10 April 2012
The University of Alabama football team has begun its final week of practice for the 2012 spring session. The full pads practice was the first of two this week, leading up to Saturday's A-Day.
Here's what you need to know:
The injury situation is improving. All of the guys who suffered minor injuries during Friday's scrimmage were cleared for contact today. Jesse Williams and Vinnie Sunseri rolled ankles, while Robert Lester tweaked a knee. All three guys practiced without limitation and looked fine.
Blake Sims actually worked during individual drills for the first time since he injured his hip playing basketball during spring break. Once the individual drills were over, he rode a stationary bike.
Eddie Lacy (toe) and Arie Kouandjio (knee) were both still in black and will not participate in A-Day.
Alphonse Taylor was still working at left guard while the staff is slowly working Chad Lindsay back into the rotation after he took a blow to the head a week ago. With Bama extremely low on offensive linemen, I expect Taylor will stay at guard through A-Day. When fall camp opens, however, I expect we'll see him back at nose guard.
Brent Calloway was still working at H-Back. My guess is that he's being tried there because Brian Vogler is just simply not an H-Back. I don't think that Brent is quite physical enough to play the position the way that Preston Dial or Brad Smelley played it, but he has the type of athleticism that Roy Upchurch possessed at that spot. He would be a very difficult match up for linebackers and safeties, and that might be the goal. I still wouldn't be surprised to see him end up back at linebacker when fall camp rolls around.
Otherwise, it was a pretty standard practice for Alabama this spring. No news is good news. It might not always feel that way, but ask any Arkansas fans that you know how much they wish there was no news coming out of their program. We've been there. It sucked.
When we left off with the player rankings we were at #30 and Dee Hart. Here's the next ten:
29. LaMichael Fanning. At 6’7 and 275 lbs. he is an imposing presence on the defensive front. He was considered by many to be a project when he came in, but one with a lot of raw potential. That potential is already coming somewhat into fruition as he is working behind Quinton Dial at the weak side end spot. He’s battling with Jeoffrey Pagan, and right now he seems to be ahead. He and Dial are very similar in size and style, and it looks like he is being primed to take over that spot in 2013. With the way that Bama rotates defensive linemen, I expect we’ll see him play a good bit in 2012, though. If Jesse Williams moves back to end, it might cut that time down some, but he will play regardless. If none of the guys behind Williams are able to claim the spot, he could get a look inside.
28. Ed Stinson. When he was signed back in 2009 a lot of people thought he would be the future at the jack linebacker. He hasn’t quite established the explosiveness that the staff looks for there, so he’s spent the last two seasons at the strong side defensive line spot. Right now he is behind Damion Square, but he will play a lot. As with all of the defensive linemen, where Jesse Williams ends up will have a say in how much, but he will factor in to the competition with the rabbit rusher group. At 284 lbs. he can play both end spots, but his technique has kept him at the end that lines up just inside the jack linebacker. That has him, at times, looking more like a traditional defensive tackle. He is stronger against the run than people give him credit for, but pass rush is his specialty.
27. Trey DePriest. This guy would likely crack the top 20 for almost every program in America, but the fact that it is unlikely that he will start keeps him outside of Bama’s top 25. He will take over the middle linebacker spot that Nico Johnson vacates after the 2012 season, and he will be Bama’s next great middle linebacker (after C.J. Mosley). He was a huge contributor on special teams in 2011, and will almost certainly continue to be a regular on the kick coverage teams. If the Bama staff decides to specialize the linebackers, he will get playing time in obvious run situations, as he is probably a bit better than Mosley in that regard. He needs to develop his pass coverage skills, but this guy was an absolute steal from Ohio.
26. Phillip Sims. The reason he is this high is that he is backup quarterback, and the importance of that player to the team is big. The reason he isn’t ranked higher is that he might not play a meaningful snap in 2012. If A.J. McCarron stays healthy, then Sims’ importance to the team is very low. His importance to the team becomes non-existent if he transfers. There is a ton of buzz in Tuscaloosa that he won’t be with the team by the time May ends, though that buzz also existed in December in regards to January. Conventional wisdom says that he probably transfers, but until it happens, he is still potentially vitally important to Bama. He’s been slowed some this spring by shoulder bursitis, and that’s kept him from making any type of push on McCarron. With a new quarterback coach in town (Doug Nussmeier) I had hoped that we might see Sims flourish and start to once again push for the starting job. That hasn’t happened so far. I think he is talented enough that the Tide offense would not become stagnant if he were called on to replace an injured McCarron, so I hope he doesn’t transfer. But I would not be surprised at all if he did.
