As the Texas A&M melodrama looked to be coming to a head, Alabama returned to the practice fields in further preparation for the road trip to State College this weekend. The brutal Tuscaloosa heat wave was finally broken in recent days, and with temperatures hovering in the high 60s the Tide got a preview of the cool, soggy weather the Crimson Tide will face this weekend. 'Bama will have to adjust accordingly, and much of those preparations will take place in the mid-week practices.
The offensive line continues to be a point of concern, based on the comments of both players and coaches. While it may be relieving to blame the continued struggles up front on the undersized Kent State defensive line, the coaching staff and the players have taken a more critical view, and along with Trent Richardson have been open and honest about the fact that UA needs to block better up front, the backs need to be more aggressive, and in general the Tide needs to re-establish the run game. The exact composition of the line itself remains up in the air, and while personnel changes may be made before the Tide takes the field this Saturday, the UA coaching staff is not going to make anyone outside of the immediate circle of the football program privy to such staff decisions beforehand. Until Saturday, all we can do is speculate.
The quarterback position also remains up in the air, and as expected Nick Saban is not tipping his hand one way or the other about future plans for the Tide's signal caller. When asked point blank about this issue earlier in the week, Saban gave a largely muddled response that merely deflected the question. He never expressly affirmed that 'Bama would continue rotating between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims every three series, but he did make it clear enough that both would continue to see meaningful playing time. A.J. McCarron will get the start this Saturday, but whether or not he can turn his solid performance against Kent State into more playing time against Penn State is something we won't know until kickoff this Saturday afternoon.
Kevin Norwood missed practice on Monday due to an ankle sprain, but he returned to the practice fields today, a key sign that he will be good to go against the Nittany Lions. Wednesday is generally the key day in Nick Saban practice parlance, and players who still sport the black, no contact practice jerseys on that day rarely see game action the following weekend. With Norwood returning on Tuesday, the odds look good that he will play this weekend, and consider that a good sign as he looks to have a spot in the receiver rotation with the absence of Darius Hanks and the continued uncertainty over Duron Carter.
In other quick hitters, the scout team has expanded this week in preparation for Penn State. Marvin Shinn has been mimicking wide receiver Derek Moye, Jeoffrey Pagan is mimicking defensive tackle Jordan Hill, and Darius Hanks is sporting the jersey of PSU wide receiver Justin Brown, among others. Nothing definite yet on the status of senior linebacker Chris Jordan, who is apparently healthy and in good standing with the program yet who did not play against Kent State; Jordan still has a redshirt season available and some have speculated he could be planning to take a redshirt this season. Dee Hart has started straight line sprinting as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL. Duron Carter is working out with the team and is seemingly on the same schedule as the rest of the team at this point; it may be a stretch to see him make an impact this weekend, but he figures to make a trip and it wouldn't be out of the question for him to get quality snaps.
'Bama will return to the practice fields tomorrow afternoon.