Happy Monday, everyone. As you may have heard, Alabama is a resounding #1 according to both the AP and the Coaches' Polls. The biggest reason for this is, of course, the defense:
I stand by my assessment that this is the fastest group of linebackers in the Nick Saban era.— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) August 20, 2016
This is underscored by the fact that a couple of linebackers have been seen working at the Money position so that they can sometimes stay on the field in those instances. The speed of this defense is going to be otherworldly, both in the four-man pass rush and in the back seven.
Perhaps we can call them "The Plague" as they swarm like locusts and result in extreme famine for the opposing offense.
Hey, we've got nothing better to do. What other nicknames can you think of for the defense in response to the WRs naming themselves "The Assassins?"
Moving on, Bill Connelly said it best over the weekend:
If your biggest problems are having to choose a new QB from among four blue-chips or maybe having to start a five-star underclassman on defense at some point, you don't have problems. You have Bama Problems.
That just about sums it up. While having a true freshman, even an immensely talented one, as your #4 CB isn't really ideal, it's a minor concern relative to those perennially faced by most teams. Potentially starting a true freshman at QB would be more of a concern, but it would also mean that Jalen Hurts is really good, which certainly seems to be the case. Some notes from Saturday's scrimmage:
That said, the consensus from those who have seen more of Alabama this month than I have is that in terms of consistently flashing big-play potential, Hurts has led the way in a big way. And, really, that's not exactly breaking news. Following last Saturday's scrimmage, Saban, in stating that the true freshman was doing "really good things" on a daily basis, said as much himself.
While Saban obviously has a great appreciation for the challenges multi-threat quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel and Deshaun Watson have presented to his defenses, he's still old school enough to appreciate the importance of having a field general at the position. Given that he's said time and time again that managerial skills rank at the top of his list of attributes in a starting quarterback, you'd think we would get it by now.
Hurts reportedly saw extensive action with the first unit Saturday, including some key work in specialty situations that is usually reserved for those who are expected to see the field. All three QBs made some mistakes, as QBs are wont to do against Alabama's defense, but it seems clear to most observers that Hurts is standing out in terms of big play ability, particularly in terms of escaping a ferocious pass rush. Saban also said that he doesn't really pay attention to the "chronological age" of the QBs, made a general comment about having more freshmen contribute than they have "in a while" (most since 2008, perhaps?), and mentioned that playing a freshman QB would simply require the coaching staff to have some patience and understanding.
Saban said that the staff is no closer to choosing a starter, but his statements lead you to believe that they are leaning toward a younger QB. Unlikely that it's Blake Barnett, as most accounts suggest that he is turning the ball over more than the other two.
There won't be a Derrick Henry-type player who can consistently make something out of nothing. Speaking of running backs, Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris are the top two guys, but neither has shown they can carry the load to this point. Both are talented and should develop into feature players with time. B.J. Emmons got a lot of reps on Saturday. He and Joshua Jacobs are the future 1-2 punch. As far as tackling goes, Saban just doesn't want the defenders to get sloppy.
Ideally, you don't want one guy carrying the mail in today's game. One shudders to think what the 2015 offense would have looked like had Derrick Henry gone down for any extended period. This season we should see carries split pretty well between at least three guys, not including the QB, and there will likely be some errors since none of them have had a ton of field time. Also, you have to wonder just how much the defense is affecting this. There were rumblings that Joshua Jacobs stood out a bit, apparently scored a couple TDs in red zone work. Keep an eye on him.
5. "I don't think, at the beginning of the scrimmage today, we tackled very well on defense, which is uncharacteristic for us. I think we got off to a little bit of a slow start after we sat around for a half hour to go out there to play."
6. "We can't give up big plays on defense. We have to be a good tackling team. We have to get turnovers. All those things are things that I think we need to improve on."
Saban is actually far less critical of the team at this juncture than he has been in some prior seasons. Outside of QB, the rest of this stuff comes down to his basic talking points: Limit mental mistakes, be more consistent, block better, tackle better, limit big plays on defense.
