While the A-Day game may generate most of the attention, undoubtedly the second scrimmage of the spring is the most important practice session of all of spring practice. Allowing room for progress from the first scrimmage while not being toned down for the fan-friendly structure of the A-Day game, the second scrimmage provides the best opportunity to showcase development as a whole and for individual players to stand out from the crowd. To that end, the good news resulting from today is that as a whole Nick Saban seemed relatively pleased with the overall performance of the team and the progress being made.
The greatest focus remains on the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims, and once again the two fought to a proverbial draw, with McCarron going 19-40 for 255 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while Sims posted a final line of 19-34 for 214, one touchdown and one interception . The completion percentages weren't as high as you would hope, but Saban spoke highly of the play of both players, and both players had a long touchdown pass each. Sims threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Will Lowery, but that notwithstanding by all accounts neither of the two have been able to significantly distinguish himself from the other, and it does not look like a starter will be named any time soon.
At wide receiver, Darius Hanks led the way with six catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns, and redshirt freshman DeAndrew White drew praise from Saban in the post-scrimmage press conference after grabbing five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Saban was not pleased with the development of the wide receiver corps after the scrimmage, and only three receivers showed up in the stats released by the UA media relations staff (Marquis Maze being the other receiver). Combine the complaints about the wide receivers with the praise of the quarterbacks, and you can reasonably assume that the receiver corps may be the scapegoat for McCarron and Sims combining to complete only 51% of their passing attempts.
Trent Richardson continues to be the workhorse at tailback, and not surprisingly Saban had nothing but glowing things to say about him after the scrimmage. His raw rushing statistics weren't overly impressive, but he stood out as a receiver out of the backfield. Meanwhile, Eddie Lacy wasn't quite as productive as he was a week ago, but for the second scrimmage in a row Demetrius Goode did not show up in the stat line. Dee Hart once again saw several carries, a telling sign that he is making an early case for playing time in 2011. And speaking of making a case today for playing time, Jalston Fowler scored a couple of touchdowns in short-yardage situations, so he may see a role as a short-yardage specialist in 2011.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw stole the show, combining for seventeen tackles, four TFL's, and two sacks. Hightower led the defense with ten tackles, and it certainly seems like if both can stay healthy they could have highly productive 2011 campaigns. In particular, by all accounts Hightower looks like a completely different player than he did a year ago. Likewise, speaking of linebackers, Trey DePriest continues to impress in his debut, and while depth at inside linebacker will be tough to overcome, he looks poised to earn playing time as a back-up and on special teams.
On the defensive line, Quinton Dial continues to make his case for meaningful playing time with a performance that yielded four tackles and a tackle for a loss. Likewise, Ed Stinson seems to be making the transition from Jack linebacker to defensive end with relative ease, and Darrington Sentimore looks to be well on his way to earning a role in the Rabbit package. On the whole, though, the performance of the defensive line is still a bit of a mixed proposition. Little, if anything, has been said of either Josh Chapman or Jesse Williams, and the overall concern is that the performance of this unit remains to be below what its raw talent would otherwise indicate.
In the defensive backfield, it's safe to assume that Robert Lester got the message from his demotion, as he responded with six tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass broken up. Aside from Lester's rebound, though, injuries continue to be an issue. Mark Barron participated today, shedding the black, no-contact jersey, but Dre Kirkpatrick was held out due to a thumb injury, and Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry remain in black jerseys. As a result, while the performance of Lester and the return of Barron is encouraging, it's hard to evaluate the progress of the defensive backfield with injuries keeping so many players out.
Finally, with the second scrimmage now over, Alabama has completed twelve practices this spring and only three practice sessions remain. 'Bama will return to practice on Tuesday before having one final walkthrough on Friday in anticipation of the A-Day game one week from today.