In the wake of two much-needed days off, Alabama returned to the practice drudgery yesterday afternoon in the brutal August heat. As expected, it was a bit of a lighter day given the tough scrimmage on Saturday, with the Tide taking to the practice fields in shells. Consider this a week to tie up a few loose ends, recover physically, and to get prepared mentally for the start of another season. Come Sunday morning, the "normal" preparation week for an opponent will begin as the Tide officially puts its focus on San Jose State.
On the news front, it was a bit of a slow day. From the outset, the bad news: DeMarcus Milliner was once again in a black no-contact jersey and thus did not participate in team activities. Fortunately, Gentry Estes notes that Milliner was running on the side, speculating that his return is "imminent." Hopefully that indeed is the case, but Milliner has missed quite a bit of practice time, and it's hard to say exactly how this will affect him. If he were a seasoned veteran we could realistically expect him to jump back into the lineup without a snag, but it's hard to predict how a true freshman will react to an extended period of inactivity. I imagine he'll be 100% or very close to it by the time Penn State makes the trip south, but who knows exactly what that means for Milliner at this point?
There was, however, an interesting twist at linebacker. Jerrell Harris, who has been competing with Chavis Williams and others at the Sam position, switched spots with Nico Johnson, who has been competing with Chris Jordan at the Will position. Now, it should be noted that Saban moves linebackers around a lot, so this may very well just be a random teaching moment, but if this is legitimately more of a long-term position move, this is probably very good news for Nico Johnson. It certainly seems like Chris Jordan is going to get the starting nod at Will linebacker, but the situation at Sam is a bit more unsettled, where senior Chavis Williams has given a stronger challenge to Harris than many expected. If the move of Johnson to Sam linebacker sticks, I would probably wager that it's a move designed to make sure that Johnson can get on the field somewhere, and in doing so he would probably take the starting position at Sam. Harris will clearly still have a role in nickel and dime packages because of his athleticism, but I tend to think he's a bit light to be an effective player inside. If this sticks, Johnson may just win a starting job at the expense of Harris. At the very least, the fact that Saban himself says Johnson is "teetering back and forth" between being a starter ought to tell you this one is under serious consideration. Keep your eye on this one moving forward.
Another personnel shuffle came on the offensive line, where Barrett Jones was at right tackle with Alfred McCullough at right guard, with D.J. Fluker being at right tackle in the second group and Arie Kouandjio being at left tackle in the second group. Personally, I wouldn't read anything into that one way or the other. Pendry is notorious for moving players around and wanting to teach each individual lineman all of the positions, and this is routine for him. Besides, by all accounts Fluker has locked down the starting job at right tackle, and given the success Jones had at right guard last season, it's hard to see him being moved at this point. The real takeaway here, I think, is that Arie Kouandjio is doing so well early in his career. We've heard positive things all camp about him, but the fact that he has quite clearly leapfrogged Tyler Love and others after just a couple of months of arriving on campus portends very good things for his career on down the road. At this point, if he continues to develop and improve as you would expect, it's hard to not think of him getting a starting nod next year at one of the tackle positions after James Carpenter graduates.