In front of an announced crowd of over 78,000 Alabama fans, the 2012 Crimson Tide showed the potential to be great as they embark on another Title defense. Even after losing five potential first round draft picks, and a few other starting players on both offense and defense, the Crimson Tide displayed a talent-laden roster on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Fans didn’t see anything new from the playbook on Saturday.
“You didn’t see anything new, unless you just want me to e-mail Michigan what we’re doing and anything new that we’re doing,” Saban said. “What do you think you saw that was new? Did you see anything new? If I would have seen anything new out there, I would have been upset.”
Nick Saban's sqaud showed a lot of potential at A-Day.
Obviously Coach Saban isn’t going show his full hand to Michigan and other future 2012 opponents, and that is another reason for some of the sloppy play offensively by the Crimson Tide. Starting QB A.J. McCarron said after the game he thinks the Alabama offense ran the same play nine straight times in one drive.
When the game was over yesterday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, the White team, led by the first team defense, had defeated the Crimson team, led by the first team offense, 24-15. The White team had steak and the Crimson team had beans.
I walked away from A-Day with a good feeling about what I had seen from the 2012 version of the Crimson Tide that is eager to not become complacent and end up like the 2010 team that followed up a National Championship with a 10-3 record.
So here is my position-by-position review of spring practice and my observations from yesterday’s A-Day game.
There was no QB battle at A-Day this season, and despite three A.J. McCarron interceptions, he still showed signs of improvement. His first interception came on the very first play from scrimmage where he threw into double coverage and was picked off by Robert Lester.
At the end of the first half, McCarron was picked off on a tipped-pass by Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, and then again late in the game with the outcome no longer in doubt by Vinnie Sunseri. Other than the three interceptions, McCarron played well, completing 29 of his 43 pass attempts for over 300 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
One of his two TD passes was reminiscent of last season’s Iron Bowl, with McCarron hitting Kenny Bell for six points on a flea-flicker. The other was a beautiful touchdown hook-up with Christion Jones.
I left A-Day feeling good about the depth behind A.J McCarron if he were to get injured at some point in 2012. Phillip Sims didn’t get the opportunity to throw much during spring practice, but he started for the White team yesterday, and played very well. Sims was efficient, completing 9-of-12 passes for 135 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
Nick Saban stressed after the game that Sims still wasn’t at 100%, but he made a big impact on yesterday’s game. Sims threw touchdown passes to true freshmen Chris Black and T.J. Yeldon. The one to Black was perfectly placed over the outstretched arms of a defender, and Black did the rest taking it 44 yards for a touchdown. The other was a simple dump down throw to T.J. Yeldon, who did the rest taking it 50 yards to the house.
There is still a chance that Sims decides to transfer some time this summer, although there has been no indication of him planning to do so. If he does, however, it would mean that Phillip Ely would become the backup QB to McCarron. Ely left a lot to be desired yesterday, and still seems to have a lot left in his development.
With Eddie Lacy sitting out spring practice after surgery to repair a lingering turf-toe injury, it was Jalston Fowler who received the bulk of the praise from coaches this spring. Fowler received the Johnny Musso Offensive Back award following the game on Saturday. But it was true freshman T.J. Yeldon who was the best running back out there for the Crimson Tide yesterday.
Obviously, Yeldon didn’t have the challenge of facing the first team defense, but he also didn’t have the luxury of running behind the first team offensive line, either. Still, Yeldon was extremely impressive and walked away with the A-Day game MVP.
Yeldon finished the game with 179 all-purpose yards, 88 rushing and 91 receiving, to go along with a touchdown reception. His touchdown pass was from Phillip Sims on a dump down where Yeldon broke the tackle of JUCO transfer Travell Dixon, and turned on the jets toward the endzone.
T.J. Yeldon was impressive and walked away with the A-Day MVP honors
Yeldon showed all the tools to be a star running back at Alabama one day. Eddie Lacy may have next, but Yeldon is the future and he will see immediate playing time in 2012.
After the game, head coach Nick Saban described Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart as backs who can do “certain things.” He described Yeldon as a back who can do “everything.” Yeldon showed speed, power, and elusiveness en route to his A-Day MVP award.
Following Yeldon, redshirt freshman Dee Hart was the 2nd best running back the Tide had on display. Hart was running against the 1st team offense, and after a sluggish start really got himself going. Hart is very fast, and he is going to have a role in the Alabama offense next season despite a crowded depth chart at running back. Hart is very elusive and is flat out scary in the open field.
Hart could also factor in returning kicks or punts for the Crimson Tide. Hart, along with Christion Jones and Deion Belue saw time returning kicks yesterday.
