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Grading The Tide: Defense Owns The Second Scrimmage

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New staff writer Stephen Smith has been covering Alabama's practices the past three weeks. He joins us with this evaluation as the Tide wraps-up Spring camp.

Cyrus has one spot locked down. Does Jackson's move to safety clear the way for Tony Brown?
Cyrus has one spot locked down. Does Jackson's move to safety clear the way for Tony Brown?
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama football held its final scrimmage Saturday inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Production was balanced in the Crimson Tide's first matchup, but defense stole the show in the second scrimmage. Two young running backs combined for 58 rushing yards. In the passing game, sophomore receiver Robert Foster and junior tight end O.J. Howard came up with big plays.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends-Overall [A]

Robert Foster [A] - Robert Foster is emerging as Alabama's second option, opposite Chris Black. He led the team in receptions (6) and totaled 102 yards. His hands are starting to improve, and he is showcasing his game speed.

O. J. Howard [A] - O.J. Howard pulled in two catches in Alabama's first scrimmage. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior doubled his production again in the second scrimmage, netting four passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns. Howard is hungry, and is showing that he wants to be more involved in Alabama's offense. His development greatly expands the offense and provides a great safety valve over the middle.

Parker Barrineau [A]- Parker Barrineau is a competitor. A former scout team player, Barrineau looks to expand his role on the team as a capable receiver. His hands were consistent, as he brought in four passes for 81 yards. Barrineau looks to get increased playing time after catching just two passes in 17 games over his career. Saban certainly anticipates increased production after awarding Barrineau a scholarship following the Tide's loss to Ohio State.

Summary: Robert Foster is starting to understand his role as a physical receiver. He had a solid performance in Alabama's first scrimmage, but a huge step forward today. O.J. Howard looked engaged, and was consistently getting separation from defenders. Alabama's head coach Nick Saban has a role for Parker Barrineau, and it could be as a slot receiver. The 6-foot-0, 184-pound senior looked confident catching passes. Raheem Falkins didn't have a huge game, but he did managed to catch two passes and turn them into 46 yards.

Defense-Overall [A]

Jarran Reed [A]- Junior A'Shawn Robinson dominated in Alabama's first scrimmage, but Jarran Reed dominated the second scrimmage. Reed tallied five tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. Reed was also exceptional leading the defense against the run, limiting backs to just 82 yards on 30 carries.

Dalvin Tomlinson [A]- Dalvin Tomlinson, like Reed, excelled against the run. He collected five tackles and made it difficult for Alabama's offensive line to maintain blocks. This could be the season Dalvin lives up to his potential.

Ronnie Harrison [A]- True freshman safety Ronnie Harrison wants a spot in Alabama's secondary. The early enrollee has been impressive in practice, and his efforts took center stage. Harrison recorded four tackles and showcased solid ball skills. Given his ability to contribute immediately, coupled with thin depth at the safety spots, there is little-to-no chance the Tallahassee native gets a redshirt. A spot-starter is more likely, especially given Jackson's injury history.

Summary: Alabama's defense wrought havoc against an inconsistent Tide offensive line. Jarran Reed, Dalvin Tomlinson and Ronnie Harrison all played well, but Dillon Lee and Reuben Foster made statements, as well. Both players each had three tackles and an interception. Lee's production was particularly encouraging as we've all waited to see him develop into an every-down player. Foster played middle linebacker, alongside Reggie Ragland. Those look to be your starting inside tandem.

Interesting Stat

Alabama's offensive line is struggling to find its way, just days after Nick Saban implored the unit to be the identity of the offense. The line's inconsistency led to a rough outing for the running backs. Coach Saban did release running back stats, including one on redshirt freshman Lawrence Erekosima. The diminutive former walk-on (5'7" 175 pounds)  accounted for 29 yards on seven carries. Ronnie Clark had 29 yards on 17 attempts, while Derrick Henry, his reps being limited, gained 24 yards on just six carries. Running back, which was previously a position of depth, has seen some interesting names appear on the stat sheet. Erekosima is an interesting choice to be sure, as he is easily the smallest scholarship back Saban has trotted out in his tenure with the Tide.

Statements from Nick Saban

Nick Saban is waiting for a quarterback to take command of the team. As with the first scrimmage, Alabama did not releasing quarterback stats - nor is this unsurprising. In prior seasons with an open quarterback battle, Saban has also not released scrimmage numbers, notable last year when Jacob Coker and Blake Sims dueled until October for the undisputed starter spot. However, Saban didn't shy away from complimenting sophomore quarterback David Cornwell.

"David Cornwell has done probably as good a job as anybody this spring," Saban said. "He's bright. He understands the offense and he's shown great leadership." Saban ended the quarterback discussion by stating that the starter role is not something Alabama gives away, but it's something to be earned.

Saban was also impressed with Robert Foster. He said Foster is unsure of what to do at times, but he is a play maker. "Robert Foster has really come on," Saban said. "He plays fast when he knows what he's doing." Saban was also particularly pleased with Alabama's defense, but said its offensive line needs to start believing that it is the reason that the team is going to have success. He said the mindset isn't there right now. Though special teams did miss two 55-yard field goals, Coach Saban was generally complimentary of Adam Griffith's kicking. Griffith struggled all last season with a stress fracture in his lower back.

Finally, Coach Saban addressed the Alabama secondary. Saban said Eddie Jackson's transition to safety is "good." He said Jackson has played well, and that he and Geno Smith both know the defense. Further, Jackson's "experiment" at safety is by and large predicated upon the development of the guys in front of him, namely likely starters Tony Brown Cyrus Jones. Saban also said Geno, fresh off his second DUI arrest, has done what he needs to do at this point to be back on the team, but still has more work to do internally and that he is tested daily with goals and benchmarks from the coaches.

Looking ahead

Saturday's scrimmage was the final live action for the team before A-Day. Alabama will practice again on Tuesday and Thursday, before it entertains fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Apr. 18, 2015 2:00 CT. The game will not be televised in its entirety except for the SECN+ streaming service. Broadcast of the game will instead be on the SEC Network's "whip" coverage -- live look-ins of four spring games, played nearly simultaneously. In addition to the Crimson Tide's A-Day game, Mississippi State (11 CT,) Auburn (1 CT,) and LSU (1 CT) all take the field this Saturday to wrap up spring camp. Missouri tees it up late with a 4:00 CT start. Complete schedule and broadcast listings are available here.

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Ed. Note: Stephen's contact information is on his profile. You can follow follow him on Twitter @ESPN_Future