Coming into the A-Day scrimmage, Tide fans were most excited to see the bevy of early enrollees, particularly at the offensive skill positions. The newcomers certainly didn’t disappoint.
True freshman WR Jerry Jeudy stole the show, hooking up early and often on spectacular plays with fellow freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa to take MVP honors for his five catch, 134 yard performance. Jeudy looked like a veteran out there, showing NFL-caliber speed, agility, body control, and hands. He may have been working with the second unit on this day, but something tells me he will be in the starting lineup when the Tide face Florida State. As a whole, the receivers filled up the stat sheet: Robert Foster caught two deep ones for 115 yards and a TD, Calvin Ridley grabbed 4-102-1, and T.J. Simmons closed out his great spring with 6-82-1.
RB Najee Harris made his presence known early as well, busting loose on a big cut-back run for 19 yards. Harris moved the pile a couple of times and showed off his athleticism with a jump-cut to bounce a power outside before hurdling over yet another defender. To be frank, as fun as they are, I’d prefer for Harris to put the hurdles away. He was nailed immediately upon landing and it would be tragic to lose him on such a play. He led all rushers with 70 yards on 17 carries.
A second point of interest was the quarterback position. Everyone wanted to see how Jalen Hurts has progressed under his new offensive coordinator as well as the ballyhooed Tua Tagovailoa. Both men acquitted themselves well. Hurts showed remarkable improvement on his deep ball from the pocket. The biggest key seemed to be the use of his lower body, as he took advantage of a clean pocket to deliver from a solid base and fire the ball authoritatively. It is virtually impossible to overthrow this receiving corps, and he seems to understand this better now. His best throw of the day was probably his final TD, a perfect touch pass to Calvin Ridley.
Jalen also showed some maturity in the way he was able to look off the safeties. He still struggled a bit going through his progressions and was hesitant to throw the ball between the hashes, several times opting to escape rather than step up and throw. There was also the terrible throw to Forristall that fell right into the lap of Trevon Diggs in the end zone. Of course, Jalen would have undoubtedly made plays with his legs in an actual game of tackle football rather than one-hand touch that the QBs play.
Tagovailoa was nothing short of spectacular in the first half of the game as he and his talented classmates took advantage of the second string defense. There is little question that, given a clean pocket, Tagovailoa is the better passer of the two. He was comfortable using the entire field, hit his check downs on several occasions, and consistently delivered on time and accurately. He finished with a phenomenal stat sheet, completing 17 of 29 for 313 yards and three TDs to Hurts’s 16-25-301-2.
Both guys struggled early in the second half as the defense started bringing pressure. After Tagovailoa looked like a Heisman contender in the first half, Saban moved him to the Crimson team to open the second and immediately blitzed him, probably to make sure the young man stays grounded. While neither passer was able to get much going, Jalen’s experience showed up as he handled the pressure better. Based on what we saw in this scrimmage, the difference in passing was nowhere near great enough to offset what Hurts can bring to the table with his legs. As mentioned on the broadcast, guys with his type of athleticism can make up for some limitations. You just don’t want them to be as pronounced as those we saw at the end of last season.
In general, both front sevens controlled the running game. Neither featured back, Harris nor Josh Jacobs, was able to crack four yards a carry when Najee’s one big one is removed, but the pair did combine for a Patriots-esque 86 yards on seven catches. The pass rush looked solid as well. Terrell Hall made perhaps the play of the game when he anticipated Tua’s swing pass, picked it off and took it to the house. Raekwon Davis created a slight breach of etiquette by knocking clear third-string QB Mac Jones to the ground for his lone sack among seven tackles. Davis was selected as the top lineman of the game. Mack Wilson and Jamar King each added a sack as well, while Keith Holcombe, Christian Miller, and Rashaan Evans tallied two apiece.
The secondary is a point of concern. The most glaring weakness, unfortunately, was Trevon Diggs. He was torched three times on deep passes and simply does not yet have the technique to play with that caliber of receiver. It will be interesting to see if he is still at cornerback in the fall. The Tide have plenty of options at that spot, including Tony Brown and Minkah Fitzpatrick who could move to that spot and allow Shyheim Carter or Hootie Jones to start at the star or safety position, respectively. Jared Mayden was out with injury and may be an option as well, along with Nigel Knott and Aaron Robinson. Robinson left the game after apparently spraining an ankle while tackling Simmons. It should be noted that the secondary looked much better in the second half, when the defensive coaches turned up some heat on the passers.
It’s always tough to judge the offensive line when it is going against the Alabama defense, but in general they performed OK. The right side had a hard time with communication on the pass rush, which is to be expected in their first live action together. Brian Robinson whiffed on a sack of Tua in the second half, something that he will need to correct if he wishes to play as a freshman.
On the kicking game, the venerable Cecil Hurt said it best:
Joseph Bulovas watching A-Day like... pic.twitter.com/DFIVtXFeBg— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) April 22, 2017
That about sums it up. Neither J.K. Scott nor Andy Pappanastos looked like a player that you would want to trust with that duty. Hopefully Bulovas is as good as advertised and comes in ready to go.
That’s about it. You can never glean too much from a scrimmage. This is nothing more than an event for the fans and players, and as Saban said after the game there is plenty to work on. Still, Marq Burnett captured Saban perfectly in the above photo and hit the nail on the head:
Tfw you got two pretty good QBs pic.twitter.com/VO7WOzynZU— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) April 22, 2017
He may not admit it, but I’d bet that Nick is feeling pretty good right now. If Alabama is able to be simply competent throwing the ball down the field, the defense and running game will overwhelm most everyone on the schedule. Here’s hoping they are able to progress further in the fall and find those answers at CB and OL.