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2009 Spring Practice: Day Two And Three News And Notes

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With the first two practices now in the books, following the return from Spring Break, here goes a deeper look into some news and notes thus far:

  • The day two practice took place on the outdoor practice fields, and suffice it to say it did not please the ol' Nicktator. It should come as no great surprise that we didn't have much mental focus after returning from Spring Break, but Saban pretty much went off on everyone to reinforce the point that behavior like that would in no way be tolerated. We have work to get done, and a lot of improvement to make, and Saban isn't going to tolerate poor mental focus. I don't think much more should be read into it than that... Saban is just lighting a fire under these guys (and the fans) and making sure no one is resting on their laurels. 
  • Predictably, things looked a bit better on day three (Wednesday). We went to full pads for the first time, and though bad weather forced practice inside to the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility, focus and intensity were apparently improved. Again, considering who's running the show, that should come as no real surprise.
  • Though initially we all thought Brandon Fanney's transgression, whatever it was, was nothing major, apparently it's more serious than we originally thought. Fanney has missed three practices thus far, and there is no definite sign just yet of when he will return. And it's really bad news for Fanney. He was already going to get a major push for his starting job as it was, and this is really hurting him. At this point, with the continued development of Courtney Upshaw and the movement of Dont'a Hightower to Jack linebacker (at least situationally) -- not to mention Ed Stinson coming in this Fall -- you honestly have to think that Fanney is a bit expendable. We'd love to have him around because he's good against the run, but I highly doubt the coaching staff is crying in their beers over the situation. Whatever he did, it looks to have hurt him far more than it will hurt us. I personally wonder if he might be headed to defensive end when he returns.
  • The quarterback situation, as mentioned plenty before, is getting a lot of attention, but frankly there is just nothing to report. You can only determine so much by watching quarterbacks run drills, and the major determining factor is going to be how they perform in the upcoming scrimmages. Until we see how they perform in simulated live action drills, you really cannot say anything overly definitive aside from what's been said the past few months.
  • The offensive line, as expected, has been all over the place, and I don't think we should read too much into anything at this point. Of course we have no depth charts under the Nicktator's iron-fisted rule, but it has looked like JUCO transfer James Carpenter was working with the first team at left tackle. Aside from that, however, things have been a mess. William Vlachos is working at center and Saban said some positive things about his play, and then today David Ross, the top back-up at guard from a year ago, was also taking snaps at center. Moving forward, people are just going to be moving all over the place, and it's just something you have to accept without jumping the gun and making any rash presumptions. I think all we can definitely say at this point is that Mike Johnson will remain as the starter at left guard, and the other four positions are totally up in the air.
  • Speaking of the offensive line, we are seeing some positive development from the young guys. Tyler Love has really drew some positive reviews thus far, as the former five-star recruit has not only gotten healthy but bulked up a bit. Moreover, John Michael Boswell continues to play well, and he looks to be making a legitimate run at playing time, and Barrett Jones continues to develop nicely. He still needs to add some more weight, but with his athleticism and intelligence, not to mention work ethic, he'll be a factor somewhere on the line sooner rather than later.
  • One more note on the offensive line... keep your eye on Chance Warmack. He was a three-star last year who got very little recruiting attention, but he dominated the Nike camp in Tuscaloosa last year, Saban and company offered immediately, and he jumped at the offer. He's a very smart kid who enrolled early, and he's going through Spring practice now. Do not sell short on this kid. Most offensive linemen need a year or two in a college S&C program to be physically ready, but it's clear that Warmack is physically ready right now, and the intelligence is clearly there to handle the mental aspect of the game. Make no mistake about it, he's going to make a serious run at playing at right guard this season.
  • At tailback, it seems there is good news on Roy Upchurch. After neck surgery a few months back, I was afraid that Upchurch may be headed the way of the medical scholarship, but fortunately things seem to be looking better. He's sporting the no-contact black jersey, and will do so all Spring, but he's going through just about all of the drills and he certainly doesn't look like an imminent medical scholarship casualty. I cannot help but feel that he will be good to go this Fall. 
  • At wide receiver, it's basically the same ol' faces, and essentially the same problems as before. Julio is a once-in-a-generation player, but after that no one knows. Maze has the ability to get open deep, but he still needs to develop route-running techniques on short and intermediate routes, and we have no clue if we have anyone who can consistently get it to him deep. Earl Alexander has a great physical make-up, and is developing further, but not having him in contact work is clearly hindering his development. Darius Hanks wows in practice, but we still need him to translate on the field. Brandon Gibson doesn't really stand out in any particular way, but he's a solid all around player. Again, it's all pretty much known commodities at this point, and frankly the real question may not be about the receivers, but whether or not we have a quarterback who can consistently get the ball to someone other than Julio. We didn't a year ago, and it's far from guaranteed that we will this year.
  • Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, Saban talked a good bit about the need to rush the passer after the first couple of days, and even hinted about putting someone at Jack linebacker who wasn't as adept at stopping the run. I've crunched the numbers on Adjusted Sack Rate for the 2008 season, and we were terrible at rushing the passer last year as well (not that it should come as any real surprise to someone paying attention), but it's clearly something we need to fix. This past year we were spectacular against the run, but our linebackers couldn't rush or cover the pass, and it looks like we may be making personnel moves to change that.
  • Terrence Cody continues to just get better and better. He keeps working hard in regard to his nutritional intake and the S&C program, and it's clearly paying off. If you look at the photos, he's noticeably a bit smaller than he was last year, and if he says his goal is playing at around 350 pounds this Fall, you have to figure he'll do just that. You have to tip your hat to Cody... since arriving at Alabama, he has not only met but far surpassed every goal and expectation set for him, and he looks to do that again in 2009. Truth be told, if he can stay healthy, he looks set for a monster year. With the two best centers from a year ago now moving to the NFL -- Arkansas' Johnathon Luigs and LSU's Brett Helms -- Cody ought to be a walking nightmare for centers. 
  • Aside from Cody, the defensive line's starting rotation seems to be fairly set right now. Cody is in the middle at nose guard, Deaderick remains at the natural defensive end position, and Lorenzo Washington has predictably stepped in to take Bobby Greenwood's combo end-tackle position. That's probably going to be the base unit moving forward, and if we stay healthy that will probably be how we start the season in 2009. Fortunately, though, the depth continues to improve. With Kerry Murphy now on campus, that has allowed us to move Marcel Dareus back out to defensive end, and the depth just present everywhere else in a way that we haven't seen in a long time, arguably since the early 1990's. And, thankfully, things will only improve this Fall when we see the arrival of Quinton Dial, Brandon Moore, Chris Bonds, Darrington Sentimore, Brandon Orr, and William Ming arrive. It's just hard to believe how much of a transformation this defensive line has undergone in the past twenty-four months.
  • The linebacker corps, much like the offensive line, is just in a state of flux, and a ton of different guys are being tried at a ton of different positions. It seems that the first team right now has Jerrell Harris at Sam, Rolando McClain at Mike, Cory Reamer at Will, and Dont'a Hightower at Jack. Coaches continue to rave about Hightower's abilities, and Harris is clearly starting to live up to his recruiting reputation. But wasn't he moving inside? Perhaps, but nothing is definite just now. About all we know right now is that Rolando McClain will be playing Mike on first and second down, but after that no one has a clue. There are probably about 10-12 different starting combinations you could come up with right now, and they'd all be legitimate... and that's before we factor in Nico Johnson, Tana Patrick, and Ed Stinson this Fall. Just as was the case with the offensive line, don't read too much into anything, and realize the situation as a whole is extremely fluid. 
  • The defensive backfield is also in a state of flux. Burton Scott is now being tried at corner, and not safety, but we are trying several different players in Rashad Johnson's old role. Fortunately it seems like we will leave Justin Woodall where he was a year ago -- which personally gives me a great sigh of relief -- and then try to find a replacement somewhere else on the roster for Johnson's old free safety position. Most interestingly has been that Robby Green, formerly a cornerback, has been working at that position, and frankly he's probably the one guy who is most similar in terms of skill set to what Johnson was. It also seems that from Saban's comments that Mark Barron might be playing more of the role currently occupied by Woodall, and we have tried several different players at free safety, including Ali Sharrief. And unfortunately, I still haven't heard Alonzo Lawrence's name mentioned, but hopefully that will change.  All told, we really don't know a whole lot right now. I think we generally know the guys who will be playing, and as a whole the athleticism and depth of the defensive backfield has greatly increased relative to last season, but it's hard to say for certain exactly who will be playing where right now. When I look at the defensive backfield right now, I see a lot of very exciting pieces, but no real way yet of knowing exactly how they all fit into the ultimate puzzle.
  • Finally, to close, the Crimson Tide will be off today (Thursday), before we get back in the swing of things again on Friday. The workout on Friday should be a fairly light workout in helmets and shorts, all in preparation for the first scrimmage of the Spring which will take place in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. We'll have a lot more knowledge about how everything looks to shake out following the first scrimmage.