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Alabama Football 2018 A-Day: Initial Impressions

Mac Jones leads the Crimson squad to a steak dinner, and Alabama might just have a kicker.

NCAA Football: Alabama A-Day Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

If you did watch any of the game, the only thing that Joey Galloway and Kirk Herbstreit talked about the entire 2 hours was the QB competition. It was so annoying that Holly Rowe actually apologized to Saban in the final interview about how overblown the “QB controversy” had gotten.

So, here’s your bit of QB analysis in case you didn’t watch the game, and then I’m moving on to better subjects:

Jalen Hurts was 19/37 for 195 yards and a hail mary interception on the last play of the game. He added 71 yards rushing, but lost 38 on 7 touch-sacks. His first half looked just like his performances against Auburn, Clemson, and Georgia last year, bailing to the right and not really making much happen. He even threw a 3-yard screen toss into Najee Harris’s feet, and Alabama football twitter was about ready to crucify him.

But he picked things up in the third quarter, and did a good job of stepping up into the pocket under pressure, and even stood firm and delivered one strike across the middle as a rusher hit him square in the chest. He brought the White team out of their early 14-0 deficit with a consistent, if unspectacular, offense that kept ending in field goals (more on that later). Then, with the steaks on the line, down 5 points with under 2 minutes to go, he threw a couple of incomplete passes and a 1-yard check down to Irv Smith to end their chances with a turnover on downs.

Meanwhile, Mac Jones completed 23/35 for 289 yards and 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He was sacked 6 times for -35 yards, and gained 11 on two scrambles. Throwing against back-ups and a slew of walk-ons, Jones was crisp and looked like he was out there having fun playing the game. His accuracy, especially downfield, wasn’t always on point, but he just kept the ball moving.

He excelled at getting five yards over and over and over with dump-offs to running backs and short TE crossing routes. His one interception was a pretty bad one, as the tight end cut to the left for a deep corner, but Jones instead threw inside on a post. In this case, I’m pretty positive that the tight end made the right read and Jones didn’t, as both defensive backs were breaking inside at the time.

Then, after the turnover on downs at the end of the game, instead of running out the clock, Coach Locksley decided to let Mac uncork a deep bomb. Xavian Marks outran walk-on defensive Michael Collins and Jones let it fly. Marks did have to slow down a little to catch it, but he still had enough separation it wasn’t an issue and he got into the endzone for a 46-yard score to make it a 12 point game.

So, make of all of that what you will. Here are my other observations from the game:

