The long midsummer fueled football withdrawals officially came to an end today with Alabama returning to the practice fields in preparation for the upcoming 2011 season. The first day of fall practice traditionally brings a flurry of news items and this year proved no different.
First and foremost, good news on the injury front, with the Internet rumors surrounding Eddie Lacy and DeQuan Menzie both turning out to be baseless. The Menzie sports hernia rumors were entirely without merit, as Menzie showed up today with no braces, bandages, additional padding, or anything of the sort. Likewise, Lacy was not sporting a black no-contact jersey (and yes, injured players wear those even on no-contact days), so whatever injury he suffered does not look to be much of a concern to the coaching staff at this point.
Not surprisingly, Nick Saban used the falsity of those rumors to criticize the media in attendance for irresponsible journalism. He went on and on for a while, and finally spewed the following:
Every day I am going to post some BS on a message board just to mess with you.
That's not substantively relevant to anything, of course, but the quote itself is just too good to pass up. The mere thought of Nick Saban sitting in his office and playing around on the computer as a message board pot-stirrer is outright hilarious.
Back to the real news at hand, though, there was some disturbing news surrounding both Duron Carter and Danny Woodson, Jr. While both are on campus, neither practiced today and as of this writing neither have been cleared academically. The situation with Woodson seems relatively dire, and Saban even directly stated earlier today that he "may" be in camp at some point this fall. Nothing seems official yet, but we've long since known that Woodson was an academic concern, and for now it seems like he may be on the outside looking in.
Duron Carter is far more perplexing. UA is apparently still waiting on additional information on his academics, but this one is just hard to fathom. Carter has been on campus for weeks now and considering that transcripts should have been submitted weeks ago you have to be concerned with this development. Saban spoke of Carter as if there were no major obstacles for him to be cleared, but even so the fact that it hasn't happened yet is hard to explain. Either way, Carter's in-limbo status has to be a definite concern, and any meaningful amount of missed practice time will only make it that much more difficult to be a meaningful contributor in 2011.
On the upside, though, Brent Calloway has officially been cleared and worked with the tailbacks in the second practice session tonight. Calloway passed the science course he was taking at Russellville, and earlier in the day Saban spoke of his clearance as more of a formality than anything else. Sure enough, Calloway was in uniform and participating on the practice fields tonight, so at least we have another viable short-term option at at tailback.
And speaking of tailbacks, Blake Sims practiced today at quarterback, even though Saban expressly mentioned him as a possibility of getting some reps at tailback. To be certain Saban also mentioned several other players as possibilities, and it's perhaps unlikely that Sims will see any time there now given the arrival of Calloway and the relative depth shortage at quarterback, but even so don't be surprised to see someone get a look there in the coming days.
Regarding players who may make a switch to tailback, keep your eye on true freshman Christion Jones. The two-way athlete was expected by most to start out his career at cornerback, but he was working with the wide receivers when he took the field earlier today, and Saban mentioned him as a possibility to get a look at tailback.
In somewhat of a sign for potential concern, Trent Richardson's left foot was heavily taped for today's afternoon practice session, and he was also sporting some additional tape on his left calf. Saban did not speak of anything to be concerned with regarding the status of Richardson, so for now there is no real cause for concern, but admittedly the season may very well become a long and grueling one for the Pensacola native as we look to lean on him heavily as both a runner and a receiver (and perhaps even a returner), and given that it is somewhat distressing to see him with a heavy tape job applied to the lower extremities on the opening day of fall camp.
Alex Watkins may be even more of a concern. The thought (or at least the hope) was that the knee injury he suffered this spring was relatively minor and that he would have no problems by the opening of fall camp. When he took the field today, though, his left knee was heavily bandaged and he was sporting a very bulky brace. Saban said that they would know more about his status by the end of fall camp, but for the time being it certainly looks like the knee injury he suffered this spring was more serious than we originally believed. Watkins has arguably been the most improved player on the team the past two years, and he gives us legitimate value as a situational edge pass rusher. Having him slowed for his senior season wouldn't be a fatal blow to the defense, but admittedly it would soften a pass rush that has all too often faltered under Nick Saban. Here's to hoping Watkins returns to form in the weeks ahead.
On the other hand, there are apparently no such knee concerns with Malcolm Faciane. The true freshman tore his ACL in the Mississippi state playoffs last fall, and most expected he would have a slow start to his career at UA with a redshirt season all but certainty. When he took the field tonight, though, Faciane moved about freely and in fact was not even wearing a brace. He looks fully recovered at this point, and given the lack of proven size we currently have at tight end, a healthy Faciane could conceivably make a bid for early playing time.
As a whole, though, for now things generally look good and the outlook moving forward has to be optimistic. As has become the norm under Nick Saban and Scott Cochran, the team that took the field today was clearly talented and well conditioned. A football team must still be forged in the grueling heat of the coming weeks, but for now take solace in the fact that the doldrums of summer have officially come to an end. Kickoff to the 2011 season is exactly four weeks from tomorrow.
Finally, to close on an off-field note, congratulations are in order to Barrett Jones, Josh Chapman, William Vlachos, Phelon Jones, Alfred McCullough, and Chris Underwood. All six have earned their degrees and will be honored as such tomorrow at the joint spring and summer commencement ceremony.