A-Day Is Just Around Corner
Alabama will play its annual spring game, the A-Day Game, at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and there is enough interest in the contest that ESPN will give it nationwide television coverage. There will be a huge crowd, probably between 70,000 and 92,138. Gates open at 11 a.m. and Bama Coach Nick Saban hopes for a large crowd to impress future prospects. Alabama has the all-time spring football game attendance record of 92,138, set in 2007. There is no charge for admission.
There are other events in conjunction with the Crimson-White game, which marks the end of Bama spring football practice. Last year's captains—Rashad Johnson, Antoine Caldwell and John Parker Wilson—will have their handprints and footprints added to those of past captains in the plaza around Denny Chimes. The Paul Bryant Museum will be open with some of the authors of the museum's new book, "Twelve and Counting," on hand for autographs. Former Alabama football lettermen will play a seven-man flag football game in the stadium beginning at noon.
Alabama has a couple more practices this week before the A-Day Game, which is the 15th and final practice day or the spring.
Details of the A-Day Game have not been announced, but it is expected that the first offense and first defense will be on one team and the second offense and second defense on the other. Quarterbacks will not be full speed, meaning they will be in black "do not hit" jerseys and will be whistled down when a defender is near. It is also likely there will be no kickoffs, or at least no full-speed kickoff tackling. Punt returns also may be restricted.
Wide receiver Earl Alexander and tailback Roy Upchurch will not participate in the contest. They were ruled out of contact for the spring. Alexander is recuperating from shoulder surgery, Upchurch from neck surgery. Others who have been out of practice with injuries lately include offensive lineman Mike Johnson (ankle) and tailback Mark Ingram (hamstring).
Most attention is likely to be on the quarterbacks, particularly Greg McElroy, who has emerged as the leading candidate to replace John Parker Wilson. Others are Star Jackson, Thomas Darrah, and Morgan Ogilvie.
Tide fans got a sneak peek at new tight end Colin Peek last year, but this spring his role has increased for at least two reasons. One, last year's co-starters, Nick Walker and Travis McCall, have graduated. And, two, this year Peek will be eligible to play. Last year he was ineligible because he had transferred from Georgia Tech. Peek has been a key target of McElroy in spring scrimmages.
Bama fans know what wide receiver Julio Jones can do. Last year he was a Freshman All-America as he led Bama with 58 receptions for 924 yards and four touchdowns. There have been good reports regarding other wide receivers, notably Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks.
Glen Coffee was Bama's top running back last year. He left following his junior season for a try at pro football. With Ingram (last year's number two runner) possibly out and Upchurch (number three in 2008) definitely out, the running duties will fall mostly to unknowns. Terry Grant is not an unknown as he was Bama's leading rusher two years ago as a freshman, but he played little last year. Jereamie Griffin, Demetrius Goode, Ivan Matchett and Jermaine Preyear are among those to watch.
Rebuilding the offensive line may be the most important current Alabama football project. If Johnson, last year's starter at left guard, is not able to participate, the only returning starter up front will be right tackle Drew Davis. John Michael Boswell is considered the leader at right guard, junior college transfer James Carpenter the leader at left tackle, and William Vlachos number one at center.
Top priority on defense in the spring has been working men at safety, where Rashad Johnson was an All-America player and outstanding leader. Instead of working with a strong safety and safety, the Tide has used left and right designations in the spring. Justin Woodall, who was a starter alongside Johnson last year, is likely to be one safety. Ali Sharrief seems to be leading a handful of other candidates that include Robby Green, Mark Barron, Tyrone King, Wesley Neighbors and Robert Lester.
Both starting cornerbacks return in Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson, but there's always a need for good defensive backs. Alonzo Lawrence came to Alabama with the reputation as "the man who shut down Julio Jones," but was redshirted last season. There have been reports that Lawrence is making strides. B.J. Scott moved from wide receiver to cornerback and could help shore up the secondary. Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson have backup experience.
Alabama's normal alignment is listed as a 3-4. More often than not, it's anything but that. A number of defensive backs are needed for use in nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six backs) packages.
Moreover, one of those four linebackers in the 3-4 is the Jack, and he plays on the line almost like an extra defensive end much of the time.
There is only one starter lost from the defensive front seven, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been experimentation.
A few guys haven't moved. Brandon Deaderick is a returning starter at defensive end, Terrence Cody at nose tackle, Rolando McClain at middle linebacker.
Lorenzo Washington gets the most buzz as a likely second defensive end, but Bama has a lot of defensive linemen. It would never be a surprise to see Luther Davis, Marcel Dareus, Josh Chapman, Damion Square, Nick Gentry, Kerry Murphy or Milton Talbert in on the defensive line.
There has been some interesting movement at linebacker. Dont'a Hightower was a star as a freshman at Will linebacker, an inside spot, last season. This spring he has also worked at outside linebacker spots. Cory Reamer, who started last year at strongside (an outside position), has been working at Will. And Brandon Fanney, last year's starter at Jack, was suspended for the first third of practice. There are good prospects for playing time at various linebacker spots, including Courtney Upshaw, Jerrell Harris, Chavis Williams, Chris Jordan, Glenn Harbin, and Eryk Anders.
The kickers will get some exposure Saturday. Bama's returning special teams players include placekicker Leigh Tiffin, punter P.J. Fitzgerald, and snapper Brian Selman.
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