The two other younger defensive backs Saban praised Saturday were redshirt junior cornerback Anthony Averett and freshman safety/wide receiver Trevon Diggs. After not playing much during his first three years at Alabama, Averett is the clear favorite to be the fifth defensive back when the Tide goes into its nickel and dime defenses. Throughout fall camp, it's been Minkah Fitzpatrick at nickel back and Averett at the outside cornerback spot opposite No. 1 corner Marlon Humphrey when Alabama has been in nickel or dime.
Diggs apparently had an athletic interception in the scrimmage, and is making waves early. Good to hear that Averett, Hootie Jones, and Deionte Thompson are impressing him as well.
Oh, and this was a welcome sight:
Good to see Alabama AD Bill Battle (far right) back on the job. pic.twitter.com/Ry47mwTPd5— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) August 21, 2016
Good to see, indeed. Roll Tide, Coach.
Coming out of high school, Browne was the 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year while racking up practically every accolade possible. He redshirted in 2013, when Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was still head coach for most of the season. Browne spent the last two seasons backing up Cody Kessler.
You know who might be happiest about the decision after Browne? Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who no longer needs to worry about facing a quarterback who can run through his defense. Browne deserves his chance as a loyal servant to the program. But USC also needs something to escape the underachievement and circus-like antics dating back to Pete Carroll’s final season in 2009. And the quarterback to do that was freshman Sam Darnold. He is a game-changer, a pro-style quarterback who moves like a run-and-shoot quarterback. "I was disappointed in the outcome but confident in Coach Helton’s decision," Darnold said. "I have no desire to leave USC, this is the place for me."
Browne was the headliner of an Elite 11 class that also included our own Cooper Bateman. It would be an interesting storyline if the two made their first starts in the same game, four years later. It's interesting that they too were choosing between a mostly inexperienced fourth-year player and a younger, more mobile option.
It's sometime around 2 a.m. when the team makes it back to Columbus. Only the coaches are summoned back to the office at 8 a.m. for a meeting. Thirty seconds in, Bruce breaks the news: the entire defensive staff is through. Everyone is stunned. After all, as linebackers coach Bob Tucker put it, "We'd just won a bowl game" and finished 9-3. Nick Saban has just been fired for the first time in his career. He's suddenly a 30-year-old, unemployed defensive backs coach. He has a tireless work ethic, a mind for complex coverages and an eye for evaluating talent, yet he has nowhere to use it. It won't stay that way for long. The greatest college football coach of his generation will never face the chopping block again.
Should've thought twice about that one, Bucks.
Cincinnati quarterback AJ McCarron posted another solid showing in the Bengals' second preseason game – a 30-14 victory over the Detroit Lions on Thursday night. McCarron completed 10-of-15 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Lions after going 11-of-16 for 125 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati's preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings. But the former Alabama All-American had his coaches cringing in the third quarter when he scrambled away from pressure on a third-and-12 snap at the Cincinnati 20-yard line. Nearing the first down, McCarron chose to take on safety Tavon Wilson instead of sliding safely to the turf.
With seven games taking place Saturday, three former Crimson Tide standouts made significant contributions to the box score, while several others also saw plenty of snaps in the second week of preseason action. Former Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood recorded his first NFL touchdown in the Carolina Panthers’ 26-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. Norwood, in his third season, registered 31 yards on three receptions.
Lots of playing time for Alabama players thus far in the preseason, and some nice video at the second link. Derrick Henry continues to dole out punishment to LBs who are smaller than he is. That said, come on AJ. You ain't a fullback, son.
We'll close with a little humor for your Monday. First, Auburn calling for the home fans to wear orange against Clemson of all teams proves once and for all that there is absolutely nothing that they can't screw up over there:
Finally, a hype video for a holder might just be the best thing ever:
That's about it for today. Have a great week.