Observations From Sunday's Football

Only twice a year -- and that's counting A-Day -- is the media allowed to view an entire practice by the University of Alabama football team. The other time is Fan Day, and that was Sunday, so here are my annual observations from that workout:

The Alabama football team of Coach Nick Saban was out a little earlier than advertised going through individual work at Bryant-Denny Stadium. There was a modest crowd, most trying to get out of the sun, in the West sidelines stands.

CAPTAINS: If one is to go by who leads the team through warm-ups, look for Barrett Jones, Mark Barron, and Dont'a Hightower to represent the squad at midfield against Kent State in the season opener on September 3.

OFFENSE: The team worked in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, but some contact was present, as is the case in such a competitive environment. The day began with 11-on-11 drills going in both directions from the 35-yard lines.

Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron got most of those reps, but Blake Sims replaced McCarron a few times, as did Phillip Ely for Phillip Sims. Phillip Sims connected with Ronald Carswell for a nice gainer on one end, while Dre Kirkpatrick broke up a McCarron aerial on the other with a nice swipe of hand.

Phillip Sims told the media he reported to Alabama at 240 and is now at 205. He appears to be right at 6-2, or just a shade below. When Saban says no one has distanced himself yet, he means it. Look for a decision, if one is even made to go with one guy, to come around Arkansas week.

Morgan Ogilvie got a few reps behind center, and when he did, Blake Sims shifted to running back. It should be noted that Blake Sims has greatly improved his accuracy, and should he line up in the wildcat behind center, his arm, and not just his legs, must be accounted for. Still learning, Blake tried to force a ball into double coverage to Kenny Bell that true freshman Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix swiped away.

Giving credit where due, McCarron seems to be more adept now than he was in the spring at staying in the pocket against a heavy rush. He demonstrated this several times, often completing a short route to his hot read rather than showing "happy feet." He also continues to show touch on the long ball, connecting with Marquis Maze for six on a go route, and Brad Smelley for a first down on a flag route.

Phillip Sims continues to show a quick release and strong arm

The left tackles were, in order, Barrett Jones, Tyler Love, and Cyrus Kouandjio. That situation is fluid and could change next week when full pads come on.

For now, the top receiving rotation appears to be Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell and Brandon Gibson. Like left tackle, this fluid situation is subject to change next week with the expected arrival of Duron Carter. Ronald Carswell is a wild card, but may be a depth chart victim this year. He can fly. Hardie Buck has great hands, but he'll mainly be a special teams guy.

Blake Sims had developed an early chemistry with red shirt freshman tight end/H-back Harrison Jones. The two connected on several short routes Sunday.

After working at receiver Friday and running back Saturday, freshman Christion Jones worked at both slots Sunday. Listed as a defensive back on the team roster, Jones reportedly spent most of the summer skeleton passing drills at receiver. It remains to be seen where he lines up this fall, or if he takes a red shirt.

About midway through the workout, Jones changed from a crimson (defense) to a white (offense) jersey and worked at running back. He caught a swing pass, turned up field, and got popped by Jarrick Williams. Norwood caught deep post for six from Phillip Sims, to the delight of the few fans in the stadium. (Most, it appeared, opted to stand in line outside for a shot an autograph.)

Two offensive players--running back Eddie Lacy and tight end Brian Vogler--wore black non-contact jerseys Sunday.

DEFENSE: One of the positions up for grabs is Will, a.k.a. weak side linebacker. The front-runner is junior Nico Johnson, but sophomore C.J. Mosley is not going down without a fight. Whether he starts or not, Mosley will be a big factor on passing downs, where his ability exceeds that of Johnson. Both are good against the run.

While Jarrick Williams held the dime spot after the Capital One bowl game, true freshman Clinton-Dix looks like a man ready to grab that spot, which could be bad news for both Williams and Will Lowery.

Lowery, by the way, is listed on the roster as a junior but has said repeatedly on Twitter that he will graduate this spring and enter the working world, so 2011 is it for him, football-wise.

Lowery looks to be a stalwart on special teams this year, along with his pal, Hardie Buck. The battle at corner rages on between Dee Milliner and Dequan Menzie. Menzie is now completely healthy, and had several pass break-ups, showing why those who know consider him a first day NFL draft pick. Milliner has added strength and, even if Menzie beats him out, will be the nickel and play a lot.

Clinton-Dix picked off Ely later in practice on a high throw. Two freshmen, linebacker Trey DePriest and safety Vinnie Sunseri, both look very adept in coverage.

Walk-on linebacker Josh Dickerson is one to watch. He came from Georgia Military, but was a former South Carolina player. This is not your normal walk-on.

During one-on-one pass rush drills, red shirt freshman nose man Brandon Ivory and true freshman tackle LaMichael Fanning showed good push. So did a guy named Courtney Upshaw. Go figure.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A big question this year is, who will return kick-offs and punts. On Sunday, the top candidates appeared to be Maze on punts (though he bobbled one). To be fair, all but White, Hanks and Sims had bobbles. Maze is the most likely starter on punt returns, but Dee Hart could have been a contender.

On kick-off returns, there were none Sunday. The team worked on shedding blocks during coverage, but no one lined up deep. All the punt return candidates, plus Trent Richardson and freshman Bradley Sylve, are likely to get looks there later.

While nothing appears different about the kicking rotation, the punting situation is far from resolved. Look for a game-week decision, and maybe weekly decision, on sophomore Cody Mandell and red shirt freshman Jay Williams. Williams has a very strong leg, while Mandell is probably a little more consistent.

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