22 March 2011
The University of Alabama football team began its 2011 spring practice on Monday. The practice, held in shorts, jerseys, and helmets, was the first of 15 practices that will culminate on April 16 with A-Day.
Here's what you need to know:
Mark Barron did participate in practice, though he was wearing a black jersey, signaling no contact. He is expected to be held out of contact during the spring after having surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. It was thought by some that he might miss Monday's practice after being arrested for a second degree misdemeanor over the weekend, but Coach Saban indicated that the issue would handled internally. The rehabilitation from his injury seems to be going well, with Barron receiving rave reviews from his teammates.
One person that was expected to get extra reps due to Barron being out was Junior Robby Green. Green missed the entire 2010 season due to an NCAA suspension that is thought to have been drug related. According to Coach Saban, Green is now suspended due to a violation of team rules. There is no time table for his return.
The safety position was thinned even further by the fact that sophomores Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams were both in black jerseys due to shoulder injuries. The extent of the injuries is unknown.
Linebacker Jonathan Atchison was in black due to a bicep injury, and tight end Brad Smelley was in black due to a wrist injury suffered during an off season workout. Neither injury is expected to be serious.
As expected, Kendall Kelly, Wesley Neighbors, and Kerry Murphy were absent from workouts. Coach Saban indicated on March 4 that these players would miss the spring due to "physical issues." Rumors have swirled around Tuscaloosa that all three players could be candidates for medical hardship. While Kelly has yet to make an on-field contribution, Neighbors and Murphy played in 12 games each in 2010, with Murphy starting six.
The practice marked the first for nine new Tide players:
WR Ronald Carswell - wearing #5 - has been impressive in individual voluntary workouts, receiving positive reviews from the upper classmen for the crispness of his routes. He greyshirted last fall.
LB Trey DePriest - wearing #33 - has made a strong first impression with his work during the 4th Quarter program and his overall knowledge of the game.
DL Quinton Dial - wearing #90 - was wearing a cast on his right hand/wrist, but was not held out of contact. At 315 pounds, he could possibly fill the role (potentially) vacated by Kerry Murphy of a hybrid end/nose guard. Saban doesn't sign Junior College guys unless he expects them to play. So while he started at the bottom of the depth (ahem... organizational) chart, don't be surprised to see him quickly work his way up the chart.
OT Aaron Douglas - wearing #77 - looks thin, but that's simply because he has a big frame. The staff lists him at 294 lbs. on the roster, which means he carries his weight well. Him receiving the number recently worn by starting left tackle James Carpenter is no accident. He is working with the tackles already, and is the odds on favorite to earn the job there.
QB Phillip Ely - wearing #12 - has impressed everyone so far with his technique. He comes from one of the nation's best high school programs, so it's not a shock that he received solid coaching at the prep level. What has surprised a lot of people is his overall fundamental consistency and a stronger than expected arm. He's already drawn comparisons to Greg McElroy, and the #12 is only going to continue that.
RB Demetrius Hart - wearing #1 - looks the part. He looks small standing next to Trent Richardson, but then again, just about everyone does. He appears to have benefited from the 4th Quarter Program, and has opened a lot of eyes with his speed and quickness.
DL Wilson Love - wearing #51 - looks to be fully recovered from the knee injury that forced him to greyshirt in 2010. He looks to start out at defensive end, but will likely work in a similar role to Nick Gentry, who is also a little to small to play the nose, but not quite quick enough to play weakside end. Like Gentry, he has good technique, which should help. The fact that he's known to play with a mean streak should only help him once the pads go on.
LB/S Vinnie Sunseri - wearing #3 - worked with the safeties, though Coach Saban indicated that it is an experiment. With Barron, Green, Williams, and Perry all being held out, there is a need for safeties, and that's where he is working. A lot of folks seem to think he'll stay there.
DL Jesse Williams - wearing #54 - has created a buzz since he walked on campus, and that won't stop after Monday's practice. He looks to have completely recovered from a minor knee surgery, and started out at defensive end, despite being considered by many to be the front runner to start at the nose guard position.
All three of the defensive linemen started out at end, though that's likely organizational. Coach Saban has indicated in the past that he likes for defensive players to start on the outside and work their way inside as they become more comfortable with the defense.
Also making their debut were three new position coaches - Mike Groh (WR), Chris Rumph (DL), and Jeff Stoutland (OL). It will take a few practices to get a feel for how each guy fits into the coaching staff as a whole, but there was certainly a lot of intensity from these guys - not Sal Sunseri or Scott Cochran intensity, but not many people can reach that level.
One major position change saw Blake Sims move to quarterback. Bama is thin at the position, with Ely joining A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims as the scholarship players there. My guess is that Sims is getting a look there in order to guage his ability at being a real threat in the wildcat formation, but with only three other guys there, he could stick around for a while. He doesn't have tremendous arm strength, but he brings a different skill set to the mix than the other three guy, who are all pocket passers.
Tyler Love has moved to center. At 6'7 he's awfully tall for the position, but he has the mentality for the spot. The fact that he is practicng behind friend and former high school teammate William Vlachos will only help him in learning the position. He's worked at both right and left tackle, and my guess is that he'll also work some at guard during the spring. He and John Michael Boswell are both capable of playing multiple positions on the line, and the staff is likely looking to see if Love is a candidate for a backup role at center.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Orr is slimmed down to 260 pounds and appears to have made the move from defensive end to jack linebacker. Hopefully he'll make the move better than Glenn Harbin, who has moved back and forth between the positions for three years.
Ed Stinson continued the trend from bowl practices and worked with the defensive ends. I am guessing that he's been eyed as a candidate for one of the end spots in Bama's rabbit rusher package. He has also apparently switched to #49.
Most of the talk this spring will likely focus on the quarterback position, as Bama is facing its first real QB battle since Tyler Watts and Andrew Zow split time. Ely is a likely candidate to redshirt, and I am guessing that Blake Sims will be at wide receiver before the first scrimmage. That leaves A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims as the guys fighting it out, and it should be one hell of a battle.
You can't tell much from one practice, especially one without pads, but it looks like McCarron has stepped into a leadership role. He doesn't have the same consistency in technique as Sims, but his attitude and leadership will be big factors. Both guys have fantastic arms, and are pocket passers. So this won't be an issue of the staff deciding which guy to tailor the offense around. They will likely be expected to run the offense the same way, and whoever makes the least mistakes will win the job. Don't be surprised if no starter is named until two weeks before the first game.
Bama will have the next two days off before practicing again in helmets and jerseys on Thursday. We'll have our normal report.
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