There's an inherent problem with deciphering A-Day results. Every big play can presumably be interpreted either as brilliance by one side, incompetence by the other side, both, neither or any of a billion combinations of all of the above. Would it be better to see a lot of points, or a few? Lots of big plays, or none? Tons of first downs, or only a handful? And how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
Except . . . one thing it's pretty safe to say is that you really don't want to see a lot of turnovers. And yeah, sure you like seeing your own defense creating turnovers, but not as much as you hate seeing your own offense creating them. Because face it, bad offense can create turnovers without much help from the D. Hello, Blake Sims and Alec Morris.
Other than the turnovers, though, the nature of an intra-squad scrimmage is that it's pretty much impossible to make overall judgments about the team as the whole. What you can do, though, is look for glimpses of individual players. Some guys look outclassed out there. Some guys look like they're ready to dominate.
That's what we're here to figure out in the premiere 2013 edition of "From The Couch," the TV-viewer's look at Alabama football, where we will try to tell you who played well and how. You can see a lot by watching games on TV that you can't see from the field, but you know what you can't see? The part they don't show on TV. So what follows is an analysis of the first 57 minutes of the game. Sue me.
Folks, the news was not good here. Even AJ McCarron played poorly, which was a little bit shocking: his big first-quarter TD pass to Kenny Bell wasn't really the result of a great throw, or of finding an open man, it was just Bell beating Cyrus Jones to the ball. And after that, things went decidedly downhill, as AJ threw two pick sixes in the first half (although one was called back for offsides), and another interception in the second half.
Fortunately, while AJ's health may be near the top of Tide fans' concerns for 2013--not because it is fragile, but because he is a quarterback, quarterbacks get hurt, and we can't afford to lose him--his quarterback play is the least of our worries. AJ had a bad A-Day. Big whoop. If you are worried about AJ's ability to handle the load at QB, then my friend, you worry too much.
What is a concern is the play of the putative back-up, Sims. Hey, that was a nice 8-yard run he made on the Crimson's first play from scrimmage. (And now crickets chirp, while I try to think of something else nice to say.) Sims supposedly played well in the first two scrimmages, but on Saturday he never had any timing and frequently threw it off his back foot and/or up for grabs. Was it just a bad day? Whatever caused the bad play, it's a concern.
The good part is that we did have one quarterback who played well Saturday: Alec Morris, despite the silly fumble on a hurriedly-attempted handoff after a bad snap. (Saban to Morris, overheard after the play: "Why throw the ball to the guy? Just take the ball, follow him into the hole. Play the next play.") Cooper Bateman looked like a guy who will be able to play some day, but that day ain't today. I'm not sure if Parker McLeod or Phillip Ely hit that level, although Ely was at least flashing some new biceps, and McLeod's hideously ugly wounded duck turned out to be a perfectly-thrown 19-yard completion to Parker Barrineau. Luke Del Rio looked comfortable on the field, but only played a few plays, not enough for a real evaluation.
The general poor play of the quarterbacks makes you wonder whether it's really a good idea to try to play seven quarterbacks in the spring. Maybe we should save those snaps for three or four guys.
Morris looked to me, and pretty much everybody else I have heard discuss the game, like the backup.
We only had two scholarshipped running backs on the field. Neither of them stood out, neither of them looked bad.
But it was a little surprising to see T.J. Yeldon get so many touches and never break one. Yeldon ran hard, moved the pile at times, and made multiple linebackers whiff on him at the second level, but his yards per carry was a pedestrian 4.7.
Yeldon caught 5 passes for maybe 30 yards during the two-minute drill in the first half. Otherwise, that two-minute drill got little done.
Kenyon Drake didn't fire up too much excitement, but you couldn't say he had a bad day, either.
In the walk-on running back category, Trey Roberts is a definite upgrade from Ben Howell. Unfortunately for Roberts, he's going to be about four slots down the depth chart from where Howell was late in 2012.
Dee Hart only got two carries, and they kind of looked honorary, to tell the truth. But Hart was not in black, which may be a favorable sign for his ability to contribute this fall.
Amari Cooper got a chance to demonstrate his elusiveness on a couple of quick outs, but that's about all he showed. For a guy who is expected to educate SEC defensive backs this fall, class was not in session Saturday.
Christion Jones held on the first play of the game and fumbled on the second play of the game. He settled down and played well thereafter, but ball security has to be called a major concern at this point. I was a bit surprised that he started with the White team ahead of Chris Black and DeAndrew White.
