After real life rudely intruded all of last week, it's time to get back to some more substantive posting here at RBR. As we all know, the Tide officially reported for Fall camp last week, and Fall practice is now well underway. With that in mind, here are a few news and notes from the first few days:
- Perhaps the most exciting part of the beginning of Fall practice is seeing the incoming freshman for the first time on the field. With the highly-touted recruiting classes of Nick Saban, that excitement is at its apogee in Tuscaloosa. Last year's recruiting class drew rave reviews the first time that we saw it (and rightly so), but if anything the reviews surrounding the 2009 class have been even more bullish than was the case with its immediate predecessor. Almost every single signee has impressed observers, whether it be with raw size, physique, strength, speed, or some combination of those attributes. In fact, Rodney Orr, publisher of Tider Insider, even went so far to say that this group was the most physically impressive freshman class he has seen at Alabama to yet, and it should be noted that he has been in Tuscaloosa covering the Tide since the Stallings era, so that says quite a bit. Only time will tell for sure, but if early indications are accurate, the Tide's 2009 recruiting class looks to be every bit as good as billed. I'll have more up on the incoming freshmen in a later post in the coming days.
- The two big surprises late in the 2009 recruiting class came with the news that both Darrington Sentimore and Eddie Lacy qualified academically and were cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Both have elite-level talent, and both could have very legitimately been five-star prospects had their academic situation not been judged so hopeless. Sentimore, for example, racked up over 30 sacks the past two years playing in Louisiana's highest classification, including an absolutely dominating performance in the 5A state championship game last year against West Monroe in the Superdome (which earned him MVP honors). Meanwhile, Lacy put up huge production numbers despite being limited by injuries, and truth be told there is very little difference between him and Trent Richardson (if any). It's hard to overstate just how big of an addition these two players are... the Tide now officially has an absurd stockpile of talent at both tailback and defensive end. Furthermore, all the better, after missing out on all of the summer S&C work, both Lacy and Sentimore arrived in better-than-expected shape.
- One more note on the 2009 class... of the 27 signees, 26 qualified academically. That is nothing short of amazing when you consider that several signees were known academic cases (Steen, Bowman, Lacy, Sentimore, etc.), and it really speaks volumes to Nick Saban and company's ability to identify academic cases, but yet sign those with high-end athletic ability who also have both the raw mental ability and personal discipline needed to rectify their poor academic situations. With 26 of 27 players qualifiying, to the best of my knowledge this is the most academically sound signing class that Alabama has had since Gene Stallings' 1993 class in which every single signee qualified academically.
- Injuries were a bit of a concern coming out of Spring practice because Alabama was a fairly beat up team. Julio Jones underwent three major surgeries after his spectacular true freshman campaign, Roy Upchurch's status was in the air, Colin Peek was limited with a foot injury, D.J. Fluker had shoulder surgery, as did Rod Woodson and Dre Kirkpatrick. Kendall Kelly had hip surgery, and several other players were fighting through injury issues as well. Fortunately, things seem to be going quite well on the injury front. Upchurch was not in a black no-contact jersey (nor was any other Tide player, sans the quarterbacks), and seems to be good to go, while the rest of those recovering from off-season surgery do not seem to be limited either. The one injury concern -- and it could prove to be a major one -- is with Colin Peek, and it is now a given that he will play the season on a foot that is less than 100%. He did speak at length recently about how much better he feels thanks to the medical staff, but nevertheless this is still not where we would want him to be at this point.
Greg McElroy is clearly the starter at quarterback, and he will remain so unless he either suffers a major injury or experiences a Crompton-esque showing once the season starts. Unfortunately, there is no clear number two quarterback at this point, and you do not have to parse Saban's words too closely to realize that he does not currently feel that we have a serviceable back-up quarterback on the roster. Judging by his words, I have a hard time believing that our staff would feel the least bit comfortable having either Star Jackson or Thomas Darrah under center in meaningful situations. A.J. McCarron, for what it's worth, has impressed with his size and arm strength, and it wouldn't be out of the question to think that he may emerge as the back-up by the time we load up for Atlanta.
- Around the rest of the roster, one of the moves of note is that 2008 signee Undra Billingsley has been moved to tight end. Billingsley was a versatile player coming out of Woodlawn, and was moved from defensive end following Spring practice. My guess is that with the performance of Marcel Dareus and Damien Square, along with a slew of talented defensive linemen coming in from the 2009 class, Billingsley was a bit expendable at defensive end, and we could use his size at tight end. I'm not sure the coaching staff really expects a whole lot from him this year, but he's a solid 260-270 pound player and he should eventually be able to be a good blocker much like Travis McCall was a year ago. Moreover, it's not like Billingsley is a scrub as a pass catcher either... as a junior at Woodlawn, he caught 25 passes for around 500 yards playing tight end.
- Aside from Billingsley, there has been a few other position moves, but nothing particularly of note. Just about all of the linebackers have moved around quite a bit, and both Glenn Harbin and Milton Talbert have flipped back and forth between defensive end and Jack linebacker. The offensive line has been all over the place with several different players, and it's been a bit chaotic. That point established, though, we should all keep in mind that Saban has a long reputation for being a bit of a mad scientist on the field and it's a standard operating procedure for him to be moving players around. As of right now, I really do not see anything just yet that would indicate any of these moves are much more than that.
- The apparent murder of Kerry Murphy's brother is both a tragedy for Murphy and his family, and on a far less important note, a concern for the Alabama football team as well. From the beginning, Murphy has already been through just about everything. He didn't qualify twice, fought through a tour of duty at Hargrave, and then had to go back home to get eligible, all the while his mother was working with everything she had to support him and their family. And then he finally makes it, and apparently makes great strides in the off-season S&C program to get himself back in shape, and on the day of his first crack at Fall practice, the terrible news strikes that his brother has apparently been murdered. I don't know what else to say, but it's hard to find many more tragic situations than that. And, again on a far less important note, it's a concern for the Tide as well. Murphy is going to miss some time (and maybe a lot of time, if he needs to), and we were counting on him to provide quality depth behind Terrence Cody this year. Hopefully he can get back to camp quickly, but again, it goes without saying that he clearly has far more important things on the agenda right now than football. He was back on campus this morning for picture day, for what it's worth, so hopefully that is a sign that things are going as well as can reasonably be expected. We'll have to wait and see if he sticks around this afternoon and participates in practice.
- Obviously we are still very early in Fall practice, and we've got a long way to go. Only in the past day or so did the team finally put on shells, and full contact work is still at least a few days away. It's hard to read anything overly insightful into what a team does in the first couple of days, and that is particularly the case with a Saban squad that frequently moves players around to different roles on an almost daily basis. However, once Fan Day comes to a close today, we'll start quickly moving in on preparations for the first scrimmage of Fall, and if history holds true, that will really tell us where this thing is headed. Things tend to get fairly solidified after scrimmages start, so we should start getting a better idea of how the Tide is shaping up in the coming days.