For once, I got through an A-Day game without a commemorative sunburn. The ever-present clouds shaded the entire stadium for most of the day, keeping the fans cool and observant. The game itself, as always, will cause the entire Crimson Tide fan base to enter into a four month period of hand wringing over the offense, but it also gives us our first look at a number of players in a Crimson Tide uniform.
There were seven early enrollees from the 2015 recruiting class that have now been unveiled to the wanting eyes of the fans. I spent most of the day trying to pay most attention to these players, whether in game or in the warm ups to watch everything from how they performed to their attitude on the field.
A couple of freshman enrollees, running back Bo Scarbrough and offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy, have both suffered fairly major leg injuries and were sidelined for the game. For what its worth, Kennedy spent most of the day pacing up and down the sideline on a scooter while Scarbrough, for whatever reason, seems to have become best friends with the first team defensive line.
The ballyhooed quarterback came in with all kinds of fanfare, and Saban gave him plenty of chances to prove what he has to offer. My first impression of Barnett was "Wow, this kid is REALLY skinny." He most likely could easily add 20-30 pounds to his frame. In warmups, it was painfully obvious how much more elongated his throwing motion was than every other quarterback when throwing on straight drop backs, but he also looked more natural throwing on a bootleg than any of the others.
Barnett was given command of the second team offense every third drive behind David Cornwell and Cooper Bateman, and well, he looked like the 18-year old kid that he is. He was skittish in the pocket, and learned really fast that outrunning a defensive lineman to the sideline is not going to work in college like it did in high school. He did have a very nice scramble by stepping up in the pocket to avoid the rush and then picking up about 10 yards, and showed that he is definitely the best running quarterback threat on the roster.
He was also switched over to the first team offense near the end of the game, as Saban was doing his best to give the freshman every opportunity to see what this college ball game is all about. Barnett made a couple of bad decisions on throws that got picked off, but ended the game with a 29-yard touchdown to ArDarius Stewart on a deep crossing route that slipped just behind safety Eddie Jackson. All in all, Barnett is NOT ready for college ball just yet, and any hopes of a true freshman starting quarterback likely just got crushed beneath the foot of Coach Saban.
The former 4-star running back from Vigor High School in Mobile has, by attrition, moved up the ranks to the 4th overall running back behind Ronnie Clark. At 6'1", he fits right in with the other taller backs that Alabama's roster is now comprised of. He was given a few snaps with the second team offense, and took a carry around left end only to be leveled by a human missile named Marlon Humphrey. He left the game at never came back in at that point. Coach Saban mentioned that Flowers has been banged up pretty much since arriving on campus, and the hit he took from Humphrey only re-aggravated previous injuries.
Thompson closed the 2015 recruiting cycle as the highest ranked of the three safeties who signed with the Tide. At 6'2" 180, he has height and range, but an extremely wiry frame to go with it. In person, his shoulder pads still look disproportionate to his body, and he will need to add at least 15 pounds to survive in the SEC.
Since Alabama is VERY thin at the safety position and Thompson was considered the best of the newcomers, Nick Saban took the obvious route and moved Thompson to receiver. His route-running and running technique are extremely unpolished, and it showed. However, he made one extremely impressive one-handed catch over a defender down the sideline in pre-game warm ups. He played as an outside receiver for the second team offense opposite of Raheem Falkins, and was also one of the players given the duty of returning both kickoffs and punts.
Thompson displayed great ball skills and an uncanny feel for the game with the ball in his hand, but needs a lot of work in the weight room and some time to polish the intricacies of playing receiver.
The younger brother of former 1st round pick, Chance Warmack, Dallas was the back up right guard for the second team offense. When Alphonse Taylor went down with an injury, Warmack took over the right guard spot for the rest of the game and performed admirably. He was matched up one on one with either O.J. Smith or Josh Frazier for almost the entire game, and held his own. Warmack actually completely neutralized Smith almost every play, but Frazier successfully overpowered him on many occasions.
Warmack definitely showed a lot of promise for a freshman offensive lineman, and definitely has the making of a future starter among the interior offensive line.
Of all the early enrollees, Harrison looks to have the best shot of being a regular contributor from day one. at 6'3", he has unique height and range for a safety. He looked extremely fluid for someone his size, and displayed great mirroring technique in warm-ups.
He was the starting safety alongside Jonathan Cook with the second team defense, and performed admirably. He picked up an interception (even though it was really a gift from a really bad throw) and made his fare share of sound tackles. He lined up as a single deep safety, a shallow nickel corner, and even as a linebacker on a few plays. He displayed a great range in coverage with his speed, quick decisions, and pure physical length. He also did a good job in run support. On kickoff coverage, he worked as a gunner.
Harrison was a ball of energy all day, as I saw him dancing with teammates between almost every play. He just seemed to thrive in the atmosphere of Bryant-Denny Stadium. After his interception, I saw him prancing from one sideline to the other hoisting a golden belt in the air with Marlon Humphrey bouncing at his side.
Between his seemingly infectious personality, strong play, and unique versatility, Harrison has a great chance to be a regular contributor to the team as early as the season opener, and could very likely become a multi-year starter.
There will be a huge influx of many more freshmen (most more highly rated than these) in the summer. In his post game press conference, Saban alluded to the lack of depth at running back, receiver, and tight end would pave the way for the summer freshmen to be able to compete for playing time at those positions. He basically mentioned that he expected running back Damien Harris and tight end Hale Hentges to be contributors next season without actually saying their names. The 2015 recruiting class has all the makings of a great one, and the first five we have seen are a strong start for it.