There is a lot to look for when Alabama has its spring football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a lot to see.
To be sure, there are a number of positions – including that most important position, quarterback – where there is an anticipation of getting an idea of what type team Alabama may be as it goes after a second consecutive national championship in 2016. But there is the reality that Coach Nick Saban’s team has not been preparing for the opener against USC or any other game in the Spring.
While Saban said that his players have been introduced to some things the Crimson Tide will see from opponents next season, the emphasis for Bama is the same as it has been in Saban’s previous 10 Springs, and that is for players to improve in techniques, not in game-planning.
That is only one of the reasons a Spring game does not look like a football game.
Obviously, neither the Crimson nor the White will look like the Alabama that will be on the field in the Fall. In previous A-Day Games, the Tide has been divided with the first team offense and second team defense on one side, the first defense and second offense on the other, so the competition is as good as it can be.
But there will be additional players in summer workouts and Fall camp and in preparation for the season. There will also be live play on quarterbacks when games are real, whereas the quarterbacks Saturday will be in non-contact black jerseys and plays whistled dead when the officials decide the quarterback would be tackled (sometimes with not even a hand touch).
It is never unusual for a quarterback to have an outstanding A-Day Game, but end up not being the man in the Fall. Based on various reports from practice, true freshman Jalen Hurts has skills worth watching.
Kicking will be limited to some extent.
A few key players will be held out or given only sparse playing time Saturday.
Still, there is the opportunity to see what players are in what spots along the offensive line, which is being retooled with a new center (by all accounts converted guard Ross Pierschbacher) and right tackle. Cam Robinson, the starter at left tackle the past two years, won’t play Saturday, but some other man will be working at that important position.
Last year tailbacks Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris had very limited playing time behind Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who was used more than previous Saban tailbacks at Alabama. Other than a few games he missed with injury, Kenyan Drake was the back-up. Now both are gone.
The top two wide receivers (Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart) return, but now Robert Foster is back from injury and will get work in the Spring game, as will two returning players who have gotten high marks in practice, Cam Sims and Derek Kief.
Will there be an expanded role on Saturday for tight end O.J. Howard, the offensive MVP of last season’s national championship game victory over Clemson? Another tight end to watch is Hale Hentges, who made great progress as a true freshman last year.
There are three new linebackers working, and even returning starter Reuben Foster has made a minor shift; he was weakside linebacker last year, a slightly different inside position than the middle linebacker spot where he has moved this spring.
There are new men to watch on the defensive line with all three starters from last year missing Saturday. Jonathan Allen will be back in the Fall, but on Saturday eyes will be on the likes of Da’Shawn Hand (if he’s over his back problems), Dalvin Tomlinson, and Da’Ron Payne, who was impressive as a back-up nose tackle in his freshman year.
The secondary is looking for one new safety and one new cornerback and there have been good reports from the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick (a Freshman All-America last year at nickel) and Hootie Jones.
And if the A-Day Game goes to form, there will be players who have not been in the limelight who have standout performances.
Though many scoff at the A-Day Game as “just a practice,” it is an Alabama practice, and the first public view of what should be another very good Crimson Tide football team.
There is a Fan Fest beginning at 8 a.m., gates at Bryant-Denny Stadium (no admission charge) open at 11 a.m., and kickoff is at 2 p.m. Following the game Coach Saban will present various awards for spring practice performance.