This weekend was a bit unusual one for the Alabama program. The Friday and Saturday practices were staged largely for an audience of state high school football coaches as well as the usual throng of diehard fans. The Friday afternoon practice was more of a coaching clinic for these coaches and was a very good tool for keeping ties strong with the local high school football programs. I estimate that there were around 400 coaches in attendance. It is no wonder it is difficult to out recruit a school like Alabama for in-state talent.
The Crimson Tide has 3.5 outside grass fields and 1 indoor
turf at their disposal for practice. The indoor practice field is very nice and
looks like something you would see from an NFL facility. It has very high
ceilings and is also well lit. The team appears to prefer to use two main fields
but is able to spread out and have an entire field to be used exclusively by the
kickers and punters. They get to practice right next to the rest of the team at
all times and can be easily called upon when it is time to practice special
The first thing that stuck out to me was the huge numbers of
fans that attend football practice versus
Georgia Tech. There were actually several campers outside of practice as if
folks were heading to an actual game in fall. I thought it was great to see such
enthusiasm for a mere practice. I hear that people really get out and attend
spring practice too because the fall practices are typically completely closed
to fans. The downside of having such rabid fans is that you also get several out
there that feel like they need to put down players after every mistake that they
make. I heard several lines like, "You idiot!" or "What a sissy!" when a
guy would make a mistake in practice but for the most part the fans were great
and supportive of their guys no matter what. Georgia Tech practice attendance
has increased some over the past few years probably due in part to better
coverage on the internet but we as fans have a ways to go before we see the kind
of support Alabama sees on a regular basis.
The mood of the practices was pretty upbeat and positive. New
Price, formerly of
University, and his veteran coaching staff, which includes Coach Joe Kines at
Defensive Coordinator, bring experience and excitement to a program in need of a
pick-me-up after the past two coaches left them either on probation or ran off
unceremoniously with another team. I liked the energy of practice and I thought
it was neat how they finished off the Friday practice. Apparently they like to
finish off practices with some unusual drills that will pit either coaches
against each other or players doing drills out of position. In this case the
strength and conditioning coaches went head-to-head against each other in a
field goal kicking contest. The winner was carried off of the field on the
shoulders of the team. I thought it was great to see something like this done
after all of the hard work of practice to keep things light and fun and to
remind players that it is still just a game that should be enjoyed.
Another thing Coach Price is bringing to Alabama football is a passing game. It looks like his favor toward the passing game at Washington State will carry over to the run-heavy SEC. I rarely saw the team deviate from three-receiver sets. This should be a good fit for a team that will rely heavily on former number one prep QB Brodie Croyle. Brodie was not at his peak performance at the practices I saw but in drills he has a strong arm and a most importantly a very quick release. He has great mechanics, vision & accuracy and throws as good outside of the pocket as in it. Their backup QB, Spencer Pennington, looked good in scrimmage, hitting former QB-turned-WR Matt Miller for a nice 35-yard touchdown. They have another QB in 6'6" Michael Machen that used to play in the Atlanta Braves minor league system.
Overall, Alabama had a lot of "athletes" on the field. Physically they have good height and speed across all positions. They have many more receivers over 6'0" than we are used to seeing, which makes for good targets. They even use 6'5", 230 pound Tarry Givens as a flanker even though he is built like a TE. Receivers Triandos Luke, Marcus McKinght and Dre Fulgham all had nice moments in practice. Dre led off scrimmage by a lateral pass from Croyle and throwing it downfield for a touchdown to catch the defense off guard. Not something I normally expect to see from an Alabama team. They have a solid but unspectacular group of Running backs. Kenneth Darby is a tough runner that should team with guys like Shaud Williams and others to make for a potent ground game. They will really be able to benefit from the true strength of the offense, the Offensive Line. You may remember names like Justin Smiley and Wesley Britt from recruiting. Those two anchor the left side of an offensive line that is going to be one of the best in the nation next season.
On defense, they have a good set of defensive backs and a huge Defensive Line. Their linebackers also tackle very well. This defense looks very strong to me. I was not overly impressed though with the attitude of highly-touted Defensive Tackle Ahmad Childress (6'7", 345-pound Senior). He got into a fight on the first play of scrimmage and seemed to talk back to one of the coaches. After being told to go to the sidelines, he threw his helmet towards his teammates and walked to another field to cool off. The rest of the D-line was good and, like I said, tall. Leslie Williams, a former Georgia Tech commit, stands at 6'5", Mark Anderson stands at 6'6" and both used their height well to knock down passes. They have two all-America type Middle Linebackers in Freddie Roach and Derrick Pope. I saw Pope make some nice hits and cover a lot of ground. In the defensive backfield, senior Free Safety Charles Jones had two interceptions.
The Achilles heel for the Tide next season though may be in the kicking game. They are basically having tryouts for both kicker and punter and there are numerous candidates. They seemed to have several guys that could punt very well but inconsistently. The scary part was the place kickers. I think they still have a ways to go before settling on one they will be comfortable with going into the season.
Overall it was nice to experience practice for another team, especially a team that should be a good on the field as I think Alabama will be next season. It will be their final season of off-season probation but it won't feel like it as they have again scheduled a game at Hawaii as their last game of the season on November 29 to give the feel of being at a bowl game. Also fans are already talking about the second game of the season when perennial powerhouse Oklahoma comes to Tuscaloosa. It could be an early elimination game for Oklahoma who hopes to have a shot at the National Championship next season. As you would expect, their facilities are top notch and I think they have a coach that loves to be there and will bring a different philosophy to the Alabama offense.
To compare this team to Georgia Tech's I think GT has as good football players at several positions like RB, and Defensive End but overall does not have the same size across all positions. The size differences on the Defensive Line and at Wide Receiver are most noticeable. Alabama would have clear advantages over us at QB, OL, and likely DT as well. They have excellent linebackers but if we are healthy, I think our first team is isn't too far behind but I like their depth better. They are probably better in the defensive backfield right now but I think it has more to do with them being a little more experienced at those positions. Both teams are equally unsettled on special teams.
Now all I need to do is sneak over to
Auburn and scout their practice!