A-Day Rewind: Offensive Analysis

With SEC Media Days set for this week, and Nick Saban, Mark Barron, Don'ta Hightower and Trent Richardson set to represent the Crimson Tide, Alabama football is nigh. I thought this would be a good time to fire up the DVR and give some long after-the-fact impressions of A-Day, since that was the last (and only) public display of much of what will make up the 2011 Alabama squad.

Part one of this two-parter will focus on offense. To wit:

Trent Richardson began the game with one of several long kick returns for the first team. He was joined deep by Darius Hanks, who is back there to block, ala Julio Jones last year. A couple of things to consider here are that every effort will be made to find someone else besides the starting tailback to be the primary kick return man for Alabama. Injured Dee Hart would have been a very possible and maybe probable choice, but he's not available. Marquis Maze is, and he could be back with Hanks. A wild card candidate would be untested true freshman Bradley Sylve, a speedster who has broken many a kick return at the high school and all-star game level. Something else that I thought of was, as good as Trent is, those long returns he had at A-Day were non-contact and against scout team kick coverage.

With Hart's injury, there is little doubt the able, quick and sure-handed Maze will handle punts. Barrett Jones looked very good for a newcomer to the left tackle slot. The question is, will he stay there? Five-star Cyrus Kouandjio will have a say. He has impressed folks this summer, albeit, without pads. Should Cyrus pull an Andre Smith and claim the starting job, Jones would slide back home to right guard. Saban has told alumni groups all summer that D.J. Fluker is a better player when playing beside the veteran Jones. Cyrus' older brother Arie Kouandjio, held his own on several pass plays against Upshaw, and could be the next right tackle.

Brandon Gibson is a man who is working very hard to get in the first receiver rotation. His obstacles include the incoming Duron Carter and the up-and-coming DeAndrew White. Maze and Hanks are the only two who should feel secure about being in that rotation. Speaking of Hanks, the guy may not be a speed merchant, but he runs great routes and has he ever dropped a ball the he got his hands on? I can't recall one.

Preston Dial will certainly be missed at H-back, but seniors Brad Smelley and Chris Underwood both look ready to step up there. Smelley's blocking is improved, and Underwood has developed his receiving skills considerably. Smelley's always had good hands, and Underwood came out of Vestavia as a respected blocker, a trait he's continued in Tuscaloosa despite limited action. The two should combine to replace Dial.

At running back, Hart will surely be missed, and Tide fans know how great Richardson is, but do they really get what they have in Eddie Lacy? He rarely goes down on the first lick, has shown he can be a home run hitter (ask Michigan State), and it appears Lacy has shaken his fumbling problems. Many of the same things can be said about Jalston Fowler (who I still think is an even better linebacker), and don't be shocked to see some time as the third down running back taken by Blake Sims, when he's not lined up as a wildcat quarterback. Blake Sims showed arm that will keep defenses honest when he is at quarterback.

Speaking of which…

The most anticipated and ongoing discussion: who is going to be the quarterback? I'm not sure there will be one guy. There is a scenario where both A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims both play every game, with the fourth quarter being led by the man with the hot hand.

Here's what I noticed rewatching the A-Day telecast:

Sims seems more accurate and more comfy in the pocket. McCarron has the better fastball, but doesn't always know where it's going. Sims has the quicker release. I have no idea who is better in the huddle or how each man's leadership skills stack up, and those two things will be huge factors in determining a starter, if there is a true starter. The guy who trots out for the first series may not be the guy who runs the last set of downs.

On the goal-line fumbled snap by McCarron that snuffed out a 69-yard march, the red shirt soph did not concentrate enough on riding center William Vlachos to make sure he had the ball so he could hand it to Richardson.

While Mark Barron's long return for six points was fun to watch, it should have never happened. Sims nearly had a costly pick by Phelon Jones, but the senior was unable to haul it in. He later failed to notice Jarrick Williams, who did pick him off.

Sims is a fairly good scrambler, but McCarron would likely take him in the 40. Sims is right at 6-foot-1, despite being listed taller, but he seems to have the vision to fit the ball into the lanes that are there. McCarron is every bit of 6-4, but he seems to get "happy feet" in the pocket more so than Sims. McCarran's "gunslinger" mentality means he often forces balls in tight spots that get picked off, as was the case at A-Day when Dequan Menzie hauled in an errant throw.

It won't shock me no matter which man trots out for the first series of the Kent State game, but methinks it's going to be Sims. I still say both will play, especially early in the season, and even if a "starter" emerges, the backup could still get at least 30 per cent of the snaps.

TOMORROW: Defense and Special Teams

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