Real life has rudely intruded for me the past week, so I haven't had an opportunity to post anything regarding the Fall practice developments to date. With that in mind, let's catch up with a few thoughts on all of the news to date:
Remember my so-called panic post regarding Dre Kirkpatrick and his shoulder six weeks ago? Unfortunately, I'm afraid to say my fears were confirmed with the news that for the second time in his career Kirkpatrick tore the labrum in his shoulder. Scary stuff. Consider this one of this situations where I would love to be wrong. Torn labrums are serious injuries, and while it's good news to hear that he is pretty healthy as of right now -- even though he is admittedly not 100% -- you do have to worry about his status moving forward. He'll play, of course, but his strength level is an unknown at this point, and there are no guarantees that he won't have even more structural issues pop up at a later date. For now, just hope for the best.
Marcell Dareus is practicing with the first team defense, which should be considered a very good sign regarding the uncertainty surrounding his eligibility over Agentgate. Keep in mind that we must replace both starting defensive ends from the 2009 team, and I imagine that if the staff were really concerned about him getting suspended for a significant period of time they would have someone else in his spot getting those valuable reps. I think it's an implied vote of confidence on behalf of the staff that the Agentgate scandal will largely prove harmless for Dareus.
Both A.J. McCarron and Philip Sims have largely drawn rave reviews so far this Fall, and while I'm not going to predict that either one will supplant McElroy this Fall -- though I will say that his hold on the starting position is more tenuous than some might think -- I do think that all of the Alabama faithful ought to go ahead and prepare themselves for the looming quarterback controversy. In the years to come there will be a constant and ongoing controversy between McCarron and Sims. It's almost as much of a certainty as the sun rising in the morning.
D.J. Fluker has dropped a considerable amount of weight, and just looking at him it's almost like he's a different person. Better yet, beyond the physical conditioning, the comments regarding his apparently outstanding work ethic by several teammates should portend great things to come for the redshirt freshman. At this point I think it's largely written in stone that he will be the starting right tackle, barring injury, and based on what has been said by his teammates, I'm betting that he plays at a pretty high level.
For better or for worse, the four starters in the defensive backfield look to be Dre Kirkpatrick, B.J. Scott, Mark Barron, and Robert Lester. That group looks to be fairly well solidified. Regarding the fifth and sixth defensive backs that will come onto the field, however, it's a completely open race. I don't have any doubt that Menzie, Fulton, Milliner, and Phelon Jones will play in 2010, but exactly how much they play is clearly up in the air. Some have Milliner leading for the fifth spot in the nickel package as of right now, but who really knows? Expect this to be a battle that changes all throughout camp and perhaps into the season as well.
The battle at tailback to keep your eye on is the fight for the third spot in the rotation, currently being waged between Demetrius Goode and Eddie Lacy. Expect that one to be decided by how well they pass protect and how well they catch the football out of the backfield. How they perform when the football is handed to them will probably be of relatively little consequence when it comes time to decide who gets the snaps come gameday.
Don'ta Hightower was apparently awarded a medical redshirt year by the NCAA after torn knee ligaments ended his 2009 campaign almost before it began. That's nice, of course, but even so it's almost certainly pointless. Barring any more injury setbacks, Hightower has five months left in Tuscaloosa and from there he will be moving on to the NFL. No football player with that much talent out to be playing for free.
Speaking of potential early entrants in the NFL Draft, enjoy the likes of Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Marcell Dareus, and Mark Barron while you can. With a healthy 2010 campaign, all will likely get first round grades by the NFL Draft Advisory Committee, and pursuant to those glowing reviews the bulk of that group will leave early. Players of their caliber are very rare, so just enjoy them while you can. No use fretting over the inevitable.
Random thought... the 2008 recruiting class included Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Marcell Dareus, Mark Barron, Terrence Cody, and Don'ta Hightower, among others. Is that the best Alabama recruiting class in the post-Bryant era? Even at this point, I think the answer is a resounding yes. I cannot think of another Alabama recruiting class in my lifetime that I would even consider putting in the same stratosphere with that one.
What about true freshmen that look to have a shot to play early? Any defensive back and any kicker will likely see some playing time, but outside of those groups I think it will be very, very hard for many true freshmen to avoid redshirts. We have a great deal of quality depth in front of them, and barring a run of injuries at a given position the smart move is just to save all of the years of eligibility that you can. A few will see the field -- Jalston Fowler says hello -- but most will redshirt and come up the hard way via the scout team.
The punt and kick returner jobs are still largely up in the air at this point. Trent Richardson and Julio Jones probably lead the way right now, but I think that is largely the result of Saban and company being more confident in them to protect the football -- to be clear, the first and foremost priority of any returner -- and admittedly I do believe we have more explosive options at our disposal. For now I think we are just throwing a bunch of guys back there and hoping for one of them to stand out from the crowd. Until then, expect to see Richardson and Jones.
Blake Sims is practicing with the team now and he is still seeing a lot of time at quarterback. He has taken some snaps at safety and I think it's clear that will ultimately be his home, but given the complexity of the Saban defense I imagine that if the coaching staff legitimately believed that he would contribute early in the defensive backfield, they'd have him there full-time from the outset and be giving him the crash course. Unless Sims can somehow work his way onto the field in a wildcat package or as a returner, expect him to redshirt in 2010.
Hopefully Jeramie Griffin can return and avoid the dreaded-medical scholarship tag, but even if he can I imagine it's going to be tough for him to get on the field regardless. He's a power back ideal for short-yardage situations, but with Ingram, Richardson, and Lacy on the roster, we already have plenty of short-yardage power backs on the field. There is just no real role for him at the moment. And furthermore, a note on injuries, the recurring nature of Griffin's knee injury, I think, showcases pretty well how little we actually know about player injuries. Everyone thought his injury was just a vanilla torn ACL and that everything was fine by this point, but now we find out that there was apparently more structural damage inside the knee and that he may have never fully recovered in the first place. Again, it just highlights that for all of the discussion about injuries, we are largely clueless regarding any specific details.
Someone had to greyshirt, and the ideal move was to greyshirt someone with no real chance of contributing early.The news that Harrison Jones will grayshirt should come as no real surprise. The ideal strategy regarding greyshirts is to use them, if necessary, on players who will clearly be long-term developmental projects, and I think it's clear that Jones fits that mold. He is agile and catches the football well, but he is going to have to bulk up significantly before he can hold his own at the line of scrimmage as a tight end, so while the news had to be disappointing for him personally, I don't think there is any doubt that Saban and company made the right decision.
One player that hasn't been mentioned at all this Fall, not even among those getting snaps with the second team? Tyler Love. The former five-star recruit is apparently buried pretty low on the non-existent depth chart, and it does not seem like he will be making any real impact this year. Now, of course, some players bloom later in their careers and admittedly Love did need some time in the S&C program, but even so by this point I think you are going to start seeing the dreaded "B" word labeled on him.
Consider the no-news as bad news for 2010 signee Deion Belue. If he has not been cleared by the NCAA at this point, it's just not going to happen. I imagine in the coming days we'll see him show up at one of the prep schools or a junior college.
Consider me a bit paranoid if you must, but the news that Robby Green is not currently on the 105-man roster does concern me a bit. Obviously Green cannot play in 2010, so in that regard it does make some sense to keep him off the field until the roster expands. On the other hand, though, the 105-man roster is absolutely loaded with walk-on scrubs who will never even get a chance at seeing mop-up duty against Georgia State, so why use a space for someone like that instead of Green? I hope I'm wrong, but I get the intuitive feeling that either Greene is in the proverbial doghouse or that there is something else going on with him.