Tide's Spirited Practice

It sounds trite and oft-repeated, but the term "spirited workout" really applied to Alabama's only open practice of summer camp Sunday. There was plenty of spirit on the field among players and coaches, and plenty more in the stands and outside the stadium, where die-hard Tide supporters waited for autographs and missed practice doing so. All that despite the oppressive heat and humidity.




Many, if not most, of the guesstimated 10,000 or so who were in Bryant-Denny Stadium at the high point of attendance came to see Julio. And Julio they got. Julio Jones, that is. Freshman from Foley. Wide receiver by trade.

You may have heard of him. If you saw him Sunday, you know why. Jones made several acrobatic deep catches over hapless defenders, often using his height to his advantage as he did the last three years at Foley High. Jones drew several "oohs and ahs" for his antics.

Jones was not the only freshman to draw cheers and applause. B.J. Scott showed he's the man in the slot, and that's no offense to Darius Hanks. Both looked good running routes and catching the pigskin. Hanks, a sophomore, is still wearing a precautionary black non-contact jersey, but should shed it within the week per his head coach.

Perhaps the most surprising receiver of all the freshmen on hand was tight end Brad Smelley, who played quarterback the past two years at American Christian Academy . Smelley hauled in a trio of long balls during skeleton drills.

Big backs Mark Ingram and Chris Jordan both ran hard ("downhill" as the gurus say) during running drills behind and against full lines.

Star Jackson looked the part at quarterback. He still needs to learn a few nuances like not to throw into double coverage, but the freshman throws a nice, catchable ball and does so with a quick release.

The only true freshman offensive lineman who saw any time with the second unit was left tackle Barrett Jones. Tyler Love is not likely to supplant Drew Davis at right tackle just yet, as he still must pass sophomore Taylor Pharr on the depth chart before making a run on Davis.

Defensively, a pair of man-mountains caught the fans' eyes. Terrence Cody, all 388 pounds of him, made a spin move that Evan Cardwell won't likely soon forget during blocking drills. The big man can move. The same can be said about true freshman Marcel Dareus.

It's not every day you see a player who is 6-foot-3, nearly 300 pounds, and has not an ounce of fat on him. Quick off the snap, too. Look for Dareus to play early and often.

Though coach Nick Saban stated accurately a few days back that all true freshmen linebackers, save Jerrell Harris, would start off learning the inside positions. Most observers felt it was but a matter of time before Courtney Upshaw got some work at the hybrid 'Jack' linebacker position. He got that work Sunday in his third practice in crimson, but is still also learning the 'Will' slot.

Harris looked like a guy who will push Chavis Williams very hard for the starting 'Sam' linebacker post. Very hard. Don'ta Hightower is learning the 'Will' position, and he showed on several occasions that he can fill a hole with the best of them. Granted, the workout was held in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, but one can spot instincts even in that situation. Hightower has them.

In the secondary, Mark Barron showed he can break on a ball in the air very well. Somewhat surprisingly, Alonzo Lawrence worked with both the corners and safeties, perhaps in an effort to learn the nickel position. Robby Green showed good coverage skills, but may well need a redshirt as he bulks up some.

Walk-on punter Heath Thomas had the most booming kicks of the day, but P.J. Fitzgerald is still the starter there, at least for now. Freshman Corey Smith punted a few times, but still lacks the kick-to-kick consistency to overtake Fitzgerald for now.

As for the veterans, John Parker Wilson looked sharp for the most part, though he drilled Hoover teammate and linebacker Corey Reamer right between the numbers on one interception. Walk-on Thomas Darrah still has perhaps the strongest arm on the team.

Redshirt freshmen receivers Brandon Gibson had a few shining moments, as did veterans Earl Alexander and Mike McCoy.

Interestingly, tight end Travis McCall worked as a fullback (H-back) in some running drills. He lined up right behind the quarterback and led halfbacks through the hole some plays, and went in motion to lead sweeps on others. This is not giving away any info to Bama rivals, as McCall played much the same role at Auburn last year.

Prince Hall, who may end up at 'Will' linebacker when eligible after three games, is still also playing 'Mike'. He called defensive signals for the No. 2 defense on several occasions.

Kareem Jackson is poised to leave Alabama as one of its best defensive backs ever. His ball skills are second to few. The same can be said of the linebacking skills of one Rolando McClain.

There's not much more that can be said of Rashad Johnson. He is pre-season All-SEC for a reason.

It seemed as if an open tryout was going on to see who would back up Javier Arenas on punt returns. At various times, Scott, Lawrence, Terry Grant, Marquis Maze and Kareem Jackson all fielded puts. No kick-work was done Sunday.

And last but not least, the long awaited 105-man roster was handed out to fans and media. We who care about such things had it narrowed down to the 99 shown by the Tuscaloosa News (100, but they inaccurately listed Will Oakley, who will report in three weeks). We knew six names were missing.

Though heights, weights and hometowns were not given, those six appear to be true freshmen who are invited walk-ons. They are: quarterback Morgan Ogilvie (No. 10) of Mountain Brook, whose dad Major all Tide fans remember, longsnappers Daren Hallman (53) and Carson Tinker (61), offensive linemen David Williams (63) and Adam Fuller (77), and linebacker Calvin Lee (56).

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