There's Much To Watch On A-Day
Although it's difficult for one team to provide the players for two full teams, in the past Alabama has put the first offense against the first defense and second offense against the second defense with only a few controls making it different than a game.
The quarterbacks won't be live, for instance. The quarterbacks wear black jerseys that signify no contact, and if touched by a defender the whistle will blow the play dead at that spot. Don't look for fullspeed kickoff returns, and punts will probably be fair caught.
But as for the rest, I'll have two eyes on the lookout for a dozen or so developments. No one can watch everything, and some things I won't even try to watch. I know the first guards (Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen) are okay, and so is right tackle D.J. Fluker and tight end Michael Williams. No one can watch an Alabama scrimmage without noticing the tailbacks, but this competition won't heat up until August with Eddie Lacy sitting out the spring following turf toe surgery.
It's also impossible to overlook the quarterback. In any event, A.J. McCarron has that job, and it may be that number two man Phillip Sims won't be throwing as he's been plagued with shoulder problems. A year ago this was the position of greatest interest.
I expect to notice the quarterbacks and Fluker and Jalston Fowler and so on; it's just that I won't make a special effort to watch them.
I'm fortunate in that I'll have reporter Cary Clark sitting next to me, so we'll have extra eyes on each play and we will share information.
Here are some things that I will make a special effort to put my binoculars on Saturday:
The battle in the middle, where Barrett Jones has moved from left tackle to center and will be going up against Jesse Williams, who has moved from defensive end/tackle to nose tackle. This will pit potential All-America types in close quarters competition.
One reason Jones was able to move to center is because the coaching staff has confidence in sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle. He warrants a look.
Just from a curiosity standpoint, I'll watch to see how 6-6, 360-pound freshman Alphonse Taylor does at offensive guard – unless he's back at nose tackle, in which case I'll still be curious.
H-back became a big offensive weapon for Bama late last year. Now Brad Smelley must be replaced. I expect Barrett's brother Harrison Jones to be in competition, and perhaps Michael Vogler. And I'll watch to see if former tailback and former linebacker Brent Calloway has found a home at H-back.
From reports of previous scrimmages, it sounds as though Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood are the leaders at wide receiver with Christion Jones and Amari Cooper also impressing. DeAndrew White will be in that mix if he's sufficiently recovered from his hamstring problem. There hasn't been much spring conversation about freshman Chris Black and redshirt freshman Marvin Shinn, but I expect a lot of passes to be thrown and for wide receivers to have opportunities.
Watching those wide receivers will be in great part to watch new cornerbacks, particularly junior college transfer Deion Belue, who has gotten consistently high marks from Coach Nick Saban. Players have talked about John Fulton at corner. We expect Dee Milliner to be solid, but haven't seen Travell Dixon, the junior college All-America.
Is it Vinnie Sunseri or Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix working alongside Robert Lester at safety? Alabama plays a lot of nickel (and dime) coverage, so it's possible that both Sunseri and Clinton-Dix could be with the first unit.
I had penciled in Quinton Dial as the man likely to move up to defensive end replacing Jesse Williams, but word from the practice field consistently has been that Ed Stinson is running number one, along with returning three-year starter Damion Square. We'll see.
There has been a lot of talk about new linebacker Dillon Lee. We'll zoom in on him. And, just in general, how are they lined up at jack and strongside, the outside linebacker positions where new men will be starting this year? The outside linebackers most talked about by Saban are Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson, but both seem to be jacks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker types), and Jonathan Atchison gets the most talk from his teammates as the strongside linebacker.
Are Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley still splitting time at weakside linebacker, or is one now working at middle linebacker so they are in the lineup together? This may depend on how Trey DePriest is doing at middle.
Kickoffs are from the 35 now, but coverage men get only a five-yard running start, so there is a lot to watch. Can Cade Foster get it deep enough into the end zone to force a touchback, which now comes out to the 25? Can the coverage men get down field fast enough to make the return team want to take the touchback? Will the return men gamble?
Finally, I'll be checking to see if wide receiver Duron Carter is dressed out. I don't think I'll see him Saturday.
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