Taking A Look Behind Vlachos
William Vlachos has been one of the top centers in college football the past two years, starting as a sophomore on the undefeated 2009 Alabama national championship team and on last year's 10-3 Crimson Tide. He is preparing for his final A-Day Game on Saturday and for his last season in 2011.
"I'm kind of excited about the A-Day Game because I didn't play in it last year," said the 6-1, 294-pounder from Mountain Brook. Vlachos was injured last spring.
Vlachos considers the spring game to be "a great opportunity for us to put together a perfect scrimmage. We've improved in both scrimmages and this is an opportunity for everybody to get to play, everybody to improve on the things they've been coached to do this spring. It's going to be exciting."
The A-Day Game will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Vlachos has had an opportunity to work with the quarterback candidates on almost every snap of spring practice. He said there is no difference between sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, who are vying to replace Greg McElroy at the critical position.
"We're really privileged to have those two guys and how they've progressed this spring has been pretty amazing to me," Vlachos said. "They're both throwing the ball very well. They're both being vocal guys. They're both comfortable. They're learning what they need to do to be successful at that position for us. I really enjoy kind of being a leader for both those guys. Whoever is our quarterback, or if both of them become our quarterback, I've got full confidence in both of them to go up there and command the offense and sling the ball where it needs to go. Those scrimmages, they've both been lighting it up pretty good."
Although Alabama practices are closed, Vlachos said a visitor would not be able to pick out a leader between McCarron and Sims. "If you would break down our practice reps, it's equal -- right down the middle," Vlachos said. "There really isn't a leader in my opinion. I don't know what the coaches are thinking, but as far as what the reps indicate, it's equal. And they are both doing a very good job, pushing each other and making each other better."
The next quarterback has a tough act to follow. McElroy led Bama to a 27-3 record and a national championship, with "led" being the operative word.
"Greg never got rattled," Vlachos said. "He was always in control of the situation. But from what I've seen from these two guys, everybody's going to be pretty pleased with hos they play. They're both very good players."
Vlachos doesn't think the quarterback candidates have to wait until real games in the fall to show their command capabilities.
"You can show it now," Vlachos said, adding "Both those guys have done a good job commanding the huddle."
McCarron has been seen a bit in mop-up operations last season. Sims has not. But Vlachos said Sims "has gotten more comfortable. He played on the scout team last year. Everybody knows he's got ability and everybody expects him to be a good player here. There's no doubt. The more passes he completes the more confidence he'll have and the better player he'll be and the quicker he'll progress."
A trait of Nick Saban teams at Alabama has been moving offensive linemen into different positions in practice so they will have a familiarity if the need arises in the season. Through the spring Saban has discussed the search for a back-up center, looking at Tyler Love, Chad Lindsay, and most recently Kellen Williams.
Vlachos pointed out that in the final week of practice before the A-Day Game that more shifts were taking place. The most notable was Barrett Jones, a two-year starter at right guard, getting some work at left tackle. Jones also had a few snaps at center, as did Anthony Steen.
" It's been my experience since I've been involved at spring practices here the last four or five years that last week is kind of a time when you experiment with some things," Vlachos said. "Get some film of people doing different stuff at different spots. I don't think it's necessarily relatve to performance. Alfred's (Alfred McCullough) done a great job at left tackle. Anthony Steen's been at right guard today and he did a great job. Barrett's obviously done a great job at right guard. So really, it's just one of those deals you want to see and at least get a little taste of what somebody can do in some spots so you're not having to scratch and get something together for the middle of LSU week or something like that.
"I don't know how if this is temporary or a long-term deal. But today Barrett took all the snaps at left tackle with the ones and he did a very good job. Obviously, Barrett's a smart guy and they feel confident they could put him anywhere. He snapped the ball some today and Steen snapped the ball some today. A lot of just let's see who can do it and who can't.
"Kellen's done a good job. He needs to keep working at it and keep learning, getting more comfortable with everything."
Another aspect of spring practice under Saban is installation of schemes that are not Alabama, things the Tide will see against opponents in the fall.
Vlachos isn't sure what is techniques of future opponents and what is new for Alabama.
"Our defense has been doing some new things," he said. "They've thrown some blitzes at us that I haven't seen before. Coach Saban, obviously, he's the mastermind of drawing that type of stuff up. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what's coming most of the time from our defense. But this spring, they've thrown some pretty crazy things at us. It's made us a lot better in that you've really got to understand the concept of the protection or running play or whatever just to pick that type of stuff up.
"The last week of spring, the beauty of it, you don't have to play anybody except yourself. You've had two scrimmages. Let's keep the tempo high, let's stay physical, but maybe let's play with something here, let's play with something there. See what we've got. That's the great thing about it."
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