Stuart McNair

There’s much to look for in Alabama’s spring football game

Alabama Coach Nick Saban puts first offense against first defense

It has become  regular fare to suggest what those watching Alabama’s spring game Saturday should be looking for. Although there won’t be 100,000 fans in the stands as the players would like for their final day of spring football practice, there should be a nice crowd and many, many more watching on ESPN. Kickoff Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium is at 2 p.m.
One thing those in attendance won’t have to watch for is a ticket taker. Admission to Alabama’s A-Day Game is free.
There are some generalizations to consider when preparing to gain some insight into the 2017 Alabama football team based on what is seen in the Crimson-White Game.
Since time immemorial — or at least since there have been intrasquad spring football games, which is immemorial for most of us — it has been almost impossible for a team to look good both on offense and defense if the teams are divided fairly. There are several ways to make it a so-called level playing field, including the Bama formula under Coach Nick Saban. That is to divide the teams with the first offense going against the first defense, the second offense against the second defense.
So if the offense is running up and down the field and running up the score, that doesn’t look good for the defense. If the offense is unable to move the football consistently, the defense looks good, but the offense doesn’t.
When coaches break down the videotapes later, they will have a better understanding of which players did well — in other words, which ones knew that significant section of The Process that demands players know what do do, how to do it, and why it has to be done that way.
That won’t change one aspect of the outcome, though. The members of the winning team will be treated to a steak dinner, while at the same time and same place the members of the losing team will be eating beans and hotdogs.
One thing that will be different than most A-Day Games is that this year’s personnel includes most of what will be available when fall camp begins in August. That’s because 16 signees entered The University in the spring semester in order to participate in spring football.
Both teams will be hampered a bit by the rules, the offense particularly with Jalen Hurts at quarterback being considered down if a defensive man gets near him. Hurts isn’t likely to have any long distance scrambles.
After 14 practices leading up to the A-Day Game, both sides will be familiar with the formations and tendencies of the other side.
And, of course, we are not likely to see everything that new Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll is expected to show when the season begins against Florida State in Atlanta on Sept. 2. The defense is also expected to be restricted.
Ordinarily, there is not much of a kicking game at A-Day. Field goals and extra points will be kicked and AJ Scott will punt, but there won’t be returns or tackles on the return men.
We know that we won’t see tailback Bo Scarbrough or linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, both recovering from injuries, as is tailback B.J. Emma’s. There may be others held out as a precaution.
So what the heck are we going to look for then?
Quite often, we don’t know until we’ve seen it.
It could be a heretofore unknown running back or wide receiver, for instance, making the big plays on offense, or a linebacker or some other defender having a shining hour. Sometimes that means something in the next season, and sometimes not.
Whether suggested or not, everyone is going to watch the quarterbacks. Has Jalen Hurts improved his downfield passing? What about these two freshmen who reported early, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones?
What’s the reason for all the buzz about Najee Harris? The tailback was the No. 1 prospect in the nation, entered early, and has been very impressive as Scarbrough has been sidelined.
We know about Calvin Ridley as a wide receiver, but is Robert Foster ready to achieve the promise expected of him when he arrived? What about this redshirt freshman who had a big scrimmage, T.J. Simmons, and the same for true freshman Jerry Judy?
Daboll is thought by many as likely to incorporate the tight end more into the offensive attack, so can Miller Forestall be the next O.J. Howard, only moreso?
The offensive line at center, left guard, and left tackle is considered to be in good hands. so those who have the discipline to actually watch offensive linemen might want to keep an eye on the right side.
Da’Shawn Hand has the biggest shoes to fill on defense, replacing one of the most honored players in Alabama history as he takes over for Jonathan Allen at defensive end. There has to be another defensive end, too, and a handful of men are working there, including soph Raekwon Davis, redshirt freshman Quinnen Williams, and junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs.
Most of the linebacker spots are up for grabs and there are quite a few big, fast, athletic men vying in those positions.
In the secondary, the man to watch is probably Trevon Diggs, the former wide receiver who is moving over to take the place of Marlon Humphrey, the only starter lost from the defensive backfield at the end of last season.
So there’s a lot to look for. Remember, though, it may not be shown.


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