I hate to not give Jalston Fowler his due because he had a fantastic spring taking the majority of the first team running back reps with Lacy on the sidelines. Fowler didn’t have the game he wanted, but that shouldn’t take away everything he did this spring. I’m not sure of the kind of role Fowler will have in the Alabama offense next season, but he will have one.
Fowler isn’t going to blind you with his speed, but he hits the hole hard and is a good downhill runner. Like Saban said, Fowler is a guy who can do “certain things.” He is hell to try and tackle in the open field at over 240 pounds, and is a guy Alabama could choose to use in the fourth quarter to try and ice games away with the defense tired.
Trent Richardson may be gone, but Tide fans should be confident about the team’s running game in 2012 with four very capable running backs.
There is still no Julio Jones type receiver in Tuscaloosa, but the Tide has plenty of talent at its disposal even after the departures of Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze. Rising junior Kenny Bell seems to be the “#1” receiver on the Tide’s depth chart at this point. Junior Kevin Norwood and sophomores DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are next in the pecking order.
Early enrollee freshmen Chris Black and Amari Cooper are next. Chris Black performed well during the A-Day game and was the recipient of a 44-yard touchdown pass from backup QB Phillip Sims during the game. Amari Cooper didn’t have a great game, but he received some praise from Nick Saban after the game. Saban said that Cooper along with T.J. Yeldon have shown the ability to be playmakers, and that they could contribute.
Alabama has no great wide receiver on the roster, but they have a lot of good ones who have shown the ability to play and to contribute. It will be interesting to see this summer if incoming freshmen Eddie Williams and Cyrus Jones will be able to make an immediate impact. Both guys were very highly recruited, so I wouldn’t bet against it.
As for tight-end, the race for the starting spot at H-back is wide open. Michael Williams is the #1 tight end on the depth chart, but three guys saw action at the H-back spot for the Tide yesterday. Harrison Jones, brother of All American Barrett Jones, Brent Calloway, and Brian Vogler all saw action at H-back looking to replace the departed Brad Smelley.
In my opinion, Brian Vogler looked the best yesterday, but Vogler is a little big for your traditional H-back. Vogler stands at 6-foot-7 and 252 pounds. Vogler is more than likely the heir apparent to Michael Williams at tight end, but as good as he’s looked this spring, he will see the field in 2012.
I would say that Harrison Jones remains the leader in the clubhouse for the starting role this season, but Brent Calloway looked good at the position as well. Calloway tried out the H-back role this spring and had a strong showing. Calloway is just 217 pounds though, and would need to bulk up some to be able to start at the position next season. Calloway’s future still seems to be at linebacker, but with a crowded depth chart his quickest route to playing time in 2012 would likely be at H-back.
The offensive line struggled at times yesterday, but also looked strong at times. Regardless, the Crimson Tide boasts one of the top offensive lines in the nation with four guys returning with starting potential along with a former five star recruit that saw action last season before suffering a season-ending injury.
With last season’s Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones making the move to center from left tackle, it put to rest the concern of losing William Vlachos. It also allows former stud recruit Cyrus Kouandjio to step in and take over as a starter at left tackle in 2012.
The biggest take away from yesterday’s offensive line performance in my opinion was that there were no bad snaps by Barrett Jones. Jones looks to have made the move to center flawlessly, and this was a premeditated move by head coach Nick Saban as shown by Jones taking some reps at center last season.
From left to right, Alabama’s starting offensive line will look like this in 2012 barring any injuries this summer: Cyrus Kouandjio, Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen, and D.J. Fluker.
The defensive line had a strong showing at A-Day against what many believe to be one of the best offensive lines in the country. The biggest concern for this defensive line was the loss of Josh Chapman at nose guard, but the move of last season’s starting defensive end, Jesse Williams, over to nose has mitigated that worry.
Senior Damion Square is back as a starter at defensive end, and along with A.J. McCarron was awarded the Mal Moore Leadership award after the game yesterday. The other starting defensive end spot is up for grabs at the moment between senior Quinton Dial and junior Ed Stinson. At the end of spring practice, Ed Stinson seems to be the frontrunner. He was on the first team defense yesterday while Dial was with the second unit.
Stinson came to Alabama as an outside linebacker, but has gained a lot of wight to make the transition to defensive end. Stinson is up to around 275 pounds now.
Quinton Dial along with Jeoffery Pagan and Brandon Ivory should provide quality depth for the Crimson Tide on the defensive line.
Adrian Hubbard continued his strong spring with three sacks on Saturday.
