Stuart McNair

First scrimmage of Alabama fall camp may clear up the picture

For third straight year, Alabama is looking for a starting quarterback

Alabama will have its first scrimmage of football fall camp Saturday, and everyone from Coach Nick Saban to someone whose first favorite shirt was a Mark Ingram jersey knows what to look for.

 

Saban doesn’t allow reporters to watch Alabama practices, and post-scrimmage statistics are likely to reveal little or nothing – at least with accuracy. But those numbers in a vacuum are all we’ll have, other than whatever the coach decides to share.

 

As Saban has pointed out, the statistics don’t reveal which defense the top rusher was running against, or which offense the top defender was facing or whether 8 receptions for 90 yards included one for 75 and the other seven for a total of 15 and the like.

 

And if we get the same result as most scrimmages in which there was a search for a new quarterback, the statistics will not include passing performances.

 

No problem. Saban and his assistants won’t be crunching numbers. As the head coach has said on numerous occasions for several years, the scrimmage is a time to find out which players can step up when the coaches aren’t right there with them giving instruction. It’s a time to see who performs in the closest possible simulation of a game.

 

One trap that Alabama fans may have fallen into won’t affect Saban. In the past two years, Bama has had to find a new quarterback with no experienced hands to choose from. That is the case for the third consecutive year, and the success of the first two – Blake Sims and Jake Coker performing at championship levels – may lead to some complacency. Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Lane Kiffin has pulled a rabbit out of the hat the past two years and no doubt he’ll do it again.

 

Conventional wisdom is that Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett, and Jalen Hurts all have more natural talent than either Sims or Coker did. And yet, there is an underlying concern. Cornwell hasn’t been able to work at full tilt owing to a summer foot injury. Barnett was reportedly horrible in the final scrimmage of the spring. Bateman was well off the mark on his throws in last Sunday’s open practice at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

 

The knock on Hurts? None. He has shown a strong, accurate arm and the ability to get out of trouble. But he’s a freshman.

 

It will be interesting to learn (and we will, because several hundred will be in attendance at the scrimmage) what happened today and what happens in the second and final scrimmage a week later at the quarterback position.

 

The other marquee position at which there is a question (even a concern) also is not a matter of natural talent. But neither Bo Scarbrough nor Damien Harris has much real experience as college tailbacks. Moreover, Scarbrough – the perceived leader to follow Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at the featured running back spot – has been injury-prone.

 

It was interesting that Saban discussed the number of tailbacks who have been effective as freshmen over the past nine years he has been head coach of the Tide. Two freshmen looked very good in the open practice, although that was far from a scrimmage. But B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs likely will have a chance and a good look in the scrimmage.

 

On the offensive line, the most spirited competition may be at right guard, where Bradley Bozeman seemed to be ahead of last year’s starter, Alphonse Taylor, and last spring’s perceived No. 1 Brandon Kennedy.

 

On defense, the primary question has been part of the Maurice Smith transfer to Georgia saga. Who will play the Star (nickel) position that Smith had been ticketed to play? Minkah Fitzpatrick had been expected to move to right cornerback where the graduation of Cyrus Jones left a vacancy, but Fitzpatrick – last year’s nickel – is also getting work at his old spot.

 

Otherwise, the defense seems to be set.

 

There are pieces to put together in the kicking game, including a hope that Adam Griffith will be accurate Adam. Otherwise, new return men for punts and kickoffs must be found, and that will likely be a part of the scrimmage.


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