(Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
Quarterback AJ McCarron noticed Lacy, from Geismar, La., looked like his old self. "Eddie looks great. He looks light on his feet," McCarron said Monday after the morning practice. "He’s making good cuts, catching the ball extremely well. I’m happy for him and I’m proud of him right now." Lacy also caught a scrimmage-high five passes for 25 yards. Teammate Jalston Fowler, who apparently split time at running back and H-back, caught three passes for 40 yards. McCarron said that will be a crucial facet of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s offense. "Both of those guys are extremely talented catching the ball out of the backfield," McCarron said of Lacy and Fowler. "I think all of our running backs catch the ball extremely well, and we’re going to need that. "We’re going to need to do some different things – free release the back, screens, all types of things. It’s the same game we’ve always played, but we’re going to need our running backs to be able to catch the ball if it’s spread out, whatever, so you can have different matchups in the game and create some mismatches."
The Alabama secondary is undergoing another makeover after losing three NFL draft picks, including a couple of high selections. The Crimson Tide navigated a similar situation in 2010. This time Alabama is trying to replace first-rounders Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick and fifth-round pick DeQuan Menzie from the nation’s top defense. "It really reminds me a lot of two years ago when we got a new guy Menzie, Dre’s a young player who started," coach Nick Saban said. "It’s a work in progress. How quickly those guys develop is going to be really important to how successful we are on defense."
Alabama has completed 14 practices with 14 more to go before the season opens against Michigan, and the Crimson Tide should be feeling the aches and pains just a bit. The excitement of preseason practice opening is finished. So is the fun of the first scrimmage. That happened Saturday. Alabama already has installed much of its offensive and defensive schemes, too. What’s left is refinement — and plenty of it before playing the Wolverines in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 1. "It’s being mental and giving effort every day, day in and day out," Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Like Coach (Nick Saban) said, just having important meetings, just got to be able to get over it. You’ll have some bumps and bruises, but you just got to be able to play through it."
"Nico is a guy that football is very, very important to," the coach said. "He’s really a good person. He’s always been very conscientious about how he does what he does and the example he sets for others. I think he’s always been a little shy about maybe saying something to somebody else, because he was so concerned being a perfectionist himself. "And now, he’s got a lot of experience and knowledge, I see him not only doing a good job of setting an example but also taking responsibility to correct other players and making them aware of the standard that everybody needs to play at so we have a chance to be successful."
"I remember playing Pee-Wee football as a six year old and we had big crowds and cheerleaders at every game," said Tide linebacker Nico Johnson, a native of Andalusia, Ala., who was recruited by Alabama, Auburn, LSU, USC, Florida State and Tennessee. "Even as little kids you understand the importance of football in this state, and that makes you take it very, very seriously. You have the right mindset for what it takes. In high school our stadium was always sold out. I don't want to take away from fans in other states, but I just can't imagine people caring for the sport like they do in Alabama. And trust me, recruits notice that and it makes playing in this state very attractive."
"Everybody kind of looks forward to the first scrimmage, and this is a little bit of a hump week in terms of guys continuing to improve and working on the things that we need to work on," he said. "We don’t have one player on our team who doesn’t have something he can improve on … and I think the players have responded really well, because we practiced really well the last three practices. Two yesterday and one today, and it was tough out there today."
On Tuesday, Alabama coach Nick Saban fielded his first question of the preseason on Michigan and Denard Robinson, the Wolverines' star quarterback. "I really don't think it's time to start talking about Michigan," Saban said. "Most of the time we talk when we've got one week to get ready for the game. With the first game we can take a few more days than that.
1. Barrett Jones (6-4, 305)
Rarely does a technically-refined offensive lineman earn top billing at a university with such tradition of producing flashy athletes at virtually every position but in the case of Do-Everything Jones (pictured above), the honor is well deserved. Since redshirting for the Tide in 2008, Jones has simply started 35 of the past 39 games, earning action at right guard (25 starts), left tackle (10 starts), as well as sliding over to play the three other positions up front, as well, when necessary. Despite earning First Team All-SEC honors (and third team All-American accolades by the Associated Press) in 2010 while at right guard, Jones was asked to move to the all-important blindside tackle position last season and starred there, earning the Outland Trophy as the nation's top lineman, as well as the Jacobs Blocking Trophy (SEC's top offensive lineman) and was a consensus All-American. This season, Saban is moving his top lineman once again; this time to the center position, where the same intelligence, quickness, balance and surprising anchor Jones demonstrated has demonstrated at guard and tackle will translate well. Jones is typically characterized as a try-hard player who gets by with excellent fundamentals and it is true that he uses his hands and feet very well to consistently defeat his opponent. However, while he isn't likely to cause anyone to compare his raw athleticism to former first round offensive tackles Tyron Smith (Dallas Cowboys, No. 9, 2011) or Joe Staley (San Francisco 49ers, No. 28, 2007), Jones is smooth and efficient when easing back at the snap in pass protection or getting to the second level. He latches on and keeps his feet moving on contact, rarely allowing his opponent to make the play even if he's relatively close to the ball-carrier. Saban has publicly compared Jones to Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, who saw action at all five positions during his 19 years with the Houston Oilers (and Tennessee Titans), and whom Saban saw up close when coaching defensive backs in Houston from 1988-1989.
"We have sports psychiatrists, sports psychologists that cover every issue," he said. "We have a peer intervention program that I would put up against anybody in the country. We talk about mental conditioning for success, setting goals for yourself, having a positive attitude towards the goals. We are constantly making an investment in our players making good decisions and understanding the consequences of bad decisions and how they can affect your future." Saban mentioned Alabama's "marvelous group of speakers" who have discussed not just drugs but gambling, domestic relations and other potential problem areas. But he also said that no amount of outside influence overcomes the inner quality of maturity. "Mature people have foresight. They can see what happens. They understand the consequences of their behavior. Sometimes immature people don't, (but) we most certainly want to develop that as quickly as we can."
Williams showed off his hands early last season when he caught a sharp pass that AJ McCarron squeezed between two Penn State defenders for a 5-yard touchdown. Without a proven option at the H-back position -- the place where Brad Smelley corralled 34 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns last season -- opportunities like that could come around more often for Williams. "With us having some new plays we’re going to have to have (Williams) doing some certain things," McCarron said. "You’re always going to have to expand as a player, you’re never going to be able to do just one thing and that’s it. Mike’s done a great job of making plays for us throughout his career. "He’ll continue to do a good job, I’m not worrying about him."