- Editorial: Early Returns Are Encouraging
- Wilson Leads A-Day Win
- Depth Chart/Stats (PDF version: )
- A-Day Notes
- Recruiting Update
- Coach Saban Says
Early Returns Are Encouraging
By Kirk McNair
No one doubts that Nick Saban is a hands-on coach. Even though media gets only a glimpse of practice each day (at least that was the case during spring practice), it doesn't take much of a gander to get a sense that Alabama's football coach is on the move, checking on every detail. Players at every position back up the observation that Saban coaches everyone.
So it was only mildly surprising during warm-ups prior to the A-Day Game that Saban was correcting the stretching procedure of a Crimson Tide player. That is the kind of thing that a head coach ordinarily would not trifle with. But Nick Saban is no ordinary coach.
Good thing, too, because the Crimson Tide football program right now doesn't call for the ordinary. It needs the extraordinary.
Saban wants everyone with an interest in Bama football to do his or her part. Some 92,000 showed they are ready, willing and able when they set a national record for attendance at a spring football game, which is essentially nothing more than an open scrimmage with a few trappings to make it special.
It is difficult to demonstrate that Alabama will be a special team in 2007, but it was demonstrated that things will be different. Nothing can hide the fact that at some positions Bama is lacking in quality and/or depth and/or experience. Saban himself has pointed out that Alabama does not have championship level players at every position, and it's likely he'd lose his head coach's card if he ever admitted that his team was picture perfect.
"It is what it is" is a Saban expression. But that doesn't mean he and his staff haven't done yoeman's work to make "what it is" a lot better. The editor of 'BAMA does not consider himself equal to coaches in being capable of judging players. Not close. But anyone who has watched a good bit of Alabama football over the years can see there are areas where Alabama is doing pretty well and areas where Bama could be better than expected.
There is a danger is attempting to judge the quality of a team that is working only against itself. Is the passing game good because the passers and receivers are so good or because the defense isn't bringing any pass rush pressure? Is the passing game poor because the quarterback can't hit his receivers or is it because the quarterback is hurried by a pass rusher running by an offensive tackle? And so on.
Those brief media viewings of Alabama practice showed the intensity of the Bama coaching staff. This is not to say that the Tide had poor coaching in the past. But this new broom is sweeping furiously.
Some things are obvious. When a team goes through a spring practice with just one called penalty (those were mostly Southeastern Conference officials working the A-Day Game and the only flag was for a defensive offsides), it says something about discipline being instilled in the team. How many drives last season were affected by an offensive lineman jumping offsides or holding?
Almost everyone observed a team of men who appeared to be in better shape, less belly, more endurance. Anytime there is a change in coaches, the players insist the new off-season program is the toughest ever, but there was more conviction in those assertions this spring.
It will be a few months before any judgement can begin, perhaps a few years before there is a final determination, but early results of the Nick Saban era of Alabama football are very, very encouraging.
John Parker Wilson Passes White To A-Day Win
By Kirk McNair
Much of the attention in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday was on an incredible full house of over 92,000 fans for the Alabama spring football game, which was won by the White team, 20-13. But not to be overlooked is that it was a surprisingly well-played game.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban has cautioned against championship talk, and playing a good spring game is a long way from contending for a title in the fall. Still, it has to be encouraging to end spring training on a good note.
Saban divided the team into a White squad of the number one offense and number two defense against a Crimson team of the number one defense and number two offense. That turned out to be an equitable division with the White having to come from behind to eke out the win.
White quarterback John Parker Wilson completed 18 of 36 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns to lead his team to the win. Five of his completions for 87 yards and one of the touchdowns went to D.J. Hall, who was named winner of the Dixie Howell Award as the top performer in the spring game.
Nikita Stover had three receptions for 58 yards and the other TD pass.
Leigh Tiffin accounted for the final White points with fourth quarter field goals of 46 and 28 yards.
Jamie Christensen, who missed on a 43-yard field goal attempt for the White, was good on three-pointers from 42 and 41 yards for the Crimson.
