Impressions From Alabama A-Day

As I watched Alabama's A-Day Game in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday (along with 91,311 others, plus a national television audience on ESPN), I was looking for certain things. Looking and working, though, sometimes come into conflict, and I'm not sure I can give an honest assessment of how those things I was looking for were revealed. To me, anyway.

I was looking forward to seeing freshman quarterback A.J. McCarron, but not because I didn't have a pretty good idea of how he would play. He has had rave reviews from Alabama Coach Nick Saban going back to the middle of the 2009 season. He was the man who was going to go under center if something happened to Greg McElroy in or prior to the BCS national championship game. So to watch McCarron was entertainment, not examination.

I wanted to see hard running, and I knew I would from the top two tailbacks, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Both of them punished good defensive players a couple of times. But I also saw hard running from Eddie Lacy, a bulked-up Demetrius Goode, and a recovering (from knee surgery) Jeramie Griffin.

I wanted to see how the tight ends were going to do replacing Colin Peek, who was pretty much everything a team could want for the position—good blocker and good pass receiver. Your faithful reporter didn't do so well in following this position. I saw a few plays, but for the most part the play of the tight ends is fuzzy in my mind's eye. I remember Brad Smelley on the trick play where he was the Wildcat and I remember Michael Williams trying (unsuccessfully) to make a catch of a Phillip Sims pass.

That's always how it goes when I want to watch offensive linemen. Alabama has to replace Drew Davis at right tackle and worked D.J. Fluker and Tyler Love there. Alfred McCullough worked at left tackle, but I suspect as last year he might be the number one back-up at both positions. I've heard from others that Fluker was beaten a few times, but the plays I concentrated on watching him I thought he got the job done. One time he didn't was against Marcell Dareus is going to happen to the best of them.

I'm like everyone else in tending to watch where the football is going in a football game, but I also tried to watch left guards Chance Warmack and John Michael Boswell and saw Warmack pushing people around.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the wide receivers, but I was disappointed to see that Julio Jones continues to have the occasional lapse of concentration on passes. I'll take Saban's word for it that Julio does so much good that we can all overlook his drops. I really wasn't watching for Brandon Gibson, but was pleasantly surprised at his performance.

Trent Richardson dropped one, too, and it probably would have been an early dramatic touchdown, but Richardson came back and showed outstanding receiving ability.

I probably had fewer concerns than many about Alabama's defense, particularly with Dont‘a Hightower making his fine comeback. I've had a feeling that the front seven is going to be okay, at least one deep and in most spots deeper than that.

Still, I was impressed more than I expected to be by Luther Davis at end, Courtney Upshaw at outside linebacker, and Chris Jordan at inside linebacker.

Some special mentions on the defensive front seven: I continue to be wowed by defensive end Darrington Sentimore, even though I hear comments about him being something of a disappointment to the coaching staff. I understand Josh Chapman moving up to number one at nose tackle, but Kerry Murphy looks to have superstar potential. I guess Coach Paul Bryant is the only one who could find a place for Nick Gentry, who is a much smaller nose tackle, but he always seems to be making plays. And the hardest hit I saw all day came from one of those former tailbacks turned linebacker. Not Chris Jordan. Jalston Fowler.

The secondary is listed by everyone as a source of concern for Alabama, much like quarterback was considered a Crimson Tide weakness prior to 2009. Bama has players for the secondary and there is no doubt that Saban will mold them into a productive unit. Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick look like sure things, and B.J. Scott probably is, too. Robert Lester had some nice plays at safety. John Fulton, a true freshman, showed speed and smarts at cornerback. I don't know if 5-9, 188-pound walk-on Will Lowery will get much playing time in the secondary, but he looks like a possibility for special teams coverage units.

I guess I hoped for a miracle in the kicking game. All specialists are gone. We didn't get that much of a look at punt and kickoff return men, but I can say I don't like Julio Jones or Mark Ingram as a punt return man. That looks too vulnerable.

Trent Richardson as a kickoff return man? Opponents would probably want to see a three-man wedge in front of him. Better to bust up a wedge than to take on Richardson head-up.

Place-kicking looked mostly shaky and punting a long way from shaky.

My overall thought in watching the players is that Nick Saban said he wanted to have a football team that would dominate the opposition, a team that other squads would not look forward to playing. As if 14-0 last year wasn't evidence of that, this squad may have more weapons than the national champions of 2009. It's just that some of those weapons, like McElroy last year, haven't had much experience.

But my thinking is that Saban and his staff know how to take those parts and put them together into a team. A very, very, very good team.

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