25 March 2012
The University of Alabama football team has completed its first week of the 2012 spring practice period. The Tide has finished five of its allotted 15 practices, with the final one set to be A-Day on April 14.
Here's what you need to know:
Bama is healthy. During the spring period, typically no news is good news. With no game on the horizon, the vast majority of the work being done is on fundamentals, and that simply doesn't equate to a lot of news coming out of the camp. When there is news, its typically that someone has been injured. As of yet, the luck there has been good.
Eddie Lacy (toe) and Arie Kouandjio (knee) are still limited after having surgery, but all of the other Tide players who had procedures done have been cleared. C.J. Mosley, Cyrus Kouandjio, and A.J. McCarron are the three most prominent guys on that list, and all three are practicing without medical limitation.
Prior to the opening of the period Coach Saban announced that Tyler Love and Undra Billingsley have decided to move on from the football team. Both guys earned their business degrees in December and are simply ready to start their professional career in something other than football. Jay Williams has left the team to concentrate on baseball.
Three receivers have been suspended from the team and are not participating in practice. Word around Tuscaloosa makes it appear that neither Ronald Carswell, nor Michael Bowman will return. The fact that they are no longer listed on Bama's roster is a good indicator that their departure is imminent. Duron Carter is still listed on the roster, but has no participated in practice since Auburn week in November. The fact that he is still listed as being on the team is a good sign, but I think we've all been waiting long enough for Duron to play to get too excited about anything other than seeing him on the field.
As many expected, two-time All-American and returning Outland Winner Barrett Jones has made the move to center. It looks as though that has more to do with the ability of Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle than it does the lack of ability of Kellen Williams at center. If Cyrus is able to stay healthy, then Barrett will likely stay at center. Cyrus won't be fully recovered from his knee surgery until the summer, but he has been cleared to participate fully by the medical staff.
The only other major position move is Brent Calloway moving to linebacker. He spent last season at running back before making the anticipated move to linebacker. Nick Saban will let a player determine where he wants to start his career, and Calloway wanted to give running back a shot. He is now working with the sam linebackers, which is where most folks thought he would wind up out of high school.
With Lacy out and Calloway moving to defense, that leaves Bama with just four guys at running back. Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart are pushing each other for first team reps, while Blake Sims and early enrollee T.J. Yeldon are trying to work their way up the chart.
Bradley Sylve made the move from receiver to cornerback during the bowl practice, and he is continuing to work at corner this spring.
Otherwise, there really isn't a lot of news coming out of camp. Coach Saban has indicated that he likes the focus and motivation of this team. There are a lot of guys on this squad that were on the team in 2010 that lost three games. Those guys know exactly what it feels like to defend a national title unsuccessfully. That should help keep the focus and motivation levels where they need to be.
A.J. McCarron has the luxury this season of being the number one quarterback from the beginning. He and the Phillips (Sims and Ely) are working with a new offensive coordinator and QB coach in Doug Nussmeier. The early reviews have been positive and seeing what the offense will look like under Nussmeier will likely be one of things most fans look forward to the most heading into A-Day. Spoiler Alert! The offense will likely look a lot like it did under Jim McElwain.
Coach Saban has, in the past, talked about the fact that the coaching staff has to rank the players on the team 1-85 in order to identify potential play-makers. Since that list will never be made public, we have to speculate as to how the team might rank out. There are not 85 guys on the team right now, though, so ranking the 67 scholarship guys and three heavy-contributing walk-ons will have to do.
This list is not based solely upon talent, but also upon importance to the team, leadership, and prospective location on the organizational (depth) chart. The eight members of the 2012 signing class who have enrolled will be ranked at the bottom by default. They haven't had a scrimmage yet, much less a game opportunity, so they aren't going to be ranked above guys who have practiced for game-week. Yet.
Having said all of that, here are numbers 70-60.
70. Duron Carter. The fact that he is suspended (again) and not eligible to participate (still) puts him squarely at the bottom. If we were ranking solely on talent he would likely be in the top 20. But until he can demonstrate the ability to do the absolute minimum required to be allowed to practice, he goes on the bottom. Those close to him indicate that he is optimistic about being able to return to practice soon, but we've heard that before. Until Coach Saban says he is cleared and ready to both practice and play, I am not holding my breath.
69. Chris Black. He is every bit as explosive and athletic as advertised, but is struggling a bit to hang on to the football. At 5'11 and 170 lbs. he has to make full use of his athleticism to get open. None of that matters if he doesn't catch the ball, though. Once he does, I expect we'll see him make a big jump. Until then, he is on the bottom of the list. He is wearing #5.
68. Amari Cooper. While not as fast as Black, he has shown the ability to both get open and catch the football. At 6'1 and 190 lbs. he reminds me a bit of Darius Hanks. He isn't likely to wow anyone with any one part of his game, but he simply gets open. The fact that he and Black are on the bottom isn't a knock on them, but rather an indication of where the other guys are. He is wearing #9.
