Going into its 2017 spring practice, Alabama’s football team had several questions that needed to be answered. Some were, others were not.
Let’s start with the offensive line, and this interesting quote from Tide Coach Nick Saban just after Saturday’s A-Day game: Right now, I might say we probably have four offensive lineman, and I’m going to say who, that can play winning football. We probably have another four that have the potential to play winning football, that may not be where they need to be. We’re going to play the best five guys that give us the best chance (to win).”
Of course they will. But who are those five guys (and not the ones who sell burgers and fries). Let’s hazard a guess at who Saban meant when he said there were four guys who could play winning football right now. I think those four fellows are tackles Jonah Williams and Matt Womack, guard Ross Pierschbacher, and center Bradley Bozeman.
The fifth man who started Saturday, right guard Lester Cotton, has struggled at times with picking up Bozeman’s calls at the line, which can result in missed assignments and negative plays. If that gets corrected, great, you have your fifth man. If not, let’s look at who could be next up.
I feel Saban’s four who have the “potential to play winning football” are Cotton, tackles Scott Lashley and Alex Leatherwood, and guard Deonte Brown, who ran with the ones at right guard some during spring ball.
Should strength man Scott Cochran and nutrition guru Amy Bragg successfully help Brown lose about 40 pounds off his currently listed weight of 350, he could push and maybe unseat Cotton at right guard. Then there is Leatherwood, who played right tackle in spring but could warrant a look at right guard if he proves to be one of those “best five guys.” He may well be. Only time will tell there.
Another question was who would step up and join the receiver rotation. Jerry Jeudy, a true freshman named MVP Saturday is one. He scored twice and racked up a game-high 134 yards on five grabs. Another is sophomore T.J. Simmons, who played well with 82 yards on six catches and a score. That pair should join Calvin Ridley, the much-improved Rob Foster, and Cam Sims in the regular receiver rotation. Foster is said to be a big favorite of new Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll. He had a great spring, and gives quarterback Jalen Hurts a tall deep threat with speed to burn.
A former member of said receiving corps helped answer a key defensive question: who would step in at cornerback for the departed Marlon Humphrey? That would be 6-2 Trevon Diggs, a burner who got beat deep a couple of times Saturday but had a very promising spring overall. He did tally two tackles, two break-ups and an interception he returned 25 yards out of the end zone. Looking back, Diggs likely should have played defense last season, but as former Auburn Coach Pat Dye once said, “Hindsight’s 50-50.”
Depth was needed at linebacker with Reuben Foster and Tim Williams moving on to the pros. It appears it’s there, even though likely Will linebacker starter Shaun Dion Hamilton was held out of contact drills all spring. His backup who ran with the ones, Keith Holcombe, shined all spring and had a game-high ten tackles Saturday.
It was assumed Rashaan Evans would hold on to the Mike linebacker spot he played late last year, and that was the case. His backup? Sophomore Mack Wilson, who hits like the truck he aptly shares a name with. True freshman Dylan Moses looks to be a factor inside, too. He ran with the twos nearly all spring. Moses has many of the qualities Reggie Ragland had early in his Capstone career.
On special teams, Adam Griffith must be replaced at place-kicker. Andy Pappanastos had an up-and-down spring, but still may get a crack at PATs and short field goals. JK Scott showed he can kick field goals if necessary, and proved to be an effective kick-off man, too. We know he can punt.
The wild card is invited walk-on freshman Joseph Bulovas, who arrives this summer. If he wins the kicking job, Scott may just punt. Or, Scott may punt and kick off. Scott would likely hold for Bulovas or Pappanastos. That is, if Scott’s not kicking. Confused yet? Who’s on first?
Backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa could also factor as a holder for Scott, a role he played all spring.
One question that has been answered as expected is at long-snapper. True freshman Thomas Fletcher was very good all spring there. He’s backed up by walk-on Scott Meyer, but Fletcher is expected to hold the job four years, like Cole Mazza before him. They share important traits: consistency and effectiveness.
And finally, quarterback. There is no controversy here. Jalen Hurts will start. Tagovailoa will back him up. The freshman will not redshirt. He will play. He will letter. Next spring, he will likely get the chance to win the job, but that’s not the case for now. What he did show is that Hurts has an adequate back up, which is huge and something that really wasn’t the case last season.