It was feast or famine for Kenny Bell. Bell made a couple of big plays, including the aforementioned steal of a first-half TD grab, but later he had both a fumble and a drop.
Black made the catch of the day on a ball thrown behind him, but didn't have the breakout game some rumormongerers were predicting.
Jalston Fowler is apparently still not ready for contact.
Brian Vogler hauled in a couple of balls but didn't really light up TV screens. OJ Howard got less work than many fans hoped for, but did show some post-catch brutality to tacklers. Our first brief glimpse leads us to expect a physical running style from #88.
The OL is the hardest group for a fan to evaluate: whether you're watching on TV or in the stadium, a lot of the scrum is pretty much hidden from view.
But while it can be difficult to grade individual players without exhaustive film study, or maybe even with it, it's not hard to draw a few overall conclusions. On the biggest macro level, the play of the 1st-string OL against the 1st-string DL was roughly equivalent to the play of the 2nd-string OL versus the 2nd-string DL. Now if somebody can figure out what that means, tell me.
Generally speaking, though, the quarterbacks were not heavily pressured--making their poor play all the more concerning--and the "sacks" mostly looked like sacks that wouldn't have been sacks at all if quarterbacks were required to be tackled. What pressure was seen mostly came on end rushes against Leon Brown and circle route rushes against Cyrus Kouandjio.
It seemed that running backs on both sides of the ball never got stuffed, but never had big holes to break through into the second level.
As a unit, the DL struggled to generate pass rush pressure and didn't get into the backfield on running plays, either. The good part was that there were no big holes to run through. The big picture, both for the first-string units and the second-string units, is that no line dominated its counterparts.
Ed Stinson was the one guy I saw getting a pass rush push on multiple occasions. I was hoping to see more pressure out of Dalvin Tomlinson than transpired, but he was solid against the run. Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake looked like carbon copies of each other.
I'll be blunt: I don't think Anthony Orr has the speed to play at Alabama.
C.J. Mosley was all over the place and looked plenty physical and completely healthy. It really wasn't fair to the offense that Mosley was able to end plays with a touch, but to tell the truth I think he could've pretty much tackled everybody he got to anyway. He usually does when he's healthy.
Tana Patrick was credited with eight tackles, but the plays I saw weren't all that great. He whiffed badly on an early Yeldon run up the middle, and while he was consistently in the vicinity of guys he was trying to cover, he was always behind them, not in the lane.
If Nick Perry hadn't been there on his first of two interceptions of Blake Sim passes, Reggie Ragland would've had it. Ragland looked impressively physical against the run, and based on what I saw on Saturday, I'd pick him ahead of Patrick despite Patrick's statistical edge.
There is wealth at linebacker. Dillon Lee made a good impression on me, too. Ryan Anderson had a good day both on pass pressure and against the run. I didn't see the pass rush push from Denzell Devall that I was hoping for, though.
Tyler Owens made an excellent catch for a pick off Bateman, but then got beat by Trey Roberts for a 30-yard reception.
Looks like those rumors that Deion Belue will make a play to keep Alabama's streak of first-round defensive backs alive may have some legs. Belue was consistently sticky in coverage, with highlights including a forced fumble and a nifty over-the-shoulder deflection of an attempted McCarron-to-Cooper connection. He did give up a big gain on an early pass to Kenny Bell, but blame that one on McCarron getting all day to find a man and then throwing a nifty pass.
Despite giving up the early TD, also to Bell, Cyrus Jones looked very sharp for a man who has only been playing cornerback a month. He was a surprise starter over Geno Smith, and my money says he will start against Virginia Tech on August 31.
Nick Perry had two first-quarter picks, and later split Chris Black from the ball with a big hit. Nobody has been saying this guy's name, but his play on Saturday sure said it out loud.
Landon Collins was credited with five tackles and a pick but also got himself out of position on pass plays at least twice.
Jabriel Washington showed solid tackling form and made a play in coverage, too.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix scored two defensive TDs, but one of them was called back for an offsides penalty.
After hearing lots of Jarrick Williams talk from the practice field, we didn't see much of him on Saturday.
It really ain't incredibly rare for the fanbase to get all worked up about something that actually isn't an issue at all. #defensivebackfield
Cody Mandell was booming it on Saturday. He has improved noticeably every year as Alabama's punter, and has already progressed from sub-par to very good. He could be an all-star candidate if he significantly improves again this year. He looked like one on Saturday.
Cade Foster got to try the one short field goal. His 23-yarder was just inside the left upright.
A-Day scrimmage rules on kicks meant we didn't have an opportunity to evaluate the return teams.