First scrimmage yields some info

Heading into to spring all informed fans knew the Tide had numerous holes to be filled and questions to be answered. Plus, an uneven performance in the first scrimmage of spring is hardly reason to get upset. But Tide Head Coach Mike Shula knows as well as anyone that Alabama has a lot of progress left to make.

Weather-wise at least, Alabama and Mike Shula have been lucky so far this spring. Saturday's workout at Bryant-Denny Stadium took place under sunny skies, after rains had pelted Tuscaloosa for most of the previous night. As a bit of Monday-morning punditry, here are some facts/observations from Saturday's elongated scrimmage.

Juwan Garth is having a very good spring.

Coming up with a hard-and-fast depth chart during spring drills is pretty much a fool's errand any year, and that's especially true this time with the Tide's roster so depleted numbers-wise. But a first- and second-string at least seemed evident.

First-String Offense

Starting offensive linemen: Chris Capps (LT), Evan Mathis (LG), J.B. Closner (Center), Danny Martz (RG) and Kyle Tatum (RT). Walk-on tight end Barrett Earnest (# 90) appeared to take most of his snaps with the first unit. The wide receivers rotated, but Tyrone Prothro, Brandon Brooks, Matt Caddell and Matt Miller worked as a top four. Marc Guillon took the snaps at quarterback. The backs rotated a lot, but Ray Hudson, Kenneth Darby and Tim Castille all worked with the 1s, with Castille getting reps at both fullback and tailback.

Second-String Offense

Along the offensive line, Von Ewing (LT), Dawson Brown (LG), Taylor Britt (Center), Justin Moon (RG) and Mark Sanders (RT) fill out the second unit. Both Rusty Hill (# 94) and Will Denniston (# 89), also walk-ons, took snaps at tight end. Mike Machen handled quarterback duties. Numerous wide receivers saw action, especially as the scrimmage wore on, but Will Roach, Marcus McKnight and Tarry Givens appeared to make up the second unit. (NOTE: Damien Jones played very little on offense.) All the running backs at one time or another worked with both units, but tailback Nic Luke and fullback Le'Ron McClain seemed to be slotted with the second unit.

First-String Defense

Bama's starting defensive line had Todd Bates and Mark Anderson at end and Jeremy Clark and Anthony Bryant at tackle. DeMeco Ryans was held out of work Saturday. Terrence Jones stepped up to take his vacated strongside linebacker slot, along with Freddie Roach (MLB) and Juwan Garth (WLB). Anthony Madison and Charlie Peprah started at cornerback, with Roman Harper and Carlos Andrews handling safety.

Second-String Defense

With Dominic Lee now out for the spring, Bama's second unit on the defense switched up a bit. Wallace Gilberry and Chris Harris continue to hold down the end positions, but walk-ons J.P. Adams and Rudy Griffin worked at tackle. Cornelius Wortham (MLB), Juke King (SLB) and Demarcus Waldrop (WLB) handled linebacking duties. Ramzee Robinson and Eric Gray were at cornerback, while Thurman Ward and Bryan Kilpatrick handled safety.

Special Teams

Bo Freelend has a solid hold on the punting job.

Bo Freelend is clearly Bama's top punter. After him, Jeremy Schatz, Jeff Aul and Chris Shoup all took a rep punting. On the placekicking side, Brian Bostick (PK) and Alex Fox (holder) appear to be the top tandem, but Mike McLaughlin is getting a look at placekicker as well.

The Tide did not practice kickoffs, but Brandon Brooks remains its top punt return man. Tyrone Prothro and Matt Caddell also got a chance to handle punts, as did walk-on Brandon McAway on at least one occasion. Several athletes worked at the "gunner" position, responsible for lining up on the outside and sprinting down to provide punt coverage, including Charlie Peprah, Ramzee Robinson, Eric Gray, Thurman Ward and Anthony Madison.

Quick Hitters

  • At quarterback, Marc Guillon's numbers (14-27, 175 yards, 2 TDs) were solid, which Bama's coaches took as good news. He had been experiencing predictable problems in practice picking up the offense and making his reads. Viewed in that context, workmanlike numbers are good.
  • Cornerback Ramzee Robinson continues to have a good spring, intercepting a pass Saturday and turning in three tackles. He was probably rushed into action a bit before he was ready last year, but Robinson appears ready now.
  • He wasn't a starter last year, but Juwan Garth is showing his athleticism every day at linebacker. He tied for the team lead in tackles Saturday with seven, including a sack.
  • Bama's safeties weren't bad, which was good news. Roman Harper also had seven tackles. Carlos Andrews had four, including a sack. Second teamers Thurman Ward and Bryan Kilpatrick had three and four tackles respectively. Ward also had an interception, while Kilpatrick got him a sack on a blitz.
  • Shaud Williams must be replaced, and Ray Hudson, Kenneth Darby and Tim Castille continue to run well. Hudson and Darby especially look like different athletes, now that they've put the season's nicks and bruises behind them. In his fifth year of college, Hudson is showing both speed and power. And Darby is once again showing his impressive burst into the line, coupled with a good sense of following his blockers.
  • Will Tim Castille play fullback or tailback? As we've said before, that question almost certainly has far more to do with McClain's progress at fullback than how well Castille does at tailback.
  • Walk-on Matt Miller finished up an excellent week of practice with three catches for 40 yards Saturday. He's got good size (6-3, 199), good hands and isn't afraid to run routes across the middle.
  • Barrett Earnest is supposed to be the receiving specialist of the walk-on tight end group, but Rusty Hill pulled in the touchdown reception Saturday on a pretty fade route to the left corner.

    Terrence Jones started Saturday at strongside linebacker.

  • Alabama's offensive line showed some promise, but when the defense blitzed Saturday it was not pretty. Todd Bates led the way with three quarterback sacks. Mark Anderson recovered two fumbles, returning one for a 31-yard TD.
  • Of course it didn't help at all that Bama's center snapped numerous shotgun efforts over the head of the Tide quarterback. Late in the scrimmage Coach Connelly was working alone on the sideline with Closner, taking shotgun snaps.
  • Battling for a starting job at safety, Thurman Ward plucked a tipped pass out of the air for an interception then ran by Von Ewing's attempted tackle attempt for a solid return.
  • Two sophomores combined for the most spectacular special teams play. Off a high snap, Ramzee Robinson flew in to block a field-goal attempt; then Terrence Jones scooped up the loose ball returning it down the right sideline for what probably would have been a long score, had the official not blown the play dead.
  • Injuries continue to be a major problem. Wesley Britt (starting LT), Travis West (back-up center), Dominic Lee (back-up DT), David Cavan (starting TE), Clint Johnston (second string TE), Greg McLain (reserve TE), Keith Saunders (reserve DE) and DeMeco Ryans (starting SLB) all sat out Saturday's scrimmage.
  • Of course quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington only threw during 7-on-7 non-contact work.

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