Day three of fall camp took place this afternoon in Bryant-Denny Stadium in the midst of a brutal heat wave in Tuscaloosa, with the heat index topping out at nearly 115 degrees. The practice session concluded with the annual UA Fan Day,
where every 'Bama player signed countless autographs which were clearly given in exchange for impermissible benefits from various 'Bama supporters which provided the majority of the fan base with the only glimpses they will get of the Crimson Tide until the season opener next month against Kent State.
Furthermore, as is usually the case at Fan Day, 'Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain were allowed out of their proverbial cages for their bi-annual meeting with the media. It's always interesting to hear what the coordinators have to say simply because they are so rarely allowed to speak publicly, and today was no different. Smart spoke with the energy he is known for, and McElwain spoke highly of several players, including both A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims.
And for the record if you have any concerns at tailback, it's probably best not to air them with McElwain. When asked directly on this issue earlier today, he glowingly praised Jalston Fowler and his ability, explicitly stating he'd "go to war" with Fowler on his side. A severe run of injuries will leave any position in state of shambles, and certainly tailback is no different, but clearly by his own words McElwain has full confidence going forward with the triumvirate of Richardson, Lacy, and Fowler.
The media also spoke with redshirt freshman quarterback Phillip Sims for the first time today, and for someone with no real past experience dealing with the media, he handled himself like a veteran by generally speaking clearly and on-point while not deviating from the company line. He talked about how he has slimmed down significantly since arriving in Tuscaloosa -- he indicated he has dropped from 240 to around 205 -- and how he had no problem with a two-quarterback rotation if it helped the team. UA players tend to be very refined with the media under Nick Saban, but even so it was nice to see Sims handle the public aspect of his position so well. Beyond the head coach, the starting quarterback is the face of the program, and while it's easy to dismiss media relations as pointless blather, given the status of the starting quarterback it is something that needs to be handled well by whomever assumes such a position. Young players tend to struggle in this function, and it was refreshing to see Sims relate so easily with the media this afternoon.
Moving on to the actual news, though, 'Bama did get a bit of an injury scare earlier this afternoon from redshirt freshman Arie Kouandjio, who was carted off with a knee injury. Many feared the worst while watching him being carted away, but Kouandjio later returned for Fan Day walking unassisted and assuring everyone that he was fine. He was sporting an ice pack on his knee, but regardless whatever ails him is not considered to be serious. Both Brian Vogler and Eddie Lacy were sporting black no-contact jerseys today, but likewise neither injury is expected to be serious (presumably the no-contact jersey for Lacy relates to the pectoral injury, but there has been no confirmation of that).
DeAndrew White continues to impress, and he once again received praise from both coaches and teammates in the media session following practice. He actually took several reps with the first team offense, and at this point it's clear that White will be an every-down player against Kent State and Penn State. His opportunities will likely go down somewhat once Darius Hanks returns against North Texas, but White will be a meaningful contributor all season. Duron Carter should quickly move into the rotation when (or if) he is cleared, and both Maze and Hanks will be mainstays in the rotation. After those three, though, White looks to be the top receiver in the rotation, followed by Brandon Gibson, and from there on down it's largely a crapshoot.
Additionally, as a side note, White took some reps today as a punt returner, as did Blake Sims, so don't be surprised to either of them lined up deep at some point this season.
And speaking of wide receivers, there was some potentially good news today on true freshman wide receiver Danny Woodson, Jr. Expected by many to be a potential academic casualty, Nick Saban said something today to the effect of that Woodson may report to the team later in camp if there is space available. That has led some to believe that Woodson has in fact qualified academically and at this point is just a potential greyshirt based on the uncertainty surrounding Duron Carter. Saban never expressly stated that, so take that speculation with a grain of salt, but at least there is some hope at this point that Woodson may not be an academic casualty like previously feared.
