Every year the A-Day scrimmage comes with much anticipation for a rabid fan base starved for football. Unfortunately we rarely learn much from what is typically an error-filled exhibition as young guys try to show out. This year's version was no exception.
About the only thing we are able to glean from that game is that the defense is well ahead of the offense at this point of the off-season, which is to be expected, but is exacerbated by the fact that the defense returns a ton of talent at all three levels. The re-tooled first-team offensive line, featuring three underclassmen and missing its best player in Cam Robinson, was simply abused all afternoon. This resulted in a 7-3 game score and took all of the steam out of the key QB and RB competitions.
Saban provided some insight into Alphonse Taylor being relegated to second team, saying that he will stay there unless he drops some weight. Apparently Shank showed up to camp at a rotund 345 pounds, a full ten pounds more than his playing weight last season and simply unacceptable for a senior. You'd have to believe that he will get it together and re-claim his starting position, which along with Robinson's return would create more of a veteran presence along the front. Korren Kirven was particularly overmatched at LT. In fact, his performance was so poor that I was surprised Saban never made a change to give the offense a better shot. Saban said after the scrimmage that the OL was certainly not settled, that those were the guys who simply "happened to" play on the first unit. Let's hope that fall camp produces a better unit than that.
Among the QBs, White team passers Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts certainly looked better than Crimson counterparts Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell, but that was more a function of the second-string lines matching up a little better than anything else. For the second consecutive spring, Cornwell seemingly came in with some hype and momentum but looked downright awful in the game, one nice completion to Calvin Ridley notwithstanding. For a player who was supposedly an elite pocket passer in high school, his accuracy down the field is appallingly poor. He was pretty clearly fourth in the competition, and it's hard to envision a path to playing time for him at this point.
Cooper Bateman's stat line looks terrible and he certainly didn't play well facing the first-team defense, but he made good decisions for the most part and looked like the veteran out there. The biggest issue with Bateman is a tendency to make slow reads, usually a function of a lack of confidence in what the QB sees. Of course, Nick Saban's defenses are known for doing that to outstanding QBs such as Brandon Allen and Dak Prescott, so it shouldn't be surprising that a young guy taking the reins for the first time would struggle against them. Bateman had a beautiful throw dropped by Ridley late in the scrimmage that would have improved the stat line dramatically.
On the White team, the young guys predictably showed flashes of brilliance mixed in with some bonehead freshman mistakes. Blake Barnett certainly looks like the guy with the most potential as a passer. His work in the weight room was apparent as he cut loose a few darts that would suggest vastly underrated arm strength. There were times during the scrimmage where Barnett looked like the clear leader, then he'd throw one late into triple coverage. Barnett provided the funniest moment of the scrimmage by trying to pull off a Fran Tarkenton impersonation that took him all the way around Coach Saban and resulted in about a 20-yard loss. Still, Blake's escapability and arm talent should keep him squarely in competition for the starting job.
Lastly, Jalen Hurts put up the best statistical performance of all, completing 11-of-15 passes and throwing the only TD. He too showed plenty of arm strength along with the athleticism that simply jumps off the page. The only criticism I'd have of Jalen is that he seemed to take off a little too soon in some occasions, suggesting more confidence in his own ability to run than make a read, which wouldn't be surprising for a true freshman. He also took five of the 14 allowed sacks on the day. I don't know whether he will sustain in this year's competition, but he certainly looks like a future star.
The starting offensive line woes also showed up in the running game as Bo Scarbrough was held to a paltry 2.2 yards per carry and never got the opportunity to show his talent. Damien Harris was something of a revelation on the other side, winning MVP honors in averaging over five a carry and going over 100 yards. He showed explosiveness that seemed to be lacking last season and looked like a more mature player both physically and mentally. Alabama fans should feel much better about the RB position after watching his performance.
On the receiving front, Calvin Ridley was clearly the #1 target on the Crimson team again. ArDarius Stewart, O.J. Howard, and Robert Foster lacked targets but that was again a product of the pass rush. Freshman TE Miller Forristall led all pass catchers with eight receptions and looked like a guy who can contribute right away. Derek Kief caught the lone TD from Hurts. Cam Sims and Daylon Charlot looked like guys who can make some noise as well, though cracking the top three stocked with veteran talent will be a tall order. I don't remember seeing transfer Gehrig Dieter out there.
Now, about that defense...
Folks, this is going to be an incredible year on that side of the ball. Tim Williams played with his hair on fire all afternoon and was largely responsible for the lack of offensive production. Neither Kirven nor true freshman RT Jonah Williams were able to slow him down. Rashaan Evans got a lot of action at Will and did his best C.J. Mosely impersonation, tallying 17 tackles and a sack. The starting secondary looked phenomenal as well. Ronnie Harrison closed out the action by picking off Cooper Bateman in the end zone to seal the victory for White. Imagine the unit we saw yesterday with a healthy Jonathan Allen added to the mix.
After seemingly getting it figured out last season, bad Adam Griffith showed up again. The poor guy shanked FG attempts all over the yard. Not sure what was going on there. JK Scott seemed to punt the ball well. Not much else can be taken from special teams play since they weren't live, but Xavian Marks looks to be a key piece in the kick return game.
In summary, this is about what we should have all expected. A young offense without an established leader at this point simply isn't on the level of a defense that will be able to dominate most opponents. By the time USC rolls around, things should be much more settled on the OL and Lane Kiffin has masterfully crafted game plans to accentuate his QB's strengths. Look for more of the same as we enter what is sure to be a long, slow summer.