Fighting the brutal late August heat, Alabama completed it's final scrimmage Saturday afternoon in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and in doing so brought Fall practice to an unofficial close. With the final scrimmage in the history books, attention will quickly turn to the season opener against San Jose State. The Crimson Tide players will be rewarded with off days on both Sunday and Monday, and when the team reconvenes on Tuesday afternoon, some players will be greeted with opponent-specific preparations while others will receive scout team assignments. The usual in-season grind will once again become the new normal.
In its format, this scrimmage was a good bit different than what we saw one week ago. Last week's scrimmage focused extensively on the passing game, not an unusual design given how many repetitions it takes to effectively implement pass protection sets, complex cover schemes, and the requisite timing required between quarterbacks and wide receivers.
This scrimmage, however, was designed to emulate an actual game. Roughly the first 50 snaps -- about one half of football in a typical game -- were played live with special teams, turnovers, penalties, substitutions, you name it. There was some situational work later, but the point remains that the purpose of this scrimmage was to replicate an actual game as closely as possible.
When all was said and done, the best news today for Alabama was that there were no serious injuries reported. Preston Dial missed the scrimmage with some apparently minor ailment, and both Josh Chapman (thigh) and Trent Richardson (shoulder) were nicked up a bit during the scrimmage itself, but none of those injuries are considered serious, nor are they expected to force any of those players to miss more than a couple of days of practice. In fact, Coach Saban said after the scrimmage that Richardson could have returned had he needed to, but that the coaching staff found discretion to be the better part of valor.
Coming in a close second in the good news department was that the pass defense had at least a competent showing. All three quarterbacks had solid days, but at least they didn't lead the offense up and down the field like they were playing PS3 back at their respective apartments. It wasn't perfect by any stretch, mind you, and the lack of any legitimate interceptions on the roughly 60 pass attempts shows you that -- Saban said after practice that the two interceptions listed in the statistics were the result of a batted ball at the line of scrimmage and a Hail Mary heave to the endzone at the end of the scrimmage -- the defensive backfield wasn't exactly putting pressure on the passing game, but after last week's showing, I'm sure we'll all happily accept today's performance and move on. It's still a work in progress back there, and likely will be for a long time, but at least it was competent on this day.
Making matters even better today was that -- and I hope you're sitting down for this one -- the kicking game actually looked quite good. Saban had positive words for both punters, and the official statistics show Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster going 7-8 on field goal tries, with the only miss being a 52-yard try by Foster (who, incidentally, hit another 52-yarder). To whichever RBR reader sold their soul to the devil to bring about those results, I certainly commend you for your dedication and willingness to pay the high price of victory.
All in all, it was largely all you could hope for in an intra-squad scrimmage. No one was seriously injured, and the two main areas that we needed to improve upon -- pass defense and special teams -- both showed meaningful signs of progress. Rest assured there are many other coaches in the country tonight who wish they could say that about their teams.
And finally, to close, a few player specific scrimmage thoughts:
- Marcell Dareus was credited with four tackles today, and by all accounts is still working with the first team defense. More so than anything else, that ought to tell you that our coaching staff expects him to receive little, if any, punishment for his role in Agentgate.
- Both DeMarcus Milliner (ankle) and Blake Sims (toe) missed the scrimmage as expected. Sims will likely redshirt, and while Milliner will clearly play this season, at this point the goal of the medical staff is likely to just get him as close to 100% as humanly possible for the season opener.
- It may surprise some that neither Marquis Maze or Darius Hanks recorded any stats today, but keep in mind that there were over 100 receiving yards unaccounted for, and in any event everything we've seen to date has indicated they still have starting jobs alongside Julio Jones. With that said, though, we do have a deep wide receiver corps and several players will see playing time.
- The battle for the number three tailback job still looks undecided, with both Demetrius Goode and Eddie Lacy earning a lot of carries today. Both posted relatively impressive numbers, and at the end of the day I still say this battle comes down to pass protection. Regardless, both look like strong players to me, and it's hard to see us going wrong with either one. These two could start for many other schools.
- I'm not sure if the injury to Josh Chapman was actually a new injury or merely the aggravation of a pre-existing injury. Previously this Fall he was spotted at practice with his thigh area heavily taped, so this may be nothing new. One way or the other, whatever the injury is it does not seem to be serious.
- Robert Lester had a nice appearance in the stat column this afternoon with four tackles, an interception, and a pass broken up. If nothing else, he likely made his case for a starting job today. By all accounts, that is the most productive scrimmage he has had since arriving on campus.
- Brad Smelley had five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown, clearly making the most of his opportunity with the absence of Preston Dial. That said, I'm not sure it really means anything or not. Everyone knows Smelley can be a valuable contributor in the passing game, the real question with him is his blocking abilities, and regardless of his contributions as a receiver he will be hard-pressed to find playing time unless he develops his blocking skills further.
- Phillip Sims has operated under the radar screen so far, but I do think it should be noted that he played very well this Fall in his own right, and at just about any other school he would be getting serious consideration for playing time. The battles that he and McCarron will wage one day will likely be epic. Given the early returns on those two, I'm not sure Alabama has had two quarterback prospects of that caliber since Joe Namath and Ken Stabler were both members of the 1964 team.