Coach Saban spoke briefly with reporters yesterday, and touched on a number of issues as we move closer and closer to the start of Spring practice on March 13th. Just to hit the high points, Coach Saban said:
- No starting quarterback has been named, and Saban even refused to give a timetable for when a starting quarterback could be named. I'm sure the staff has a pretty good idea of things, but nevertheless they all seem pretty set on having a legitimate open competition between Greg McElroy, Star Jackson, and Thomas Darrah.
- Chris Jackson will be moving back to wide receiver this Spring. We signed him as a four-star wide receiver out of Georgia in the 2008 recruiting class, and he moved over to the defensive backfield for a few practices before the Sugar Bowl last year. However, he's moving back to wide receiver now.
- Burton Scott, however, will be remaining in the defensive backfield, and Coach Saban said that he will get his first look at safety, and not corner. Though he didn't rule out the possibility of giving him a look at corner later, it certainly seems like we are going to see how he reacts in the role currently vacant as a result of the departure of Rashad Johnson.
- Michael Williams, the four-star TE / DE prospect we signed in 2008, will be remaining at tight end, which is where he spent the bowl practices. Williams is a massive player -- in the range of 6'7 and 270 pounds -- and it looks like we are going to give him the opportunity to fill the shoes of Travis McCall going forward into 2009. We've got some good receiving threats at tight end in Peek, Smelley, and Dial, but we need some guys who can block as well.
- Jerrell Harris will "probably," according to Coach Saban, move to inside linebacker this Spring, and that's a very interesting development. I'll have more on that in a bit.
- In terms of injuries, we are in pretty good shape. A lot of guys had offseason surgery, but they are now good to go and have been cleared for contact. As of right now, only Roy Upchurch and Earl Alexander will be held out of contact wok this Spring.
All in all, Saban gave us a few insightful tidbits, and it certainly looks like it will be an interesting Spring. The open quarterback competition will get almost all of the hype and the publicity, but it looks like we will have a very competitive race at just about every position across the board. Even though we only lost a handful of starters from a year ago, Saban loves to move around and experiment, all the while in a highly competitive environment, so all told it creates a very fluid situation at just about every single position.
With all of that in mind, I think the move that everyone should keep their eye on is Jerrell Harris moving to inside linebacker. Some people thought that Harris would beat out Reamer for the strongside linebacker position in 2009 -- which in all fairness would be a major upgrade in terms of speed and athleticism -- but obviously that will not happen with Harris moving inside. The real questions, though, are these ... Why do you move Harris inside when we've already got a lot of depth at inside linebacker, and what do you do about Reamer at strongside linebacker? We're currently very deep at inside linebacker with Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower, Prince Hall, and Chris Jordan leading the way, so why contribute to the logjam? On the other hand, Reamer is a hard-nosed player, but by the same token he's also undersized and not overly athletic, what gives there?
I think what you are seeing here with Harris moving to inside linebacker is Saban experimenting with completely remaking the linebacker corps. Many have thought -- and Alabama signee Nico Johnson even explicitly said this -- that Saban and company desperately want to move Dont'a Hightower to Jack linebacker, and it certainly seems like they are paving the road for that by moving Harris inside. Of course, though, that has repercussions as well. With Hightower going to Jack and the continued emergence of Courtney Upshaw, that likely puts Brandon Fanney out of a job, who would then probably put his hand on the ground and play defensive end.
But what about strongside linebacker with Reamer? On the surface, though it paves the way for Hightower to move to Jack linebacker, it certainly seems like moving Harris away from the strongside comes at a very high opportunity cost. I think it's pretty clear that the staff would like an upgrade in terms of size and athleticism at the strongside linebacker position, so do they let Reamer just stay there? Well, maybe, that's a possibility. However, it may very well also mean that Chavis Williams is getting out of the doghouse, and it may also be that Saban expects Nico Johnson (or perhaps even Tana Patrick) to be able to come in immediately and grab the starting job at strongside linebacker early on next season. Everyone expects those two, and especially Johnson, to have the size and athleticism to contribute in a big way as true freshmen, and we all know that Saban has no issues putting true freshmen in key roles.
Either way, it's certainly going to make for an exciting Spring. Saban loves to experiment, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, like a mad scientist, so be paying especially close attention over the next six weeks.