linebackers, doesn't it make sense to try him at the sam spot and see if it's possible to get the best four linebackers on the field at the same time?
Harris worked with the will linebackers today, though I think that's got more to do with the fact that he's likely going to play a lot in the nickel and dime packages. Either way, don't be surprised to see the staff continue to move these guys around to find the best overall package.
B.J. Scott and DeQuan Menzie worked as the first group at corner, though Dre Kirkpatrick is still going to be a starter. Dre wasn't visible during the media viewing period, though the fact that nothing has been said about it is an indication that there's likely not much to worry about here. The fact that Menzie is getting a lot of reps is a good thing, though. If the three guys mentioned here can lock down the three corner spots, it will allow Mark Barron to stay at safety in the nickel and dime packages, and that's a good thing.
Look for some more expirementing this week before things get settled by Monday.
Bama will practice again on Wednesday, and we'll have our normal report.
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