Of the 26 players to sign with Alabama from the 2017 class, a staggering 16 of them enrolled early this year. Usually when I write this piece each year, I only have to keep track of somewhere around 7-11 players, but the 16 made it much more difficult to keep my eyes on all of them at once.
Anyway, that’s my excuse if you don’t like what you read. Set the bar low so I can exceed expectations, right?
This was one of, if not the, best recruiting classes of all time, so the expectations for these players to contribute immediately is high. Even for those unable to usurp the entrenched starters in year one got the chance to show what they will bring to the football team over the course of the next 5 years.
Tua Tagovailoa- QB #13
Like everyone else, I came into this game excited to see if Tua’s lefty game translated well from the wide-open spread of Hawaiian high school ball. He did that and more, though the announcers’ incessant drooling over him during the first half really started to grate on my nerves.
Despite that, Tagovailoa came out firing, and launched a beautiful fade to T.J. Simmons, who pulled the ball in with a one-handed, juggling effort, in the back of the endzone. The Hawaiian hit a few other impressive passes before bouncing a ball off of Xavian Marks and Hootie Jones before a conveniently-placed Jerry Jeudy took the ball in for a score in a play reminiscent to the Ole Miss helmet pass two years ago.
Tua scored a third touchdown with a perfectly placed ball down the seam after Jerry Jeudy got a few inches of position on Aaron Robinson on a sluggo route.
He also got picked off by Terrell Hall at the line of scrimmage, as the 6’5” monster plucked his quick out from the air and took it back for the score.
Tua got a chance to play with the first team offense for a little bit in the second half, and went 1 out of 3 for 2 yards and took 2 sacks— looking a little more mortal than he did against the second team defense.
While playing for the white team, he completed 17 out of 29 passes for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns, while taking two sacks and throwing one interception.
Accuracy-wise, Tagovailoa put on a clinic all day with deep-outs, back shoulder fades, and seams. In the second half, he started to show that he is still a high school senior, throwing a couple of balls back across his body into the middle of the field and got very lucky he didn’t end up with two more interceptions on the nights.
Many will be calling him to supplant Jalen Hurts as the starter. Though he does have the upper hand in accuracy, ball placement, and release speed, he’ll have to make tremendous strides in toning back his risky throws.
Mac Jones- QB #10
While Tua Tagovialoa came in looking like a college player already, Mac Jones is absolutely the high school senior he should be. He’s still small and frail, and had some major misfires on his first few possessions.
As the game wore on, Jones seemed to settle down and made a few impressive plays, including one back shoulder fade to Jerry Jeudy down the left sideline. He also completed a pass off a bad snap, and showed off some surprising wheels taking another bad snap and scrambling for 8 yards up the middle.
All said, he completed 5 out of 11 for 45 yards and threw 2 interceptions.
Najee Harris- RB #22
With Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and Josh Jacobs all returning, its easy to forget that Alabama just signed the top recruit in the nation (and arguably the highest rated that Nick Saban has ever signed) in Najee Harris.
Harris was by far and away the leading rusher on the day, gaining 70 hard-fought yards on 17 carries.
On those 17 carries, Harris showed almost everything you could ask for in a running back. He showed exceptional patience in the backfield while snaking between blockers to wiggle through the best hole. He slipped out of what should have been sure tackles in the backfield with spins and cuts and managed to get outside and pick up a few yards. He displayed the ability to juke players in the open field with a stutter-step. He lowered his shoulder and drug defenders forward when he needed yards. He kept his balance despite being inches from the ground and lunged forward for another first down. And he hurdled Hootie Jones.
And all of that was just as a runner. He also caught 3 balls out of the backfield for 37 more yards and did a decent job pass blocking.
Oh, and he can seamlessly and naturally switch the ball from one hand to the other to protect it from incoming defenders— something than many NFL running backs struggle to do consistently.
Despite three great running backs returning ahead of him, Harris will find a way on the field this year.
Brian Robinson- RB #24
Robinson, on the other hand, showed his age against the first team Alabama defense. He mostly took every carry straight forward at full speed, getting a consistent 3 yards on every carry. His pure speed and size kept him going forward, but he showed no creativity or vision in his runs, leading to only 21 yards on 7 carries.