That Caddell reception capped a 12-play, 74-yard drive that gave the Crimson a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. McElroy got the drive started with a 10-yard completion to Mike McCoy and Roy Upchurch had a 14-yard run and McElroy an 11-yard run in the drive.
The White responded with an eight-play, 70-yard drive to tie the game. Wilson connected on passes to tight ends Preston Dial (25 yards) and Nick Walker (17) before finishing the drive with a 17-yard strike to Hall.
Christensen was good on a 42-yard field goal with 23 seconds to play in the first half to give the Crimson a 10-7 lead at intermission.
The Crimson extended that lead to 13-7 by opening the second half with a 12-play, 47-yard drive that ended with Christensen connecting on a 41-yard three-pointer. McElroy had pass completions of 18 yards to McCoy and 14 yards to Upchurch in the drive.
The White took the lead for good with a nine-play, 70-yard drive. Wilson completed passes for 13 and seven yards to Keith Brown and eight to Dial before finding Stover in the end zone on a 26-yard scoring pass. Christensen's extra point kick made it 14-13.
Redshirt freshman Earl Alexander was the leading receiver for the Crimson with three catches for 45 yards. McCoy had three for 29 and Upchurch three for 26.
Grant also had five pass receptions for 29 yards.
P.J. Fitzgerald punted for both teams, and much better for the White than the Crimson. He had two punts for the White, a 53- and a 50-yarder. For the Crimson he had four kicks for a 36.5 average and a long of 39.
Both Javier Arenas and Jonathan Lowe had exciting kickoff returns. There was no live tackling on the kickoffs or the runbacks might have been for much greater yardage. Arenas returned three for 70 yards and Lowe returned five for 143 yards.
Alabama will resume practice in August in preparation for the 2007 season-opening game on September 1 against Western Carolina.
A-Day Notes: D.J. Hall Is Leader In Spring Football Awards
Alabama wide receiver D.J. Hall has already proved himself to be a very fine football player. He proved it again Saturday with five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown to earn the award as the game's most valuable player.
The media covering the Alabama spring football game selected D.J. Hall as winner of the Dixie Howell Award. It was the second consecutive year for the upcoming senior to win the Dixie Howell Award.
The selection by the media validated an earlier vote of the Crimson Tide coaching staff. Following the game it was revealed the Hall, who was second team All-Southeastern Conference and Bama's leading receiver in 2006, had been selected by the coaches as winner of the Ray Perkins Most Improved Receiver Award for his work in the spring.
It was the second time Hall had won the award. He was also the Perkins winner in 2005.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the Alabama coaching staff began selecting players for spring practice awards based on improvement. The awards were named for former great players. Over the years the list of spring awards has been expanded. This year there were several categories in which more than one player was selected.
In addition to Hall winning the Dixie Howell Award for the second consecutive year, the media also selected center Antoine Caldwell as winner of the Dwight Stephenson Award as the A-Day game's most valuable lineman. Caldwell won the award last year. And he also won the Paul Crane Most Improved Offensive Lineman Award in 2005, an award that went to Andre Smith this year.
Caldwell was also this spring's winner of the Mal Moore Leadership Award, sharing the honor with senior cornerback Simeon Castille.
"Winning the awards were special," Hall said. "I was surprised. You're lucky to get an award that so many great players have won. My goal was to go out and play as hard as I can. I thought I did a decent job, but there were a few other plays I should have made. I left a few out on the field."
Hall said the A-Day Game was "one of the better scrimmages we've had. I think we've progressed well. We ran the ball well, we protected well, and John Parker passed well." He said one of quarterback John Parker Wilson's strong points is the good touch on his passes.
As was everyone, Hall was overwhelmed by the size of the A-Day crowd of over 92,000. I came out of that tunnel and went "Wow!" he said. "It excited us to know the fans have faith in us. It felt more like a season-opening game than a spring game."
Hall said the Tide wants to be known as having an explosive offense. "I love our offense," he said. "There's so much we can do. We're not one-dimensional."