Blake Sims continued to take snaps today at both tailback and quarterback, and once again impressed nearly everyone in attendance with his athleticism, versatility, and his general ability to make positive things happen whenever he gets the ball in his hands. Having said that, though, despite the impressive showings Sims is really not in a position to get on the field at this point, buried on the depth chart at both quarterback and tailback, and at some point the staff may have to make some difficult decisions regarding a potential position change just to get him on the field. Clearly he is a player, but burying him on otherwise crowded depth charts guarantees that his production will be non-existent. The short-term answer may, perhaps, be to put him on the field as a returner and as a dual-threat in a Wildcat package on the offensive side of the ball, but unless he is featured prominently and on a consistent basis in those packages, at some point the UA coaching staff may have to find him a new position to get him on the field as an every-down player.
The starting five on the offensive line looks to be relatively set at this point, moving left to right with Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, William Vlachos, Anthony Steen, and D.J. Fluker. The interesting races are for the back-up positions behind those players, and as of this writing that looks somewhat unsettled. As mentioned yesterday, Kellen Williams looks to be the heir apparent at center, but Chad Lindsay is fighting him hard. Many feel that Austin Shepherd is the odds-on favorite to back-up D.J. Fluker at right tackle, while Arie Kouandjio continues to impress while moving between several different positions. Cyrus Kouandjio held his own today against the first team defense at left tackle, and it's only a matter of time before he starts at left tackle for the Crimson Tide. Tyler Love has bulked up a bit, which was desperately needed, but he may be getting lost in the mix between Jones and Kouandjio at tackle. Either way, while the starting five looks to be somewhat set at this point, the race is still on for the back-up jobs and there are no clear favorites at several positions.
Want another race to follow? Pay close attention to the sixth defensive back. DeQuan Menzie, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeMarcus Milliner, Mark Barron, and Robert Lester will be the starting five, but who comes onto the field when the Tide goes to the dime package? Will Lowery held that job a year ago, but he'll be hard-pressed to keep that role again this season. True freshman Hasean Clinton-Dix just oozes star potential, and with his athletic versatility the Mark Barron comparisons are fitting. He figures to be a three-year player, and will find his way on the field somewhere this year. Perhaps he becomes the sixth DB? Of course, both Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry also look to have a say in that race, so at this point it's still a wide open field with some meaningful snaps in key situations up for grabs among several young players and a veteran walk-on.
As for other players, LaMichael Fanning wowed more people with his impressive build today, but again we'll have to wait until the pads go on before we know more. Ed Stinson had no problem adding the weight necessary to bulk up to play defensive end, and on the flip side of that Anthony Orr has slimmed down a bit as he transitions to Jack linebacker. Trey DePriest continues to impress physically and mentally, and clearly the only thing in the way of immediate playing time for him is a crowded depth chart at inside linebacker (though he will certainly play on special teams). Vinnie Sunseri is probably another guy who will find his way onto the field this fall, even if only in a special teams role, and it's conceivable he could also contend for the sixth DB job. Tana Patrick has moved back to inside linebacker after not making much progress at Jack, but with the depth chart so crowded there it's likely he will have to wait for the departures of Dont'a Hightower and Chris Jordan before seeing any meaningful playing time. Jerrell Harris, as always, looks like a star in shorts, but of course he's teased us with that for three years now. They don't play in shorts come Saturday afternoon in September, and who knows if Harris can finally put it together when the pads go on?
On the downside, though, punting remains a problem with inconsistency striking both Cody Mandell and Jay Williams this afternoon. 53-yard booms largely become useless when followed up by 22-yard shanks, and with that in mind both Mandell and Williams seem hell bent at this point living on the extreme ends of the punting spectrum. Both have strong legs but neither have been able to put together the kind of consistency that is so necessary in key situations, and for the time being it looks like that problem did not rectify itself in the offseason. Hopefully things will change moving forward, but as of right now the kicking game looks like it might be an adventure again this year.
'Bama returns to the practice fields tomorrow afternoon for the fourth practice session of fall camp.