25. Quinton Dial. The only reason he isn’t higher is that if Jesse Williams is able to move to end, he will be the guy that gets bumped to the second unit. The shocking thing about him right now is that he might very well be able to hold Stinson for one of the linemen spots with the rabbit rusher group. He is an absolute mauler from a technique standpoint and will absolutely blow of some interior linemen who don’t get into their pass blocks quick enough. At 6’6 he also eliminates one of the primary passing lanes. His forte is stopping the run, though. With the Tide in its nickel defense a lot, he has to not only hold the point of attack, but also seal the end that no longer has a linebacker. If he doesn’t engage the tackle, the extra defensive back in the game is not going to be much competition for a guy who outweighs him by a hundred pounds. This is something that Jesse Williams did at a brilliant level in 2011 (especially the second half of the year), and that’s why the staff would love to be able to move him back out there. Regardless, he will play a lot and is likely a starter right now.
24. Hasean Clinton-Dix. He’s referred to as “Ha Ha”, but that name is just too silly for a guy that plays this mean. He’s the likely candidate at the time to replace Mark Barron as Bama’s “up” safety in the nickel and dime packages. That means he’ll be the primary safety in run support. And that’s bad news for opposing running backs. He didn’t get a lot of time at safety last year, but showed his athleticism on the kick coverage units. There isn’t much of a push from the guys behind him, though that has more to do with his overall talent than a lack of it from those guys. He and Vinnie Sunseri will battle it out over the starting base defense safety, though Bama spends so much time in nickel that I don’t think it matters much.
23. Adrian Hubbard. He is the starting guy at the sam spot right now, but is also in line to slide up to one of the end spots in Bama’s rabbit rusher packages. He’s had a huge spring so far, and could likely play the jack linebacker if Xzavier Dickson were to get hurt. He is a big, rangy guy at 6’4 and 248 lbs. and has shown a great ability to not only get to the quarterback, but also to stay with tight ends in pass coverage. It’s a shame that Bama will spend so much time in nickel, because it means he won’t get a lot of playing time until third down rolls around. He’s just a sophomore, so get used to seeing him in the backfield a lot over the next three seasons.
22. Xzavier Dickson. He gets one spot higher than Hubbard simply because the jack linebacker will play more than the sam. He’s now up to 6’3 at 262 lbs. That’s not a lot lighter than Bama listed Courtney Upshaw (though he played at closer to 275), so he’s got the necessary size to be the hybrid end/linebacker that Nick Saban likes to use. He is still a work in progress from a pass coverage standpoint, but has proven to be a solid pass rusher this spring. If he can become an elite pass rusher, the young Bama secondary will have a lot less tests. He holds his own well against the run, though not quite to the level of Upshaw. Comparing a sophomore to a guy projected to be drafted among the first 20 picks in the NFL Draft is probably not really fair, though. There will be a drop off of the jack spot, but Dickson has progressed very nicely,
21. DeAndrew White. I’ve been expecting him to become one of Bama’s primary receiving targets since the beginning of last year. Some issues with nerves, combined with a nagging hamstring have kept him from stepping into the role - so far. He had a huge second scrimmage this spring, and if he can stay healthy, he will be one of Bama’s starting receivers. He needs to develop more in his downfield blocking, but that’s been a strength of the Bama receiving corps under Nick Saban, and I am guessing we will see improvement there. He had just 14 receptions in 2011, and I expect we will see that double (at least) in 2012. He is a speed guy that, along with Kenny Bell, should help give Bama a legitimate downfield threat. He will also get a look at both kickoff and punt returns, though ultimately I don’t think he’ll wind up there.
20. Vinnie Sunseri. He became a fan favorite in 2011 by virtue of the fact that when he hits someone, they know they’ve been hit. Despite the fact that he weighs less than 220 lbs., he is probably Bama’s most aggressive tackler. Don’t get caught up thinking that he is just the human missile that we all saw on kick coverage last year, though. When Will Lowery missed the BCS Championship Game due to a knee injury, Sunseri got all of his playing time with the nickel and dime packages. And he played well. He is likely going to be the hybrid linebacker/defensive back in both the nickel and dime defense, and the starting strong safety in the base defense. What he lacks in physical attributes, he more than makes up for with his knowledge of the game. His dad (Sal) has moved to Tennessee to be the defensive coordinator, but there was never a fear that Vinnie might go with him. This kid absolutely bleeds crimson, and something tells me that if he heard Tommy Lewis’ “I was just too full of Bama” quote (look it up), he would crack a knowing smile. He will once again be the guy to watch on kick coverage, and he’ll be a major force in Bama’s secondary.
Bama will conclude its regular practice portion of the spring on Thursday. We'll have our normal report.
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