With the Yea Alabama responsibilities now in the rear view mirror, hopefully things will start returning to normal around RBR, and with that in mind let us start with a piece I've been wanting to do for a few weeks now focusing on individual players in the A-Day game. After a thorough review of the film, a few notes:
A.J. McCarron: while the old maxim that "the most popular player on campus is the back-up quarterback" is generally just misplaced and irrational fan optimism, it is at least somewhat justified right now in Tuscaloosa. Simply put, McCarron looked better than any Alabama quarterback in years. He showed a natural pocket presence, threw the ball vertically down the field with great accuracy, made good decisions, and showcased his ability to throw on the run. Mix all of that with his undeniable raw physical tools, and it's impossible to be bearish on McCarron's stock. He would probably start for 75% of BCS conference teams now (or more), and he may very well start for Alabama at some point in 2010. If there was a single revelation this spring, it was A.J. McCarron.
Greg McElroy: somewhat at the opposite end of the spectrum was McElroy. He played at a level more resembling his performances against South Carolina and Tennessee than against Arkansas or Florida. He didn't make any dumb throws necessarily, but he did hold onto the football too long (again), and continued to struggle to generate a legitimate vertical threat in the pass game. At this point, I'm afraid to say that just might be his ceiling.
Mark Ingram: even better than in 2009. With a healthy junior campaign, his tour of duty in Tuscaloosa ends in six months. If there was ever any player with the natural humbleness and humility required to remain focused and grounded after winning a Heisman Trophy, it is Mark Ingram.
Trent Richardson: arguably even better than Ingram. Richardson showed clear progression this spring. He improved in pass protection, showcased himself as a dynamic receiver out of the backfield, and his field vision has clearly improved. He'd be the undisputed starter on every other team in the country, hands down.
Julio Jones: slow day for Julio marred with very little production and several drops, but I wouldn't be too worried. Julio is finally healthy for a change, and based on the high praises of Saban and others, he apparently had a great spring. I'm filing this under the "Off Day" category.
D.J. Fluker: on a second review of the film, Fluker looked much better than he did after the initial look. He played probably 75% of the snaps against either Dareus or Hightower (likely the two best players he'll see all year), and for the most part he held his own. He has some consistency issues and he still operates with a tentative nature indicative of his inexperience on the offensive line, but Fluker is clearly making progress and after a more thorough review of the tape my worries over the right tackle position are much lower than they were before.
Chance Warmack: my pick to win the starting left guard job, and he had to grade out high in Joe Pendry's review. He was very stout in the running game, showed off some athleticism when we pulled him, and looked solid in pass protection. Perhaps better yet, the mental awareness and intelligence is clearly on display. Notice when he gets free in pass protection, his head immediately goes on a swivel searching for someone to block. I expected good things out of Warmack and he did not disappoint.
John Michael Boswell: had a solid showing, and is no slouch by any stretch. He played as a true freshman in 2008, and I'm hoping we can maybe redshirt him somehow. He would be starting by now in most places, and could play at tackle for a lot of teams. He's a casualty of quality depth at this point, if anything. Saban has to love his versatility, he could play any position on the line at the drop of a hat.
David Ross: solid day for the fifth year senior. He'll likely never beat out Vlachos, but again he is a quality depth casualty. He would / could have started at some point for most Alabama teams in the post-Bryant era.
Tyler Love: bit of a mixed review for Love. He's not great in the running game, and he lacked consistency in pass protection. At times you can see the potential for him to be a star, and at other times you can see why he is on the bench.
Brandon Gibson: I feared Gibson may be effectively done coming into the spring, but he shut me up. He looked very good in the A-Day game... great hands, crisp routes, and very effective at locating the football in flight. He's not an elite athlete and will never be a legitimate game-breaker, but he came out of nowhere to have the look of a quality receiver and as right now at absolute worst he is probably #4 in the rotation at wide receiver. He sure as hell won't be playing safety in 2010, that much we know.
Michael Williams: rough day, very rough day in fact. He blocked well, but couldn't catch a cold in the passing game. The raw tools are there, and he looked pretty good last year, so I'm not too concerned for now.