Hall said that new coach Nick Saban "puts it into perspective of what we need to do to get to the next level, to be a champion. We needed someone like him who has done it. We love him to death, even when he gets on you. If he didn't get on you, you'd think he didn't care about you."
Many years ago the coaching staff had a somewhat surprising selection for the Jerry Duncan I Like To Practice Award, giving it to a place-kicker. Many thought a place-kicker would like to practice, at least a lot more than someone in the trenches.
There was another surprise of sorts this year when Jimmy Johns was announced as the winner. That's because Johns missed a couple of practices for "academic reasons."
Saban had an explanation. "He practices good all the time," the coach said. "He didn't practice because he didn't go to class. I knew you all (media) would have a hard time figuring that one out. They're not related. If the guy practices good and doesn't go to class and I don't let him practice what's that have to do with practicing good? I knew that would get you. I knew it. It was like fishing, just reeling them in. Hook 'em."
Johns was last year's winner of the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award. That award went to redshirt freshman tailback Terry Grant and true freshman cornerback Kareem Jackson this spring.
Zeke Knight, who was 2005 winner of the Ozzie Newsome award, was also a repeat winner this year as he was selected for the Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award.
Keith Saunders, winner of last year's I Like To Practice Award when he was a defensive end, has been billed as a linebacker, but he won the Billy Neighbors Defensive Lineman Award this spring.
Safety Rashad Johnson, a former winner of the Paul "Bear" Bryant Outstanding Non-Scholarship Player Award, was selected as this year's winner of the Bobby Johns Defensive Back Award. This year the Bryant Award went to linebacker Darren Mustin.
The Woodrow Lowe Linebacker Award went to Prince Hall.
The Johnny Musso Most Improved Offensive Back Award went to quarterback John Parker Wilson. Wilson had been winner of the 2005 Bart Starr Most Imrpoved Quarterback Award, which has been changed to the Bart Staff Most Imroved Player Award. This year that is shared by defensive tackle Brian Motley and offensive tackle Michael Johnson.
The Derrick Thomas Community Service Award is shared by fullback Baron Huber and defensive tackle Byron Walton and the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award is shared by Bobby Greenwood and Travis McCall.
No matter how many you expected to attend the A-Day Game, you probably underestimated it. Alabama fans kept streaming into Bryant-Denny Stadium, filling the lower stands and the West upper deck, then the North end zone upper deck, and finally the East side upper deck. Gates were closed to incoming fans in the second quarter as the spiral ramps filled and capacity of 92,138 was exceeded.
The previous record for attendance at an Alabama spring football game was 51,117 on April 9, 1988, when the game was played in Birmingham's Legion Field. The previous high attendance for an A-Day Game in Tuscaloosa was 46,700 set in 1994.
Tennessee had the previous high attendance for a spring game with 73,000 in 1986.
The lineups were mostly as might have been expected, but this was the first time for most to see Alabama's football team and there were a couple of surprises.
Simeon Castille, who started at right cornerback last year, was at left cornerback, with Lionel Mitchell manning the left cornerback spot.
Alabama's defensive alignment was a 4-3 in just about every instance. And the exception was not the 3-4 that might have been expected, but rather a 5-2.
In addition to Castille and Mitchell, the first team defense had Wallace Gilberry and Bobby Greenwood at ends, Bryan Motley at nose tackle, Darren Mustin and Prince Hall at inside linebackers, Keith Saunders and Ezekial Knight at outside linebackers, and Marcus Carter and Rashad Johnson at safeties.
There were two minor surprises in the starting offensive group with redshirt freshmen Terry Grant at tailback and Preston Dial at tight end. Michael Johnson was the right tackle, Marlon Davis at right guard, Antoine Caldwell at center, Justin Britt at left guard, Andre Smith at left tackle, John Parker Wilson at quarterback, and D.J. Hall, Keith Brown and Matt Caddell at wide receiver spots. For the most part, there was no fullback in the lineup, though Baron Huber seemed to be the first teamer.
