A few news and notes from the practice yesterday afternoon:
- Alabama officially crossed the halfway point in Spring practice today with the completion of the eighth practice session. And for the third consecutive practice, the Tide worked out in full pads. Today, however, brought an added element with the heat, as the temperature was approximately 80 degrees, the hottest we've seen this Spring. If nothing else, it was yet another long, tough practice by Saban, and he seemingly just keeps getting tougher and tougher on these guys.
- Nikita Stover gave us some clarification today on his injury. Stover told the media after practice that he pulled a hamstring earlier in practice, and he has yet to recover. He again spent today riding on the exercise bike while sporting the black no-contact jersey. When asked of his return, Stover was non-committal on returning this Spring, and mentioned the need to take things slowly to make sure the hamstring heals fully. It is really no surprise, in all honesty. He is seemingly going to miss until next week anyway, and it would probably not be a very bright idea to rush him back for the final couple of practices.
- Baron Huber provided a bit of news today as he spent some time working with the linebackers. Though Saban always stresses that these things are experimental and not permanent, you do have to wonder if Huber could be headed there long-term. We simply don't have much of a use for a traditional I-formation fullback, so Huber is never going to see any legitimate amount of playing there, aside from in short-yardage situations. He does seem to be a nice player, though, and he could probably contribute a bit at linebacker. At the very least, we're giving him some time at linebacker to see if he can contribute or not. In the meantime, as Coach Saban said, we can just move one of the H-backs / tight ends into the backfield to function as a lead blocker the handful of times we will actually have a use for that position.
- Brian Motley also saw a bit of a position change today. Of course, Motley broke a finger and was slated to miss the rest of Spring practice, but today Coach Saban had him doing some center snaps and working on some offensive line drills. A lot of that may very well be them just wanting to give Motley something to do instead of riding an exercise bike, but a lot of it probably is a legitimate look. There were rumblings that Motley may go back to the offensive line long before this development, and this will certainly do nothing to quell those rumors. At the very least, it seems his days at nose tackle may be over. Earlier in the Spring he was working at defensive end, and now he is working on the offensive line. That doesn't seem like the normal practice conditions for someone likely slated to stay at defensive tackle.
- Coach Saban said today that the biggest surprise of the Spring has been Drew Davis. As you know if you have read the previous seven updates, you know that Davis is the front-runner at right tackle, and that is something that has been met with skepticism by me. In particular, given Davis' previous lack of playing time in his first three years, I said that Davis would need major improvement to be a viable option at right tackle when the actual season rolled around. And, well, perhaps he has made those major improvements. At the very least, Saban is impressed, and he is a tough man to impress. Perhaps more than anyone else, keep your eye on Davis in the A-Day game.
- On a bit of an aside, hopefully Davis really has taken the step to the next level. Being objective about things, our offensive line looks very good going into the 2008 season... sans right tackle. Andre Smith is a fine left tackle, and he is probably the best lineman in the conference. Mike Johnson projects really well at guard, and should be a pretty big upgrade over Justin Britt. Antoine Caldwell is one of the nation's best centers and all around offensive linemen, and at right guard, Marlon Davis is a pretty solid player in his own right. It all looks really good... except right tackle. I thought Tyler Love may come in and take the job immediately - and for the record, I do think there is a great chance that happens as it is - and while he should be a great lineman at this level, it's always scary to see a true freshman starting on the offensive line. Hopefully someone, regardless of who, will step up and perform well at right tackle. If so, I do think this could be one of the best lines in the conference, and the best we've had at Alabama in several years.
- Javier Arenas continues to do well, and continues to be the front-runner to take the cornerback position opposite Kareem Jackson. Though a bit on the short side (5'9), Arenas is pretty stout (196 pounds), and obviously does have a ton of speed and athleticism. From all I can tell, there seems to be a general feeling that it is not that everyone else around him is struggling, but that he is performing quite well in his own right. That is definitely good news for Alabama, and it could pay big dividends this Fall. We already have two fine players in the defensive backfield, Rashad Johnson and Kareem Jackson, and with an upgrade at the other safety position, the rise of Arenas, and the appearance of Alonzo Lawrence this Fall could all combine to turn this unit into a very good pass defense. We weren't exactly shabby in pass defense last year -- despite one of the league's worst pass rushes -- and we should improve going into 2008.
- In the press conference yesterday, Coach Saban extended quite a good bit of thanks to the fan base. In particular he said the 92,000+ last year at the A-Day game was the most positive thing that he had seen since he had been at Alabama, and went on to further say that he was pleased that we were winning the Gridiron Bash competition by a literal mile before it was ultimately canceled. At the very least, it is nice that Saban has been impressed with all of the fan support that he and his football program the past fifteen months. I'm sure it is a nice surprise from all of the we-will-stone-you-to-death-if-you-lose-a-single-game-in-overtime-to-the-greatest-team-ever horror stories that he certainly had the hear when he decided to accept the Alabama job.
- Finally, today (Thursday) marks the beginning of the annual coaching clinic. Headlining the event will be New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Saban's long-time friend, who will come to both speak and to participate. Now while I'm sure we'll get some hits from the Auburn forums with the speculation that Saban is bringing in Belichick because he is desperate for clues as to how to stop the famed Spread Eagle, in all reality, as Saban himself admitted, clinics are mainly a tool to provide assistance to high school coaches. And, in that sense, it's really a recruiting tactic more than anything else. Building good relationships with the high school coaches ultimately helps your chances in steering their talent to your program, and that's really what this is all about.