With spring practice over halfway completed, Alabama held its first scrimmage of the spring this afternoon in Bryant-Denny Stadium. With that in mind, some news, notes, and insights into the scrimmage today:
First and foremost the best news of the was that there were apparently no serious injuries suffered by any of the players. While it's probably not reasonable to assume that there weren't a few bumps and bruises along the way, at the very least by all accounts no one suffered a serious injury that would call their intermediate-to-long term status into question, and that is the most positive sign to be taken away from today. In fact, Jonathan Atchison shed the black, no-contact jersey today and participated fully, a good sign for his progress moving forward through the rest of spring.
The quarterback battle, inevitably, is going to garner most of the attention, and to that end both A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims split time evenly today, with both ultimately having very comparable stat lines. Going 20-30 for 225 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, Sims posted a slightly better completion percentage and yards per attempt, but he also had one more turnover than McCarron. In any event, both players seemingly played pretty well, and as a whole their performance was probably about what Nick Saban and company were hoping for. Both played well enough, and their level of performance was similar enough to stretch the quarterback competition out further.
Meanwhile, at tailback, Eddie Lacy had the biggest day as he attempts to stake claim to the back-up job. Trent Richardson only had five carries on the day -- a clear sign that Richardson will be the workhorse this fall and that the staff wants to go easy on him this spring -- but Lacy carried the football 10 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns, including a long, 45-yard touchdown run. Ball security, pass protection, and receiving skills are clearly areas of improvement for Lacy, but he continues to impress when given the football in the running game, and the fact that Demetrius Goode was not listed in the stats is probably an early indicator that Lacy is the frontrunner for the back-up job. As an aside, also note that Dee Hart picked up 11 carries today, a likely sign that he will have a role somewhere in the offense later this fall.
At wide receiver, Kenny Bell, Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, and DeAndrew White led the way and all had relatively impressive showings. Unfortunately, with only two catches for 16 yards, it's arguably a bit of a disappointing day for Kevin Norwood, a particular concern for UA considering that Norwood is one of the few receivers on the roster big enough to add size to the outside. The same concern can be said of Michael Bowman, who did not show up in the stat line today and who has seemingly gone from being depth chart fodder at tight end to being depth chart fodder at wide receiver. Unless Norwood and / or Bowman progresses and earns a greater role, it will be up to Duron Carter to step in immediately this fall and provide the big, physical presence on the outside.
On the offensive line, Nick Saban spoke after the scrimmage of the progress made to this point by Aaron Douglas. He has been working behind Alfred McCullough at left tackle, but while McCullough is a favorite of the staff he does not have the ideal length to play left tackle, and the expectation has been for some time now that Douglas would move past McCullough in due time for the starting job. While we're apparently not to that point just yet, it certainly seems his ascension is imminent.
Also getting praise in the post-scrimmage press conference was guard Anthony Steen. After having a rough showing in place of right guard Barrett Jones in the final quarter of the 2010 season, Saban noted that Steen had made progress this spring and that as a whole depth at guard had improved. Take that as very good news because 'Bama needs better play at left guard in 2011, as well as a more game-ready back-up in case Barrett Jones goes down with injury once again.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, Nick Saban was not overly pleased with the effort. In particular, this line, per Cecil Hurt, will probably ring a painful bell from 2010:
Saban: "One glaring thing on defense was we didn't tackle well."
Not good, obviously, but the upshot is it's a long way until September, and for what it's worth tackling can tend to be sloppy in the early going of spring due to a lack of significant contact work since the end of the season.
Some individual performances, though, were more encouraging, specifically with C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson showing up nicely in the stat lines. Likewise, Dont'a Hightower was listed with two sacks, which is hopefully an indicator that he has regained the explosiveness he had before his 2009 knee injury. True freshman Trey DePriest also added five tackles and a TFL, and given his raw size it seems clear that he is going to contribute in a meaningful way in 2011. Combined, despite some concerns over tackling, it seems like a good day for the linebacker corps.
Meanwhile, in the defensive backfield, keep your eye on sophomore John Fulton. The South Carolina native was a heavily-recruited prep prospect who played a year ago as a true freshman, and judging by his four tackles, one TFL, two PBUs, and an interception, it looks like he is developing nicely and will seriously contend for meaningful playing time this fall. Either way, with Kirkpatrick, Milliner, Menzie, and Fulton on the roster, the outlook is very bullish at cornerback moving forward.
Finally, special teams was a bit of an adventure today. Jeremy Shelley made a short kick, but Cade Foster was still inconsistent, hitting three field goals -- including a 52-yarder -- but also missing a short kick and another 52-yarder. Clearly the staff would like Foster to take over the job entirely, but his consistency does not seem to be sufficient to do so at this point. And, speaking of consistency issues, that problem continues to linger at punter. Cody Mandell had problems down the stretch a year ago in that regard, and judging by Saban's post-scrimmage press conference those consistency issues are lingering with both Mandall and Jay Williams, so unfortunately the kicking game seems very much like a work in progress.
In any event that is all for now, but we'll update here at RBR as spring practice develops further. Alabama will return to practice on Monday afternoon.