Jamie Christensen did most of the placekicking, although Leigh Tiffin did come in late. P.J. Fitzgerald was the punter. Both Javier Arenas and Jonathan Lowe had good punt and kickoff returns.
There was no admission charge for the game, but fans were asked to contribute to a relief fund for the City of Enterprise, which was hit by a deadly tornado earlier this year. Coach Nick Saban's wife, Terry, and other coaches' wives were among those who accepted contributions. As of halftime, the United Way of West Alabama had collected approximately $38,000. The final amount raised will be announced in a few days.
Prior to the game, 2006 captains Le'Ron McClain and Juwan Simpson were honored in a Walk of Fame Ceremony at Denny Chimes, where their hand- and foot-prints were added to those of previous Crimson Tide captains.
Checking In With Prospects After A-Day Visits
Following Saturday's A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the recruiting reporters of 'Bama, headed by Senior Analyst Andrew Bone, followed up with high school football players. Alabama got at least one commitment following the spring game. Some of the Tide's committed players attended, and so did some of the nation's top players who are not yet committed. Here are some of the reports:
John Michael Boswell
John Michael Boswell from Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, ended his recruitment Saturday afternoon when he gave his commitment to Alabama.
"I committed to Alabama right after the game," he said. "I told Coach (Joe) Pendry about my decision. We then went and told Coach (Nick) Saban."
The 6-6, 300-pound lineman said, "I talked to my family about it, and I knew it was where I wanted to go. I have known for a while. I was ready to go ahead and get my decision over.
"I am through with all my visits. I am solidly committed to Alabama."
Alabama's A-Day attendance brought in a national record of over 92,182 fans. "It was great," he said. "I was really impressed."
Birmingham Woodlawn defensive end and Alabama commitment Undra Billingsley was in the house for the A-Day game. He said, "It was a lot of people. I didn't expect that many people to come. It was a whole lot of people.
"I really liked the things that I saw, and I think that we've got a real good defense, a blitzing defense. I liked it." And he said he could see himself fitting into that defense.
He said, "I watched the players that I already knew like Andre Smith, Simeon Castille, and people like that. Because Andre is from Birmingham I was kind of watching him. He impressed me. Like always.
"At the cook-out after the game we spent a lot of the time with the coaches. Coach Steele, Coach Davis, Coach Saban."
Plenty of recruits were in Tuscaloosa for unofficial visits as Billingley shared who he spent time with on campus. He said, "I saw Tyler Love (Mountain Brook), Julio Jones (Foley), Brandon Lewis (Pleasant Grove), Corey Smith ( Musselman, West Virginia) and William Green (Spain Park)."
Billingsley, who said he is a "100 per cent" commitment, said he expects Love to join him as an Alabama signee. "I think Tyler will be heading down there too," Billingsley said. "I think he is going to follow in his mom's and dad's footsteps (UA graduates). Barrett Jones (Evangelical Christian School, Tennessee) said he was considering it hard too."
"Julio (Jones) said he really liked it, but I don't know."
– Rebecca Johnston
Pleasant Grove defensive end Brandon Lewis (6-3, 260-pounds) is a verbal pledge to Alabama, and he was in Tuscaloosa for the annual A-Day game.
"I liked it a lot," he said. "It was surprising how many people were out there.
"I think the team can be real good this year, just judging by the way they played defense and especially the offense. They really looked like it would be good. It looked like there had been a lot of changes since last year."
Lewis also talked of the Tide players who impressed him. "Ezekial Knight showed me a lot. D.J. Hall, I really like watching him play," he said.
"The way they talked I think its strictly defensive end, but you never know. Ezekial Knight switched from receiver to defensive end," he said.
Alabama commitment Jermaine Preyear made the trip from Mobile to Tuscaloosa. "It went real good," Jermaine Preyear said from Mobile Davidson. "I felt like I was at home. They treated me real well up there. I really liked it. It was like a real game atmosphere for a scrimmage."