67. T.J. Yeldon. Bama is simply loaded at running back. Dee Hart used last spring to propell himself into the thick of the race for playing time before an injury set him back during the summer. Yeldon has that same type of potential, and getting extra reps due to Lacy's absence is huge. At 6'2 and 210 lbs. he is a bit unique among Bama's backs. He is taller and leaner than any of the other guys and is somewhere between the explosiveness of Hart and the bulldozer nature of Fowler. He could make a big jump up the list with a good scrimmage. He is wearing #4.
66. Dillon Lee. Coach Saban has mentioned Dillon a couple of times after practice, and Bama has a history of playing freshmen linebackers. The talent ahead of him is simply ridiculous, though. He would have to beat out Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley, Trey DePriest, Tana Patrick, and others to earn playing time, and that just simply isn't likely. At 6'4 and 240 lbs. he is physically ready to play, and the coach has been complimentary of his understanding of the defense. He would likely be in a battle for playing time at most of the other teams in the SEC. He is wearing #25.
65. Ryan Anderson. Bama is looking to replace Courtney Upshaw at the jack and Dont'a Hightower as a pass rush specialist. Anderson was one of the nation's elite prep pass rushers last year, and he has reported in great shape. At 6'2 and 244 he is not quite big enough yet, but the summer conditioning program should take care of that. If Ed Stinson moves from end back out to jack, that could limit his opportunities. I don't think we'll see that, though, and Anderson will have a shot to earn a real look at playing time in the rabbit rusher group. He is wearing #7, which will look really weird on the line of scrimmage.
64. Alphonse Taylor. At 6'5 and 340 lbs. he looks like an offensive tackle, but he is actually a prototype 3-4 nose guard. Bama is replacing Josh Chapman, and the list of true nose guards is pretty short. Right now Jesse Williams is taking the first team reps at nose guard, but the staff would prefer to have his explosiveness coming off of the edge. While players like LaMichal Fanning and Wilson Love might get a look, they are more suited to play end. That means that Brandon Ivory is the only true nose guard in front of him. The fact that he is practicing already is huge, but the fact that he has reportedly already lost 30 lbs. is possibly a bigger story.
63. Deion Belue. Junior College guys go ahead of incoming freshman by default. Not only are they more experienced, but Nick Saban is very good at identifying JuCo guys who can contribute early. Belue signed with Bama out of high school, and is finally on campus after two years at the Junior College level. Coach Saban has already mentioned his athleticism and explosiveness, and he could very well be at the top of the "best athlete on the team" battle. At just 5'11 and 170 lbs. he is likely best suited to play inside at the star position, but his best path to playing time is likely as a return man. Bama is replacing Marquis Maze and Belue was an elite and record-setting return man in high school. He is wearing #13.
62. Travell Dixon. His recruitment resembled DeQuan Menzie's two years ago, and the only thing that kept Menzie from winning the starting job at corner in his first year was an achilles injury. At 6'1 and 191 lbs. he is physicaly enough to play outside and match up with bigger receivers. He is already pushing DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton for those outside spots, and has also been practicing heavily at the star. I would be shocked if he didn't end up being one of the top three corners on the team, and he has a shot to be the boundary corner. Expect to see him in the top 30 when we re-rank at the beginning of fall camp.
61. William Ming. I considered putting the redshirt freshmen below any upperclassmen, but the fact that Ming is a redshirt junior who has yet to earn a varsity letter makes that tough to do. Under previous staffs, especially those that ran a 4-3 base defense, he would likely be in contention for playing time. Elite talent ahead of him isn't the only obstacle, though. He is not quite physical enough to be a 3-4 end and not quite athletic enough to play outside linebacker. He is a good kid who has done everything that the staff has asked of him, but he is a tweener. Sometimes those guys will have the light come on late in their career, especially on the line of scrimmage, so there is still a chance that he could earn playing time.
60. Chris Bonds. The injury bug bit him in high school and just simply hasn't let go. Without the injuries he would almost certainly be higher up this list. As it is, he is also a redshirt junior without a varsity letter. He does not currently have a publicized injury limiting him, so this could be a real opportunity for him to make a jump up into the rotation. If Jesse Williams is able to play end, that rotation shrinks considerably, though. If he can ever have a sustained period of time without an injury set back, expect to see him get into the mix.
I will pick up with #59 in the next report. I will do my best to stick with the list as it is now composed, and not change it because someone is having a good spring. The open of fall camp will be when we do this ranking again, and guys that have good springs can make their move at that time.
The middle group of guys between 35-60 are tough to rank because so many of them are one or two good practice away from moving up eight or ten spots. As the list goes on, it should start to dawn on people just how deep with elite talent this Alabama team really is.
The Tide will practice again three more times this week - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday - before having its first scrimmage on Saturday.
I want to thank everyone for being patient with us as the real world as occupied our time. We genuinely love discussing University of Alabama athletics and hope to do a much better job of being consistent in having articles up going forward. I look forward to seeing your comments on the guys ranked #70 through #60.