Alabama has its second and final preseason scrimmage Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, a scrimmage that is closed to the public but which will be seen by several hundred boosters. Weather could be a factor with continuing August rain about a 60 per cent chance.
Those viewers will be interested and curious, but not nearly so much as Coach Nick Saban and his staff as a few positions are in need of solidifying before Alabama takes on Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 3 – just two weeks away.
Just because there have been no announcements at some of these spots from Saban does not mean that he and his assistant coaches don’t know the answers. After all, what’s the advantage of announcing the quarterback race is over? To keep it an open race keeps the candidates competing hard.
Most booster eyes, of course, will be on those quarterbacks. Has junior Cooper Bateman, last year’s backup (and starter for one game, which tells us Saban and Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin thought well of him in 2015), done enough to maintain the lead he seemed to have in the spring? Is Jalen Hurts the real deal, possibly capable of taking the starting job as a true freshman? Blake Barnett is the favorite of a number of fans to win the job and they’ll get to see where he is.
We don’t even know if there is a question about David Cornwell, who consistently has demonstrated he has the best arm and pocket presence among the candidates. Cornwell was widely believed a year ago to be challenging for the lead in what turned out to be the Jake Coker-Cooper Bateman quarterback race. Then he was out of the picture, allegedly for an off-the-field incident. And then when fall camp opened, we learned he had suffered a summer foot injury that seems to have taken him completely out of the race.
How is that tailback position shaping up? In the last scrimmage, oft-injured Bo Scarbrough was reported to have suffered a minor injury and given limited work. But he was back practicing this week. Damien Harris is obviously in the picture, and Saban has been complimentary of two freshmen, B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs.
When Alabama is in a three wide receiver set, we can expect Calvin Ridley to be one of them and ArDarius Stewart another. That third could be Robert Foster, who was No. 1 last year before suffering a season-ending injury in the third game of the season. Or it could be senior transfer Gehrig Dieter. Or someone else.
(Some would say the most interesting thing about any set isn’t about the receivers, but back to that quarterback question – can any of the quarterbacks get the ball on a consistent basis to what might be the best group of receivers in the nation?)
The offensive line has some vacancies. Cam Robinson is set at left tackle and Ross Pierschbacher at center, but otherwise trhe competition is likely to be close. Alphonse Taylor is trying to reclaim his starting job at right guard, but Bradley Bozeman may be holding on there. True freshman Jonah Williams has been the man at right tackle since late last spring. Koren Kirven was in Robinson’s left tackle spot last year and may be the right tackle backup this spring. Is he the swing tackle? At left guard, the battle seems to be between Lester Cotton and Matt Womack.
On defense, the primary position to watch may be Star, or nickel back. A Freshman All-America was there last season, but Saban has said he would like Minkah Fitzpatrick to play cornerback. Cornerback plays about 99.9 per cent of plays in Bama’s defense, but nickel isn’t far behind, probably 75 or 80 per cent. Following spring practice, it looked like Maurice Smith would be the nickel. And if not him it might got to redshirt freshman Kendall Sheffield. We all know those two transferred out of the program.
Dalvin Tomlinson is an experienced defensive lineman, but he was injured in the first scrimmage and as of Thursday was still limited at least, riding a stationary bicycle during the media viewing period. If he is absent, will it be Da’Shawn Hand who joins Jonathan Allen at the defensive end spots? Da’Ron Payne seems to be holding down the nose tackle spot. It would be interesting to know how true freshmen Raekwon Davis and Jamar King are doing.
The specialists of special teams – punter J.K. Scott, kicker Adam Griffith, snapper Cole Mazza – are all back, but the return men from last year, notably Cyrus Jones and Kenyan Drake, must be replaced. Will Alabama do much kicking game work during its final scrimmage?
Last week Alabama issued no post-scrimmage statistics. No one expected quarterback statistics. Those have not been released during the quarterback battle seasons of the past couple of years. But last week even the running, receiving, and defensive numbers were withheld.