Preyear said, "Coach Saban and I got a chance to talk one-on-one. He was telling me how the program is going to be run–just how the team is and what he is trying to do with the program.
Preyear also shared of his academic status, "My grades are good. I am working real hard. I just made a 21 on my ACT. I am definitely going to be qualified."
Tyler Love from Mountain Brook is one of the top offensive tackles in the country for the class of 2008. He attended Alabama's record-setting spring game, and he has received several new scholarship offers.
"The visit to Alabama went pretty good," said National Hot 100 lineman Tyler Love. "Overall it was a good trip. I was really impressed with the crowd.
"I thought their scrimmage went well. They got after it pretty good. I know the players were ready to finish spring practice. I thought they did well for only 15 practices." He said, "The coaches were telling me they were glad to have me down there. It was their spring practice, so I didn't really get to spend a lot of time with them. It was a lot of fun though.
"I love The University of Alabama. I really like the way it's set up. I like the tradition, and the fan support. When you have over 92,000 fans attend the spring game that is really saying something."
He said, "I plan on going to LSU sometime in late May. I am going to Georgia and Florida during the summer for unofficial visits. I have recently received offers from Florida State, Nebraska, Miami and Southern Cal.
Scout.com four-star offensive lineman Barrett Jones, from Evangelical Christian in Cordova, Tennessee, is one of the top linemen in the South. Jones was in Tuscaloosa for the A-Day game.
"The visit went great," said Jones. "It was really a great experience. They filled the place up. The atmosphere was real exciting.
"It was good to see the coaches and check in with them. We went to a barbecue after the game with the players and their families. That was really cool.
"I spent time with the recruits like Tyler Love. Tyler and I have become good friends. We hang out everytime we go to the same place. Overall, it was a great visit."
The 6-6, 270-pound offensive lineman was impressed with Alabama's new offense. "I thought it was a good game," he said. "They spread the offense out quite a bit--Major Applewhite style. I think they have a chance to be a really good team.
"I talked to pretty much all of the coaches. I talked to Coach (Kevin) Steele a ton. I hung out in his office. My dad and he talked a lot. I talked to Coach Saban for about ten minutes. I talked to Kirby Smart, Geoff Collins, and Lance Thompson. I talked to Major Applewhite for a little while. It was good to see all the coaches. They are all very nice guys. They were telling me how they would like to see me down there someday. They all said they were glad to see me."
Jones said, "Obviously, they have a lot of tradition. They have a great coaching staff, and it's close to home. I like them a lot."
But he is not ready to decide. "I am not going to say any favorites for now," he said. "I don't really know when I am going to decide. I don't want to stretch it out or make the wrong decision. If I know where I want to go then I am going to make my decision, but I want it to be the right decision."
Spencer Pybus, a linebacker prospect from Dothan Northview, attended the Alabama spring game. He said, "It was a lot like Junior Day. We got there and toured the facilities, went to the game and ate after the game. My dad and my cousin went with me, and it was fun. They looked pretty good, and there was a bunch of people there.
"I talked to Coach (Lance) Thompson while I was there. He was telling me to pay close attention to everything and see how I liked all of it. The facilities there are very nice. You aren't going to find any that are much nicer than Alabama's."
Pybus said, "My top three are Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee. I haven't been to Tennessee yet, but I'm going to camp there this summer.
"I have been to Auburn several times, and I like it there. I like the coaches at both Auburn and Alabama. I am going to go to camp at Auburn and at Alabama. All three schools are supposed to come down and watch me practice this spring."
Coach Nick Saban Says
By Mitch Dobbs
Even Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban was in awe of the capacity crowd which piled into Bryant-Denny Stadium for Saturday's A-Day game.
"First of all, I'd like to send a thanks to all of our fans and supporters who made this a special day," he said. "Today shows what passion and support we have at The University of Alabama and it certainly makes me feel great about being here as head coach. I hope we can channel that positive momentum to get where we want to go. I know it inspired our players and was certainly a positive for them to play in front of a great crowd."