Eddie Lacy: great physical tools, with a legitimate high-gear and very fluid movement in the hips. On raw talent alone he has the skills needed to be a superstar, but he still looked somewhat raw. We didn't get to see him very much in pass protection, and as a runner he tends to run a bit high and holds the football out loosely. Fumbles will be an issue with him until he gets that fixed.
Marquis Maze: occasional big play mixed in with very long stretches where he just disappears. More of the same from Maze.
Darius Hanks: see above, just to a lesser extent. Hanks has shown flashes, but given how everyone continues to rave about this kid, you have to think he could explode at any moment. If he never breaks out, he will have certainly teased the hell out of everyone.
Kevin Norwood: kid just oozes physical potential, plays physically and has good athleticism to boot. He made a couple of nice catches and will find a spot in the rotation.
Kenny Bell: completely recovered from his shin splints, and really brought a vertical element to the game. He's a small guy, but he can fly and looked solid in route-running. He likely won't start, but you'll see some balls going his way in 2010.
Star Jackson: for all of the criticism Star gets, he played really well in the A-Day game. He threw the ball well and showed off his athleticism, and my takeaway from the game was that it is clear that Jackson is by no means a bad player. Far from it, in fact, he'd start for a hell of a lot BCS conference teams right now, and some SEC teams too (I bet Dan Mullen would kill for this kid right now). Jackson's real problem isn't a lack of ability or production on his part, it's the ridiculous level of talent around him. This kid could have beaten out most of the quarterbacks we've put on the field over the past twenty-five years, and the fact that he's depth chart fodder now says more for the players around him than it does take away from Jackson himself.
Philip Sims: He should have been preparing for prom, and with that in mind he looked good. He'll redshirt in 2010 and start waiting on A.J. McCarron's eligibility to expire. I tell you, when I see him, McCarron, and Jackson all wearing crimson, it really feels like a dream.
Darrington Sentimore: if A.J. McCarron was the offensive revelation of the spring, Darrington Sentimore was the defensive revelation. He was mentioned by almost no one after the game, but when you put the film back on and focus in on the Destrehan freshman, he just lights up the screen. He's got good size and is quick as hell, and compliments it all with one of the best motors on the entire team. Seriously, re-watch the film and just focus on him, he'll blow you away with his pass rushing abilities and his hustle. We thought he'd be a star when he signed in 2009. Now I'm sure of it.
Luther Davis: a very quiet career, but Davis has actually played a lot the past two years and has bulked up considerably. He's not a great pass rusher, but he's the biggest, most physical defensive end we've had since Saban arrived. Even bigger than Washington or Deaderick. He'd play inside in a 4-3 scheme, no doubt. He'll largely come out of the game on passing downs, but he was a big asset in the run defense.
Marcell Dareus: this guy has received a ridiculous amount of hype, but it's hard to say it's unjustified. I tell you, when you turn on the film of this guy he routinely looks more like a comic book hero than a college football player. When I watch him sometimes I just have to pinch myself as a reminder that it's all real.
Dont'a Hightower: obviously Hightower was far ahead of schedule in his rehab, but honestly he didn't do much at the A-Day game. We actually had him playing defensive end most of the afternoon and on most times when he did play linebacker he just dropped back into soft coverage. Me thinks the coaching staff was just counting their blessings and playing it ultra-safe with Mr. Hightower. Smart strategy, really.
Jerrell Harris: the weight room work has paid off for Harris, and he looks like a monster. All of the speed and agility is still there, and now he can bring the lumber to boot. He's got the Sam linebacker position locked down, and he looks ready to explode. He looked shaky fundamentally on a couple of tackle attempts, but that's mainly nitpicking.
Courtney Upshaw: add him to the looks ready to explode list. He has bulked up to almost the ideal size we want in a Jack linebacker, and he looks to have turned a corner. Based on how he played in the A-Day game, 2010 looks to be his year.
