31 March 2012
The University of Alabama football practiced on Friday in their final preparation for the first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. The practice was held in shells and inside the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility.
Here's what you need to know:
Bama is hurting at running back. Eddie Lacy has been out all spring after having surgery to fix his turf toe. Blake Sims has been out since spring break after injuring his hip playing basketball. Dee Hart has been cleared for all practices this spring, but he is still recovering from ACL surgery in the fall. Brent Calloway has moved to linebacker. That has left two completely healthy backs in Jalston Fowler and T.J. Yeldon.
Fowler is now wearing a brace on his left arm and upper body similar to the one that Mark Barron wore last spring after tearing his pectoral muscle. The staff has not indicated the severity of the injury, or even what the injury is, but the brace is new. He didn't appear to be limited during the media viewing period on Friday, but the similarity to the brace Barron wore certainly raised some eyebrows.
Add to that the fact that Yeldon was wearing wearing a cast on his left arm. It's unknown at this time whether it is a wrist or arm injury, but he is in a case that extends from his hand up to near his forearm. He was still cleared for contact, and seemed fine carrying the ball in his right hand.
All of that seems to point to one thing for Saturday's scrimmage - Bama will throw the ball a lot. With seemingly no healthy scholarship running backs it is very doubtful that the Tide staff will put the ball into the hands of injured players to go up against the Bama defense. That's just asking for minor injuries to become major injuries. On top of that, we all pretty much know what we are getting with Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler, and the staff pretty much knows what to expect from Hart. What we need to see is what impact Doug Nussmeier has had on the Bama quarterbacks, and which receivers are going to step up to replace Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks.
In addition to the above injuries, Arie Kouandjio (knee) and DeAndrew White (hamstring) were in black today and are expected to miss the scrimmage on Saturday.
Also expected to miss the scrimmage on Saturday is
Bigfoot er... Duron Carter. His dad Cris was at practice again today, but Duron is still suspended.
As expected, there have been no major changes prior to the first scrimmage. By Wednesday of next week we will have a chance to see which players have made a move through the first half of the spring.
Last time out we took a look at numbers 49-40 in our ranking of the Bama players. That means we'll be starting off at #39 this time out:
39. Austin Shepherd. He’s the biggest beneficiary of Arie Kouandjio’s injury because he is getting all of the second unit looks at right tackle. There are a lot of people who are projecting that D.J. Fluker will forego his senior season, and that will have Jeff Stoutland looking for a new right tackle. I think that will likely be a two-man battle between Shepherd and Arie, and the fact that Austin is currently advancing his physical development while Arie rehabs his knee puts him one spot up on the list. Reports have all been positive that he has had a nice spring so far. At 6'5 and 312 lbs. he has good size for the position. As Drew Davis demonstrated a few years ago, playing right tackle is more about technique than it is about superstar talent, and that will keep Shepherd in the mix.
38. Brandon Lewis. Combine Bama’s superior depth on the defensive line with its lack of depth at tight end, and you get a midseason position change in 2011. The fact that he was able to make that change and actually see the field at tight end should tell you something. He has slimmed down about 25 lbs. (down to 263) since last spring to help give him a better chance to contribute in the passing game. Unfortunately he currently has the hands of a defensive end. Pass catching can be developed, but a mean streak at the point of attack can’t. He got most of his snaps in 2011 in short yardage situations and is a punishing blocker due to that mean streak. He will get a lot of those same snaps in 2012 and will likely be on the field any time Bama goes to three tight ends. He is currently working behind fellow senior Michael Williams at the traditional tight end spot.
37. Ryan Kelly. He is taking the second unit reps at center behind Barrett Jones, which means he is benefiting the most from being grouped with the reigning Outland winner. His development has made it possible for Barrett to be able to be the backup at all four of the other positions on the line if necessary. That would obviously depend on the development of other guys along the line, but the fact that Kelly has come this far in one year is a good sign. He’ll get some snaps this season with A.J. McCarron once games are decided to help set him up to take over at center in 2013. That's the way you would like it to be at every position, but at center it seems to be even more vital. Barrett Jones took a good number of reps there last year in preparation for taking the job this season, so Kelly getting these early looks now will only benefit him next year.
36. Anthony Orr. With Adrian Hubbard moving from the jack to the sam, Anthony now finds himself squarely on the two deep at the jack linebacker spot. At 6’4 and 258 lbs. he has the size to put his hand on the ground. He spent some time at the sam last year, which helped him develop some of the skills he would need to be a more versatile jack. He is considerably behind Xzavier Dickson right now, but also well ahead of Ryan Anderson. He isn’t as explosive as either guy, but seems to have a good grasp on the defense. That goes a long way with Nick Saban, and could keep him in the rotation. Brandon Fanney was a very one dimensional jack, but a very successful one a few years ago. Anthony has more versatility than that, but is less explosive than the freshman (Anderson) behind him. It will be interesting to see where Nick Saban goes to for playing time this far into "the process."
