The junior from Vigor High School near Mobile has been hard to miss during preseason practices. One minute he’s working with the running backs. The next, he’s working with the H-backs. On Wednesday, he lined up in the backfield as a fullback. In the I-formation, Yeldon lined up at tailback, took a handoff and followed Fowler through a hole. That appears how Fowler will be used as an H-back. “I’m pretty much just blocking and helping the running backs get open holes,” said Fowler, who added that it is “going pretty good so far, for the most part.”
Though Fowler is still practicing with the running backs and is in the team's backfield plans, he also has seen some practice time with a host of H-backs vying for playing time in the Crimson Tide's two-tight end formation. "I like both to tell you the truth," Fowler said of the two roles. " like opening holes for the running backs. ... It's complicated sometimes when I've got to do all this motion and all that other type of stuff, it gets crazy." Brad Smelley handled Alabama's H-back role last season, and was frequently in pre-snap motion to set himself up for either key blocks for UA's rushing attack, or a favorable coverage matchup for a pass route. "Jalston has to be able to come out of the backfield and catch the football for us," said quarterback AJ McCarron. "He's going to have to play some different positions he's not used to and to make some blocks. But he's done a good job. He's learned a lot in the spring and fall camp. I'm real confident in him."
He provided his frank thoughts on the bruising Jalston Fowler during Tuesday's session with reporters. "It’s like tackling a moving train," Milliner said. "You tense up because you know that contact is coming and to be ready for it.”
"I really didn't know when my time would come," Fluker said. "But now that I see the opportunity to get it, why not take advantage? Coach always says take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you. And also he always tell us anybody can lead a team. I take that to heed. He's right. Anybody can take that role." Fluker took to it immediately. After one trying day of practice he came into the locker room and noticed players hanging their heads, ready to take a break and relax. He wasn't having any of it. "I said, 'Look, let me tell y'all something: This is our team this year. We're going to define ourselves this year,' " Fluker said. "I said, 'Y'all, we're not having it this year. This is our team!' ... I told them that, and they believed it, and they came together with it. "Energy rubs off on everybody. It's kind of like a virus, a little bit. It spreads everywhere."
"I think you can practice too long for one particular game," he said Tuesday. "It may be the most important game that you ever play. Even when we played the national championship game, we only practiced so many days for that game. We worked on fundamentals and other things, tried to get the players in condition, and then technically go to work on what you need to do for that particular team." By installing packages weeks in advance, Alabama won't start at "square one" at the beginning of a week as big as Arkansas week. "We’ve got a little background in what we’re doing," Saban said. "The players kind of know what to expect. They’ve got a little bit of history of what we’re going to do against them and playing against them in the past. "I think it helps the preparation and I think the more quality reps you get the better opportunity you have to not make a lot of mental errors in the game."
Saban is the best coach in the nation. Smart doesn't get enough credit for his work. Burton Burns does an excellent job as running backs coach. Secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt should be a coordinator soon. Strength coach Scott Cochran (an LSU alum) does a great job. Worth watching is how Nussmeier works out this fall. He was hired off Washington's staff, but didn't call plays with the Huskies.
Corner DeMarcus Milliner, meanwhile, could go down as one of the best Tide corners ever. He's a shutdown defender who is skilled against the run while sometimes playing like a safety. Speedy Deion Belue had a strong spring and should start opposite Milliner to give 'Bama a strong secondary despite its personnel losses. John Fulton also remains in the mix and should be a valuable contributor. Of course, the Tide will make some mistakes in the defensive backfield, as to be expected. The hope is that the improvement is rapid and that breakdowns don't affect the defense as it did back in 2010 when it was coming off of its national title win over Texas. A strong pass rush is also a secondary's best friend. It may come down to the outside linebackers for that because no returning defensive lineman had more than one sack in 2011. The 2010 defense was very good, but nothing like last year's. While this year's unit may be a bit unproven, we'll start to find out a lot September 1 in Arlington against the Wolverines whether it is strong enough to repeat as national champs.
Running back Eddie Lacy, who is nursing ankle and knee injuries, was much more active during today's open session than he was at Tuesday's practice. He was running through a variety of drills that he had simply watched 24 hours earlier. He also appeared to have less tape on the afflicted areas. Freshman T.J. Yeldon was still receiving reps with the first team during specific drills.
Michigan also has a few housecleaning issues to clear up before the opening whistle. Star receiver Roy Roundtree should be ready after recently undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. However, the fates of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark have not been determined. Toussaint, a 1,000-yard rusher, was hit with an off-season DUI. Clark, a promising defensive end, has been charged with computer theft. Both players recently returned to practice after "indefinite" suspensions, but Hoke has not disclosed whether either will play against Alabama. Michigan is looking for its first Big Ten title since 2004. It is stuck with Michigan State and Nebraska in the much more difficult Legends division, but Hoke has made it clear that he's more interested in results than excuses. "Whether it's fair or not it doesn't matter," he said. "We have a schedule to play."
Can Michigan be better in 2012 but finish with a worse record than in 2011? Absolutely. That's the risk Michigan took by scheduling Alabama to open the season. No matter the result in Arlington, Texas, the future looks bright in Ann Arbor. The most important thing for Michigan is the Legends Division, because winning that gives the Wolverines a shot to return to the Rose Bowl. The key stretch for Michigan will come in late October, when they face Michigan State at the Big House a week before traveling to Lincoln to face Nebraska. The Wolverines need to break Michigan State's four-year stranglehold on that rivalry, but if they do, they can't relax. If they can go 2-0 in that stretch, they might reach Pasadena by way of Indianapolis.
9/1/ vs Alabama (at Cowboys Stadium): This will be an epic tilt between two of the premier schools in college football. Michigan is 20-6-1 all-time against the SEC. Pretty much everybody outside the state of Michigan and many inside the state are predicting that Alabama will crush U-M. I don’t subscribe to this theory. Alabama may very well win this game, but it won’t be a blow out. I’ll give the nod to the Tide here, but won’t be surprised if Michigan pulls the upset.
Robinson said he tries to hold himself to the standard set by those guys before him. He described the mold of a Michigan quarterback as something he takes to heart. “You have to be that guy that when you see him he is about business. When he is on the field he is all about business,” Robinson said. “He is the guy you look to for anything. If something is going wrong you can look to him, and he will have that confident smile. He’s the guy that says, ‘Okay team, we are going to do what it takes, we are going to win this game.’ He is the leader through thick and thin.”