Mark Barron: played a lot of safety early in the game, but then moved almost exclusively to the star position. He looked very good in both, and should be a standout player regardless of where we put him. The question is not Barron, but how we assemble the pieces around him.
Rod Woodson: another standout performance from an otherwise unheralded player. Woodson played the star position exclusively for the second team defense, and looked very good in the process. He's obviously a hard-hitter, but I think a lot of people tend to see that and paint him as one of these glorified linebacker head-hunter safeties who can't move, but Woodson is not that by any stretch. If anything, he may be one of the most underrated athletes on the team. He has great speed and athleticism, moves fluidly, and has great hip movement. I was worried about Woodson after Lester was working out with the first team defense, but no more. He looked good and had the look of a definite contributor in 2010; he'll play a lot of meaningful snaps.
Robert Lester: obviously Lester did something right this spring or he wouldn't have been with the first team defense, but he didn't do much in the A-Day game. He didn't do anything poorly, mind you, but he didn't stand out either. He generally played deep in a lot of cover-one packages, and that was it. The tape didn't reveal a whole lot on him.
Dre Kirkpatrick: went against our best receivers and pretty much shut them all down. Just because of his size he may struggle at times vertically with some smaller receivers with elite speed, but he's a great athlete in his own right and his cover skills look natural. I imagine he'll be a star in 2011, and while he might not be there just yet in 2010, he ought to play at a very high level. After watching him battle Julio Jones and company in the A-Day game, I really don't have any concerns with Kirkpatrick moving into 2010.
B.J. Scott: largely the same thing goes for the Scott as well. He's not as physical as Kirkpatrick and needs to improve his tackling, but in terms of coverage skills he looked good. I was very worried about him coming into the spring, but his performance in the A-Day game largely relieved most of those fears. Like Kirkpatrick, I don't have any real concerns with Scott moving into 2010.
Phelon Jones: eh, not much good to say about Phelon. Not only did he play with the second team defense, and not only did he not really do anything to standout, Phelon actually played significantly less than either Milliner or Fulton. Unless he was limited somehow by injuries -- and I have read nothing to indicate that -- I cannot help but wonder if we need to seriously reconsider this notion we've had for months now that he would be the #3 in the cornerback rotation this fall. Based on the spring game, he looked more like the #5 corner than the #3.
DeMarcus Milliner: not only is Milliner making the transition from high school to college, he is also making the transition from safety to cornerback, and it showed at times. He was beaten vertically by Brandon Gibson on two separate occasions -- and Gibson doesn't have blazing speed -- and he definitely looked like an early-enroll freshman at times. Fortunately, he also showcased his tremendous athleticism at other times and he did make some good plays. He clearly has a long way to go, but I'm optimistic that he can be a meaningful contributor this fall.
John Fulton: probably a bit further along than Milliner, Fulton looked more ready to play right now, but even he had some growing pains. He's cocky, no doubt about that. All in all, solid showing for a guy who still ought to be in driver's ed.
Kendall Kelly: played safety exclusively in the A-Day game, and didn't do anything. He wasn't really a safety, per se, as much as he was a wide receiver we lined up at safety. He just kind of stood around and followed the ball back there, as you would probably expect. I imagine he ends up back at wide receiver.
Brandon Lewis: had a solid showing after only spending a couple of months on campus. He won't be a starter in 2010, but he'll provide quality depth and get some snaps. He's got a place at the table.
Kerry Murphy: really showcased the physical ability at times, and the sky is the limit for this young man. While it might not have gotten a great deal of publicity, us getting this kid into school was, to paraphrase our vice president, a big f'n deal. He's just got NFL written all over him, and he'll probably play 300 meaningful snaps in 2010. He gives us a pass rushing presence from an interior player like we haven't had since (probably) Jarett Johnson. On a technical level, he is clearly paying attention to his coaches... he's not playing high like he used to in high school.
Wesley Neighbors: came to Tuscaloosa as a glorified walk-on, and largely looked like one in the A-Day game. If we really have to rely on Neighbors much in 2010, that is likely a bad sign.
All kickers and punters, including Cade Foster: start drinking. Heavily.