What To Watch For At A-Day Saturday

What can be expected when Alabama has its annual spring football game Saturday? For one thing, probably a big crowd. That's owing to a decent long-range weather forecast, the ordinary interest of Crimson Tide fans heightened by the search for a new quarterback, and the urging of Bama Coach Nick Saban.

Alabama will have its spring game at 1 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. As usual, there will be no charge for admission to the game.

The Crimson Tide has a new offensive coordinator this year, but don't expect Lane Kiffin to unveil a new scheme. That's not to say there won't be a lot of tweaks to the offense, but such alterations are rarely revealed in the open-for-all-to-see Crimson-White game. The watchword offensively and defensively is "vanilla." The last surprise revealed on offense was in the 1983 spring game when then-University President Dr. Joab Thomas was the first tailback used in the "game."

When considering expectations, it is important to remember that it is not a game. It is a game-type scrimmage. But the defense will have one hand tied behind its back in that there is likely to be a no blitz policy. On the other hand (tied behind the back), the quarterback is down if he's touched, or likely to be touched, by a defender, which negates the escape.

There will be no live kickoff or punt returns. There's not even a punter in camp.

Still, we want to see some things, and can't help but wonder what to expect.

Let's get it out of the way quickly. The biggest question about the 2014 Crimson Tide is who takes over at quarterback for A.J. McCarron. Based on the first two scrimmage statistics, there's no reason to think that Blake Sims won't emerge from spring practice as number one, which means (according to most) that it makes him the number one challenger to incoming transfer Jacob Coker. If Coker is seen Saturday, it will be because he is spotted on the sideline in street clothes. He's finishing up work for his degree at Florida State before transferring to Bama this summer.

The statistics from the two scrimmages indicate coaches have decided they know enough about T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who finished one-two at the end of last year. So one thing to look for is who appears to be number three, and will Kenyan Drake (number two most of last season), Altee Tenpenny, or Tyren Jones challenge for the third spot.

The leaders are known at tight end, H-back, and even wide receiver (though you'll want to keep an eye on true freshman wideout Cam Sims, who has made an impression in his first practices at Bama).

The offensive line is again needing important new help. There were reports of a shuffle of players to various positions (i.e., Austin Shepherd from right tackle to left tackle) during the spring, but that is situation normal. At several positions, Saban will want players to try their hands at spots where they might be called on in an emergency next year. And, of course, there is always the possibility one or more of those experiments will result in a permanent position change.

In any event, it will be interesting to see who lines up where, and particularly who is with the first offense at left tackle. The latest report from Saban had true freshman Cam Robinson and former tight end Brandon Greene as top candidates at left tackle and Shepherd and Grant Hill at right tackle. Leon Brown has been working at right guard. Arie Kouandjio is the returning starter at left guard and Ryan Kelly is back at center.

On defense, Alabama lost two starters in the line, two linebackers, a cornerback, and a safety (or two, depending on how one counts).

Returning starter Brandon Ivory heads a long line of contenders at nose tackle. One who has been mentioned more than others – indeed, more than Ivory – is junior college transfer Jarran Reed.

Both ends are gone from last season. Most expect last year's freshmen phenoms, A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, to move up to the top spots. That depends partly on where D.J. Pettway, recently returned from a year in junior college, plays. Pettway has been listed both as an end and outside linebacker. Dee Liner, who played only briefly last year, has been talked about for his good spring.

Trey DePriest is back at middle linebacker, but a new man will be playing the other inside spot where C.J. Mosley was a unanimous All-America last season. Reuben Foster might end up there, but Foster has been limited because of neck "stingers" and Reggie Ragland has gotten most of the work alongside DePriest.

At strongside linebacker, Dillon Lee has received a lot of comment (on and off the field), and an interesting development is the possibility of Pettway being at this outside linebacker spot rather than end. Denzell Devall and Xzavier Dickson both have starting experience at jack.

Linebacker speculation is complicated by Ragland has had some work outside and Lee has had some work inside. Saban has mentioned others (Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Walker Jones) as having shown improvement.

It seems as if the question of cornerback has been going on for about a year. Deion Belue graduated. Eddie Jackson, who Saban said was having the best spring, was lost with a knee injury. Maurice Smith missed some work with a concussion. Tony Brown, an exciting incoming freshman, was in a black (no contact) jersey with a shoulder problem. The coach (who works directly with cornerbacks) has mentioned Bradley Sylve for his good work. Cyrus Jones has the advantage in experience. This looks to be a work in progress.

HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri were the starters at the two safety spots when Alabama opened the 2013 season. Sunseri was lost to a knee injury midway through the season. Now both have been lost after their junior seasons to NFL dreams. Landon Collins took over for Sunseri last year, and he rates as a likely number one this year. Nick Perry is back from injury and reportedly having a good spring. Saban also has praised former nickel and dime back players Jarrick Williams and Geno Smith. Finally, another freshman has turned heads at practices. Laurence Jones – Hootie – has made a good impression.

And after we've seen the A-Day Game, we'll await on new arrivals, summer developments, and begin the same discussions in fall camp beginning in August.

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