35. Jeoffrey Pagan. As the defense currently sets up he is behind Quinton Dial at the strong side end spot. If Jesse Williams is able to move back to end, that slides him down in the rotation, and probably down in these rankings. He played in six games last year and has used his time in the system to put on a lot of weight. He’s up to 6’4 and 285 lbs. which should allow him to hold the point of attack a little better. He has a chance to develop into a nice pass rusher, and could find his way on to the rabbit rusher unit. Bama has unbelievable depth on the defensive line, and I expect we will see Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, and Chris Rumph make use of it. Pagan will play in 2012. Where Jesse Williams lines up and how much more LaMichael Fanning develops will determine how much. The era of specialization, and the fact that Coach Saban seems interesting in taking advantage of guys' individual skill sets could help him a lot.
34. Tana Patrick. Every year there is a new crop of prized recruits that causes a lot of fans to completely write off prized recruits from previous years. Tana was a Rivals.com top 100 player and when he didn’t advance up the depth chart as quickly as Nico Johnson, he became a forgotten man. He’s used his time in the system to develop and now as a redshirt junior he is sitting behind Trey DePriest at the mike linebacker spot. In reality, I think he’s probably still behind Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley, as well. But he’s made big strides in the last three months and might finally make his way into the playing rotation. He’ll be a candidate to be on the kick coverage team, and if Bama’s linebackers are used as specialization guys, he could see the field a good bit. Regardless he is a versatile guy that can play the mike, the will, and the sam. That type of versatility will keep him in the rotation.
33. Harrison Jones. I don’t think Barrett Jones every really considered leaving early for the NFL, but if he did, the allure of playing alongside his younger brother was likely one of the reasons he decided to come back. That alone almost gets him into the top half of these ranking. In reality, the fact that he played as a true freshman and he is currently the run away leader to man the H-Back spot gets him here. We saw in the BCS Championship Game what a weapon the H-Back can be in the passing game, and I expect we’ll see Nick Saban and Doug Nussmeier try to continue that trend with Harrison. He’s up to 6’4 and 244 lbs., which is actually bigger than Brad Smelley played at in 2011. His development as both a blocker and a receiver will go along way in determining how consistently Bama’s offensive can move the chains. Harrison has a similar work ethic to his older brother and after almost grey-shirting in 2011, he impressed the staff enough to see the field. He is a consumate over-achiever and I expect we'll see him have a big year.
32. John Fulton. Another forgotten man because he hasn’t played much in his two seasons, he is primed to get playing time this fall. He was behind two guys who will be drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft in April (Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie) and a special talent (Dee Milliner), so it should not be a shock that he hasn’t played much. He’s got a battle on his hands to keep both Travell Dixon and Deion Belue from taking his spot, but currently he is atop the list at the boundary corner spot. If he maintains that spot, he’ll probably move up the list. If he loses it, he’ll have to become a major playmaker on kick coverage to not fall considerably into the bottom half of these rankings. His knowledge of the defense has him ahead of Dixon, and his physicality has him ahead of Belue. I think Dixon will ultimately win the spot, but until he does, Fulton gets into the top half of the ranking. He is brutally physical at the point of attack, and that could potentially throw him into the mix for the star position of one of the JuCo guys moves ahead of him at corner.
31. Christion Jones. He shocked a lot of people by being the only one of Bama’s true freshman receivers to play in 2011. He also notched a grand total of three catches on the season, so it's not like he has a guaranteed spot atop the receiver rotation this year. His biggest contribution was on special teams, though, where he filled in for Marqius Maze at punt returner. He had a 15 yard return against LSU in the BCS Championship Game that helped rub a little salt in the Tigers’ collective wounds, but more importantly, he was extremely sure handed in every game that he saw action. The fact that Nick Saban trusted him as a true freshman to make every catch should tell you a lot. He is currently the favorite to return both kicks and punts, though Dee Hart and Deion Belue are going to give him a run for his money there. He is working behind Kevin Norwood at one of the three receiver spots, and could find his niche in the slot. He needs to show better separation on his routes to move up this list, but if he’s one of the primary return guys, he will always stay in the top half.
30. Dee Hart. Here’s another case where a list based on pure talent would see a guy much higher on the list. But he’s dealt with a major injury – an ACL tear last summer – and a month of suspension from the team. He has apparently done what was necessary to earn his way back onto the team and due to Eddie Lacy being out with an injury, he is getting the second unit reps at running back (behind Jalston Fowler). He was impressive last spring, and according to some was in position to battle Lacy for second unit reps prior to his knee injury. He is an explosive player, and that type of athlete usually takes a little longer to recover from a knee reconstruction. He was medically cleared quicker than most guys have been, but until I see him in live game-type action, I am keeping him down on the list - though not many teams in the country have a guy this talented anywhere outside their top 15 returning players. He is a dynamic and explosive playmaker, unlike really anyone else on the roster. If he is healthy and he has matured enough to handle his role on the team, don't be shocked to see him have a huge 2012.
Bama will have its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, and we'll have our normal report.
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