D.J. Fluker was once again with the first team at right tackle on Thursday afternoon, with Barrett Jones moving back inside to play right guard. For now, at least, it seems like the potential late re-shuffling of the offensive line is at least on hold. As of this afternoon, the starting offensive line, moving left to right, was James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, William Vlachos, Barrett Jones, and D.J. Fluker, as it has been for nearly all of fall camp.
With that said, though, don't necessary shelve the possibility of a late re-shuffle. It's still a bit odd to change the make-up of the line for a multiple days this close to the season opener, so it's at least a possibility that the staff may be legitimately torn here on which personnel grouping will be the most productive. Furthermore, with Alabama set to dine on a scrumptious cupcake slated for delivery to Bryant-Denny on September 4th, the staff does have a little bit of time to tinker if they feel it necessary. Clearly the ideal scenario would have a set starting five set in stone right now, but if that's not the case then I don't think there is any doubt that Joe Pendry and company will show no hesitation in making a mid-season change if the individual and group performances call for it.
In other practice news and notes, it should be noted that Kendall Kelly was finally cleared medically for practice. Consider that great news for the Gadsden product. Don't expect him to be a contributor in any meaningful way for a while -- Saban himself noted a couple of days ago that it would probably take him two or three weeks to work back into the routine -- but just the news that he has been medically cleared is great news in and of itself. As I wrote earlier, these vaguely described "heat-related" afflictions rarely end well, and at least now the potential specter of Kelly being forced onto medical scholarship has been removed. And lastly, while he may not be ready to contribute for a while, he's a defensive back with a pulse, something we are in desperate need for at the moment.
More good news for the defensive backfield came with the return of DeMarcus Milliner. Reports from yesterday had him back at full speed, and according to Chase Goodbread he wasted very little time working his way back into things this afternoon. That's very good news for 'Bama, simply because by all accounts Milliner will be called on as a meaningful contributor early and often in the Tide's 2010 campaign.
Speaking of less certain news, want a head-scratcher? Jerrell Harris was working with the inside linebackers yet again today, as he has ever since the end of the second scrimmage. Meanwhile, Chris Jordan and Nico Johnson were also working with the inside linebackers. Johnson did spend a day at Sam linebacker earlier this week, but he quickly moved back inside, and it's still a bit hard to see Harris beating out either Jordan or Hightower for a starting job on the interior. Most expect Jordan to be the starting Will linebacker when San Jose State rolls around, alongside Dont'a Hightower at Mike, so that puts both Johnson and Harris in back-up roles if both stay inside. Most expected that the Sam role would go to Harris, but with him spending this week on the inside, you have to think that is a bit unlikely at this point. Harris will still likely play on passing downs due to his raw athleticism and length, but if he's legitimately going to the starter at Sam, it's hard to fathom why they would have him spend the week before the season opener inside at Will linebacker.
Who does that leave as your starter at Sam linebacker then? I imagine that means the starting nod probably goes to Chavis Williams, the senior out of Dora. If it were legitimately going to be Nico Johnson he wouldn't have been moved back inside, and that leaves a battle between Williams and Jonathan Atchison. Admittedly Atchison is an impressive physical specimen, and he does look to have a bright future in Tuscaloosa, but if he is going to earn a starting job then he has very much flown under the radar in the process of doing so. And keep in mind that Williams starting at Sam is not necessarily a bad thing because Williams has been around a while and is a pretty long, athletic guy who is the prototypical build for the position. Even so, that said, him beating out Harris would clearly have to be considered a bit of a surprise. If it comes to pass, hopefully it has more to do with the light finally coming on for Williams than it has to do with Harris playing poorly.
All in all, we've got two more practices this week before all eyes turn toward San Jose State. Come Monday morning, we should get a depth chart -- or, at least, a confirmed list of the, ahem, "organizational groupings" -- and that will go a long way towards answering a lot of questions. Some areas are pretty set in stone, like at quarterback, tailback, and the defensive line, but on the offensive line, linebacker, and the defensive backfield we have quite a few question marks as to who will play where and in what situations. No, the ol' organizational groupings won't answer those questions entirely -- only the season itself will do that -- but at least we should some better ideas about the current uncertainties.
Finally, a note on kickers and punters, Saban was quoted in his evening press conference that he may make personnel decisions at both positions on the fly, depending on how players perform during pre-game warm-ups. Consider that a bad sign. I think we are fairly set with the platoon at place-kicker -- though it's going to be interesting to see how that plays out on intermediate range kicks -- but at punter it's still seemingly a toss-up between Jay Williams and Cody Mandell. Both have strong legs, but both have serious issues with consistency, and the fact that this is still a toss-up that will likely go down to the final minutes before kick-off this season likely says that neither of these two have been able to meaningfully separate themselves. Hopefully the performance will be up-to-par when the time comes, but I'm afraid that most will have a churning sensation in the pit of their stomachs when the punting team trots onto the field.