He also had a pretty rough day in pass blocking, including one embarrassing whiff on a blitzing Tony Brown.
Robinson has the talent, but will need some time to build his confidence as a runner.
Jerry Jeudy- WR #4
The former 5-star from Florida was the MVP for the game. What more is there to say?
He caught 5 balls for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns, most of which I’ve already mentioned above.
Jeudy displayed tremendous route-running ability in a manner that looked more like a New England Patriots receiver than someone who just graduated high school. Even when he didn’t manage to get totally open, he still pulled in a couple of throws in traffic, despite Aaron Robinson getting his hands all up in the way and on the ball.
The only negative play I saw from Jeudy all night was a fade in the left corner of the endzone, where he had position on the defender but only gave a half-hearted jump and let the ball bounce harmlessly off his hands and out of bounds.
Right now, he’s fourth on the depth chart behind veterans Calvin Ridley, Cam Sims, and Robert Foster, but don’t be surprised if he works his way in and supplants either Sims or Foster in the future.
Chadarius Townsend- WR #12
Townsend was not involved in any plays, and I don’t think I ever saw him on the field at all.
Tyrell Shavers- WR #14
Shavers was not involved in any plays, and I don’t think I ever saw him on the field at all.
Major Tennison- TE #88
Sames as Shavers and Townsend
Elliot Baker- OT #78
Sames as Shavers, Townsend, and Tennison
Alex Leatherwood- OT #70
Leatherwood was the starting right tackle for the second team offensive line. Though he physically looks the part of a college tackle, he struggled all day to prevent Terrell Hall and Jamey Mosley from speed rushing past him to disrupt plays in the backfield. He showed exceptional strength in the running game and when getting his hands on the rusher, but his feet were too slow to keep up with speed rushes or inside counters.
Isaiah Buggs- DL #49
A starter at defensive end in the spot vacated by Jonathan Allen, Buggs had a solid outing. He never closed to make any individual great plays, but he got 3 assisted tackles and was involved in the play almost every time he was on the field.
He displayed a relentless motor all afternoon, and I noticed him on camera more than any other defensive lineman. As D’Shawn Hand was out for the game, Buggs and Quinnen Williams were the unquestioned starters on either side of Da’Ron Payne.
Dylan Moses- ILB #7
Playing middle linebacker alongside Mack Wilson (and sometimes Shawn Jennings) for most the game, Moses made three tackles and picked up one more assisted tackle. None of his tackles were anything spectacular, but he got the job done.
I wasn’t watching closely enough to chart his every play, but I don’t remember any missed tackles or glaring coverage busts. With the offensive playcalling seeming to attack the sidelines and deep down the field for most of the game, the linebackers didn’t have much chance to show what they could do.
Kyriq McDonald- CB #26
The short, stout, 3-star recruit from Madison, AL really showed an impressive tenacity at the cornerback position, and really reminds me of former Tide corner, Javier Arenas (though, unfortunately, I don’t think McDonald is a kick returner).
He muscled out a receiver to make an interception on a quick out from Tua Tagovailoa on one play, and picked up one tackle one a bone-jarring hit that should not have come from someone of his stature.
Though not credited for any more tackles or pass breakups, McDonald made his presence felt when hitting receivers attempting to make catches, and I never saw him get beat on any coverages.
Daniel Wright- S #3
Wright played some in relief of Hootie Jones at safety, and typically played the deep safety in a cover 3 look, roaming the deep center of the field. He picked up a tackle and broke up a pass on a deep out on the left sideline, and almost picked it off. Other than that, he wasn’t involved in many plays.
Xavier McKinney- S #28
While Wright was a deep safety, McKinney picked up all of his reps as an in-the-box safety or in the “money” position, playing close to the line of scrimmage. He didn’t record any stats, but I watched his coverage whenever I could, and his transitions from one man to another in zone defenses were fluid and seamless, while he got beat in man-to-man on a slant route, though the QB never threw the ball to his man.
Thomas Fletcher- LS #45
I didn’t see any errant long snaps, so job well done to Fletcher and other redshirt freshman Scott Meyer.
This was a length piece with so many early enrollees this year, so kudos to you if you read it all the way through.
What did you think about the freshman? Excited for the future yet?