  • First, how about Joseph Bulovas? The freshman kicker, who apparently struggled mightily last summer and took a redshirt, was a breath of fresh air today. He was 4/6 on field goals, with 3 of his attempts being 48 or 49 yards while another was 43. He was 50% on those, with the 43 and a 48 yarder both going just barely wide right. All of them were hit solidly, though, and had the leg to go in. He also was fairly consistently hitting his kickoffs into, and even out of, the endzone
  • The other freshman special teamer, punter Skyler DeLong, looks to have already won the job over any of the walk-ons. He doesn’t have the Howitzer Cannon of a leg that J.K. Scott did, but he consistently hit his punts between 40-45 yards when backed up. His real value, however, came in his accurate short-field punting. He downed 6/10 punts inside the 20, and never hit a single one into the endzone. He can put some crazy spins on the ball, making it bounce sideways and giving the returners a tough time trying to field his punts.
  • Nigel Knott, a hyped cornerback recruit a few years ago with his other-worldly athletic tests, has been totally invisible during his first 3 years on campus. He played left corner for the crimson team all night, and showed just why we haven’t seen much of him yet. He was a constant liability in the run game, with Brian Robinson trucking him a couple times and getting juked on another. He was trucked again by Chadarius Townsend on a 7-yard crossing route, and Townsend then went on for a 65 yard score. He also was knocked backwards multiple times by walk-on receiver Mac Hereford on comeback routes, and then let both Hereford and Marks slip by him deep, though neither pass was completed due to Jones overthrowing them.
  • LaBryan Ray was a monster on the 2nd team defensive line. He played like a 1st teamer, and was all over the place all day. He ended with 4 tackles, 2 sacks, and a swatted pass, but his energy and presence had more of an impact that just his pure stats.
  • Deonte Brown had a couple of bone-crunching pancakes on outside runs when he got to pull and be a lead-blocker.
  • Mac Jones didn’t really target deep down the field, so I didn’t get to see much of the safeties in coverage. Daniel Wright played all game on second team, and missed a few tackles in run support. Jared Mayden played the other safety, but would move up to corner in some situations, and Slade Bolden would take his place.
  • On the first team defensive line, it looks like Raekwon Davis is playing nose tackle, Quinnen Williams plays end, and Isaiah Buggs is a 3-Tech tackle with the Jack linebacker on his outside in a base defense. Davis nearly always stays in when in nickel, and Williams and Buggs will rotate who the other interior rusher is.
  • Chadarius Townsend only had the one catch, but boy did he look dangerous. He hit Nigel Knott square in the chest after catching the ball and knocked him on his butt before sprinting 65 yards around the corner and outrunning everyone. He has some serious speed.
  • Alex Leatherwood played right tackle and Jedrick Wills played right guard for the first team for much of the game. Leatherwood in particular looked really good pass blocking on third downs, as I saw him stymie a couple of speed rushes from Christian Miller and a counter-spin from Terrell Lewis.
  • Speaking of, Lewis was a monster all game. He didn’t get the stats, but he got really close to getting the QB many times, and looked near unblockable. If he stays healthy, this may be his last year at Alabama.
  • Elliot Baker finally appeared after going totally invisible last spring after posting the slowest 40-time on the team (well over 6 seconds...). He replaced Jonah Williams at left tackle, and did fairly decent. He improved his strength from last year and showed some ability to push a man backwards in the run game, but Lewis did still embarrass him a couple of times.
  • Scott Lashley played right tackle for the second team. He had some nasty pancake blocks in the run game, but got beat badly a couple of times on speed rushes around the outside.
  • Lester Cotton probably had the worst game of the starting 5 offensive linemen. He may be struggling with the swap from right to left guard.
  • Josh Casher replaced Cotton for a while at left guard, and played exceptionally well. He played some right guard too and I didn’t notice any mistakes then either. He just may force his way into the starting line up.
  • Richie Petitbon didn’t have a great game either on the second team offensive line, as I saw him get knocked backwards quite a few times. LaBryan Ray and Stephon Wynn both outmuscled him for nearly 5 yards on two different occasions.
  • Running back Brian Robinson was awesome. He’s probably the fastest running back on the team, and blends that with great size and the love for running through people. He’s improved both his vision and his lateral ability from his freshman year as well.
  • Running back Najee Harris too seemed to run with much better vision than he did as a freshman. He has uncanny patience behind the line of scrimmage and has a feel for picking his way through the traffic to slip through for more yards than he should.
  • Linebacker VanDarius Cowan had some bone-crunching tackles and stood up a couple of runners. However, when it came to chasing a play to the sideline, he always seemed to be a step or two behind.
  • Meanwhile, back-ups Josh McMillon and Markail Benton both looked really fast and instinctive at inside linebacker. Benton in particular was very impressive in pass coverage.
  • Ben Davis also got some time at inside linebacker. He looked pretty good blitzing, but looked lost when I watched him drop into zone coverage.
  • The first team cornerbacks were Trevon Diggs and Saivion Smith on the outside with Shyheim Carter playing STAR. Smith looked like the best corner on the field already, and is adept at press coverage and tracking the ball in the air. Carter played very well too, and stuck to Henry Ruggs in the slot like a tick on a dog.
    Diggs is probably still the weak link, but he’s light years ahead of Nigel Knott. He even snagged a nice interception on the last play of the game as Hurts tried to throw over his head.
  • Devonte Smith was Jalen Hurts’ favorite target. It’ll probably be between him and Jerry Jeudy, who is out with an injury, for the Tide’s top receiver in 2018.

That’s all I have for today, folks. It’s your last fix of Alabama Football until summer camps start in August, so enjoy it while you can.

Roll Tide!