Remember how Adrian Hubbard was receiving a lot of praise throughout spring practice? Well, it was all well deserved as he was virtually unblockable at A-Day. Stinson was awarded the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the A-Day game award with four tackles for loss including three sacks.
Hubbard has spent time at both the Jack and Sam Linebacker spots this spring, but with sophomore Xzavier Dickson better suited for the Jack position, Hubbard will likely be the starting Sam linebacker in 2012. Hubbard and Dickson both have the ability to rush the passer, so they are both essentially Jack linebackers out there.
Nico Johnson and Trey DePriest both played very well at the starting inside linebacker spots as did C.J. Mosley with the second team defense. Mosley led all defensive players with 10 tackles. With Johnson, DePriest, and Mosley, Alabama has three inside linebackers who would start at pretty much any other program in the country. Mosley isn’t listed as a starter, but just like the last two seasons he will see plenty of playing time.
Alabama lost three starters at linebacker last season in Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, and Jerrell Harris, but they didn’t look to miss a beat yesterday afternoon, and they shouldn’t miss a beat all season long. This group has the potential to just as good, if not better than last season.
Despite the attrition at defensive back with Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie, and Mark Barron all gone, Alabama still has a lot of talent in the secondary. 2010 this is not for the Crimson Tide. Robert Lester is back at free safety as is Dee Milliner at cornerback.
John Fulton had a great spring and has shown a ton of improvement from the end of last season to the end of spring practice. Fulton is going to be a meaningful contributor at cornerback whether he is the #2 or #3 corner.
Of the two JUCO transfers at corner, Deion Belue has stood out, and looks to be well on his way to becoming an All-SEC caliber defensive back. Travell Dixon’s transition from the JUCO ranks to big time college football in the SEC has been slower than expected, but with his size at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds he has the physical tools to be successful. I think he’ll put it all together by the end of fall camp, and he should contribute next season.
Alabama appears to be in good shape at safety regardless of who replaces Mark Barron. Vinnie Sunseri and Haha Clinton-Dix both had great spring practices, and both saw plenty of playing time with the first team defense yesterday. One of them will step in at safety while the other should see playing time in the dime package replacing Will Lowery. Of course that could change depending on how Landon Collins performs when he comes to Tuscaloosa this summer. He could throw a wrench into the whole thing.
Sunseri looks like a natural born playmaker on defense. He sealed the win for the White team with a fumble recovery for a touchdown, and he also intercepted an A.J. McCarron pass at the end of the game before taking a knee at the five yard line. Saban ultimately ruled him to have stepped out of bounds at midfield.
Clinton-Dix didn’t have as big of an impact on the game as Sunseri, but overall he could ultimately be the better player. Sunseri exits the spring as the favorite to start opposite Robert Lester, but both are on their way to meaningful playing time in 2012.
Cody Mandell was said to have made significant strides during spring practice, and he put it on display at A-Day. After his first two punts went just 33-yards apiece, Mandell boomed a 66-yard punt on his third try. For the game, Mandell punted 16 times during the game and averaged over 44-yards per boot. Mandell’s progression from his freshman year to now going into his junior year has been impressive.
As for kicking, not much has changed through the spring. Cade Foster’s 48-yard field goal on Saturday notwithstanding, he hasn’t shown much better consistency. Jeremy Shelley remains a reliable option on shorter kicks and extra points, but he doesn’t have the leg to handle the longer field goal attempts.
Alabama’s kicking game largely will depend on incoming freshman Adam Griffith this summer. He has a big leg, but so did Cade Foster coming out of high school. If Griffith can in the very least handle kick-off duties and hit some longer kicks, it will go a long way in helping Alabama’s special teams in 2012.
Christion Jones, Dee Hart, and Deion Belue all saw time returning kicks during A-Day, and Jones seems to be the most viable option at returning punts this season. He looked good in the BCS Title game against LSU when he had to step in for an injured Marquis Maze, and nothing seems to have changed this spring. Dee Hart and Deion Belue are the primary contenders to be alongside Jones to return kick-offs.
That could also change with incoming freshman Cyrus Jones’ game-changing ability reporting this summer, but that’s how it looks here at the end of spring.
Obviously, Alabama has some things to work on as does every team in college football in mid-April, but this Crimson Tide team has a lot of talent and potential, and it was all on display at A-Day.
With spring practice concluding, it’s going to be a while before we get to see the Tide again. A-Day gave fans their final opportunity to see Alabama play until September 1st in Dallas when Alabama takes on Michigan at Jerry-World.
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