Saban said he was pleased with the progress of the team through 15 spring practices, which began on March 24, but "I'm a perfectionist, so I'm never satisfied with where we are," he said.
Saban watched the A-Day game from on the field from behind the offensive huddle to see how his players reacted to situations up-close and personal. His manager listened to the plays being called and relayed them to the head coach as he stood at a safe distance behind the quarterback.
"I stand out there so I can see the way guys react and respond to things," he said. "I was a little disappointed in the defense at the end of the game, the Crimson defense. They needed to get the ball back.
"You see the body language, you see how they react and respond. I thought that was better. What our guys had to learn is that body language shows the other guy how the game is going. If I'm showing that I'm hurt I show the other guy he's getting the best of me. It's kind of a boxer's mentality. And you never want to let the other guy know he's getting the best of you."
Saban said, "I was overall pleased with the way the game went and pleased with progress that we've made this spring. I'm not satisfied with where we are and where we need to be. The focus was for every individual to focus on every individual play."
Cornerback "Lionel Mitchell has made very good progress throughout spring," Saban said, "so has (freshman cornerback) Kareem Jackson and (sophomore) Marquis Johnson."
Mitchell played with the first-team defense at right cornerback, covering Bama's top receiver D.J. Hall for most of the day. Johnson, a sophomore, played left cornerback with the second unit, and Jackson, who enrolled at The University in January and will be a true freshman in the fall, worked as a back-up right cornerback.
"They're all young players and they have improved dramatically," he said. "Hopefully they will all continue to improve so we'll have the kind of depth on the back end to play five and six deep when we need to play them."
"We have a lot more experience on offense," Saban said. "We have nine guys who have played, more than nine really, several other guys who have played significantly, whether you classify them as starters or not. There's a little more maturity there more knowledge and experience. They've done a good job of taking to the offense and buying into what we need to do."
"I'm pleased with the offensive line has developed," Saban said, "even though we haven't had continuity relative to injuries there."
Defensive tackle "Bryan Motley has probably been the pleasant surprise of the spring," Saban said. "We're pleased with outside linebackers Keith (Saunders) and Zeke (Knight). They still make some mental errors that they need to correct, but overall have adjusted well."
Saban said there was some lack of focus when players tired in later parts of the warm afternoon. He said, "We had some of that (losing focus) out there today. We had guys get tired and guys get beat. We need to learn from it because that's the only way we're going to get better."
"I know some guys got behind the first-team defensive backs a couple of times," Saban said. " If you're playing corner in certain coverages that's not supposed to happen. We're going to give up big plays if that happens, and I think it happened too much today in the secondary on the back end with the first group.
"On the other hand, when you make that statement you have to say the receivers did a pretty good job of getting there. Receivers need to be more consistent in terms of taking advantage of opportunities. We missed some opportunities today with dropped balls. John Parker (Wilson) has to know its important to know he can do every aspect and pay attention to details so we can execute together as a team and eliminate the bad plays."
"Discipline and execution wasn't perfect," he said. "We dropped some balls. Tackling was pretty good. Execution wasn't perfect."
Saban said that back-up quarterback Greg McElroy "has made a lot of improvement. He is instinctive as a quarterback. He understands very well what he's supposed to do and he's a very good athlete. There's been times he hasn't been able to make all the throws he needs to make but he has made progress in that area, and it's going to be important for our team that we continue to develop the back-up quarterback position."
Redshirt freshman Terry Grant asserted himself as one of the top running backs during the spring.
"We're still looking for a tandem at running back to get someone else who has consistency that we need," Saban said. "Terry would be a great guy – We had LeBrandon Toefield and Domanick Davis - he'd be the Domanick Davis and then have a bigger stronger guy that would be a nice change of pace, and give us the ability to feature both those guys in different ways."
News on the injury front was light. Saban said, "We had two guys get shoulder injuries during the game. Glen Coffee and Charles Hoke, but not bad as we see it right now. I don't think they're anything serious.