When I watch A-day every year, it’s almost always solely to watch the freshmen. Sure, it’s fun to watch Tua Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy do their thing, but there’s nothing like getting to see the new players in action for the very first time.
I managed to make the trip to Tuscaloosa this year, so I got to watch players between the plays and in warm ups, and I took as many notes on the freshmen as I could. Here were my thoughts on each one:
WR #3 — John Metchie
This is the easy one. Everyone saw the 5 catches for 133 yards on his way to earning MVP of the game. There had already been talk the last couple of weeks that Metchie had been lighting it up in the scrimmages, so this was just a confirmation of how well he’s been playing.
The two biggest things that really stood out were his size and speed. He’s a smaller guy at 6’0” 195, but just looks physically ready. Some receivers look skinny and gangly, but Metchie looks like a powerful athlete. He was significantly more solidly built than any cornerback he was matched up against. And that showed in his releases. He made fellow freshman Scooby Carter look like mince meat in press coverage time and again. After the catch, he showed an impressive burst to pull away from tacklers to turn big catches into huge chunks of yards.
Plus that catch down the seam between a safety and trailing corner was just awesome.
QB #5 — Taulia Tagovailoa
Tua’s younger brother definitely joined the program with a lot of hype to live up to. His 6/9 for 93 yards with one touchdown and a pick were pretty solid for someone that’s only been in college for a couple of months, if nothing spectacular. He displayed a quick release and nice touch, especially on slants. He also showed off his ability to elude rushers in the pocket, and is more than comfortable stepping up into the pocket and taking off forwards, rather than backwards or sideways.
His touchdown to Jaylen Waddle was a thing of beauty. He scrambled to the left and threw a 15 yard dart across his body to Waddle at the front of the left sideline of the endzone. It was a tight window with a tough scrambling position to throw it from, but Tagovailoa threw it perfectly.
On the other hand, his interception was rough. It was an inside post route where he receiver had a few steps on his man, but Tagovailoa’s throw floated forever and wound up being easily picked off by the safety coming from the other side.
DB #11- Scooby Carter
Though he’s listed at 186, Carter looks to me like he’s barely pushing 170. Or maybe his pads and jersey are just a size too big. He’s got speed and cover skills to be sure, but he was routinely physically out-matched by both John Metchie and the massive Tyrell Shavers on the outside all day— particularly if they broke to the inside and just bodied him out of the way.
He also had a few instances where he kind of shied away from a tackle or taking on a block on outside runs. Again, just a size thing. Give him some time in the S&C program, and he’ll probably be ready to go (look what one year did for Josh Jobe).
QB #15 — Paul Tyson
Nick Saban said after the game that Tyson looked especially anxious in his few reps, and that was definitely the case. He only had 5 attempts, and 4 of those were either incomplete or intercepted. He mostly took a snap, turned straight to his first read, then hesitated before throwing it at him. His interception was particularly ugly and he took about 6 steps too long to pull the trigger on an open crossing route, and linebacker Jaylen Moody picked it off easily as he waited in the next zone.
PK #16 — Will Reichard
The do-everything specialist absolutely dominated incumbent starter Joseph Bulovas in pre-warm ups, and made his only attempt in the game. He hit the ball straight and with a lot of loft under every single kick. However, I never saw him attempt anything that wasn’t straight down the middle. And there’s always the “kicking under pressure” thing that we won’t know about until he misses one in the 4th quarter in Baton Rouge.
As a punter, he did pretty well with getting distance, but didn’t quite have the hang time or consistency of either Skyler DeLong or Mike Bernier. He shanked more than his fair share in warm ups, though he was much better in the game itself.
His kickoffs were a bit of a weakness though, as he seemed to max out at landing the ball right around the 5 yard line.
LB #35 — Shane Lee
Like Metchie, Lee got a lot publicity for his performance Saturday, and it was definitely well deserved. He’s about as stout and built of a linebacker as you’ll see: he looks like a humanoid boulder flying around the field and knocking people down.
He played second team-defense alongside Markail Benton, but it looks to me like the competition for the starting second middle linebacker spot will come down to between him and Josh McMillon.
One concern coming out of high school was his lack of speed, and Lee pretty much blew that out of the water yesterday. He shut down pretty much every attempt for running back swing passes out of the backfield, and also outran the speedy Chadarius Townsend to the sideline on an outside run. He didn’t miss a tackle, easily leading the team with 8 tackles on the day.
He also got an interception on a slant route where he baited the QB by stepping in one direction and immediately crashing on the other receiver with his next step.
LB #44 — Kevin Harris
Harris didn’t get a whole lot of time on the field, and didn’t make any tackles. He mostly just played as a rush end, and didn’t make too much impact. He showed a quick first step, but didn’t have any answer to left tackle blocking him as soon as he was engaged.
OL #51 — Tanner Bowles
If he played, I never saw him.
DL #56 — Antonio Alfano
The nation’s #1 overall recruit from the 2019 class got plenty of playing time with the 2nd team defense, and the coaches already have him playing pretty much every position along the defensive line. Early in the game, they had him mostly focused on two-gap discipline and mush-rushing. He seemed a bit hesitant and unsure of himself for most of the first half (but, again, he’s been on campus for three months and the coaches already have him playing 3 different positions).
He settled down as time went on, though, and the coaches had him doing more pin-your-ears-back-and-go kind of rushes in the 4th quarter. By then, he was really making his presence felt in the pass rush, leading the team with 2 sacks. He speed rushed the right tackle and bull rushed from the inside, collapsing the pocket with regularity.
He did have some issues with finishing his rush with a tackle as Taulia escaped him a couple of times, and Jaylen Waddle made him faceplant on that double-reverse pass (though being asked to tackle Waddle in open field is a bit of no-win for a 280-pound lineman.)
OL #71 — Darrian Dalcourt
Dalcourt was the center for the second team for a large portion of the game, and played pretty well overall. I didn’t notice any glaring mistakes, and he usually held his own against Phidarian Mathis at the nose.
OL #72 — Pierce Quick
Quick mostly played left tackle, but I saw him at guard some, too. He definitely looks thin for a college lineman, but did a good job with handling any speed rushers around left end.
OL #73 — Evan Neal
He played left guard, between Dalcourt and Quick, for much of the game. The white team definitely favored calling run plays right behind Neal, and he almost always rewarded them with 2-3 yards of free space for the running back to get before the linebackers closed in. I also saw him sprint across the field to block for a screen one time, and it might have been the most terrifying thing I’ve seen on a football field. Mountains shouldn’t be able to run that fast.
OL #78 — Amari Kight
I didn’t see Kight play. He might have subbed in a few times, but the Crimson team normally always stuck with the first team offensive line.
DL #92 — Justin Eboigbe
Eboigbe has been a name that’s been tossed around a lot this spring as being someone who’s performing well in the scrimmages and practices. He is solidly on the second team defensive line, and both edge rushed and moved to the inside. Like Alfano, he seemed hesitant for much of the first half before gaining confidence in the second. He embarrassed Tommy Brown around right end a couple of times in the second half, and did a good job of collapsing the pocket when he bull-rushed.
DL #94 — D.J. Dale
Dale’s probably drawn the most praise this spring, and passed up Phidarian Mathis to work his way onto the first team defense as a nose tackle. With the Crimson offense running the ball little, Dale didn’t get a whole lot of action, but he really kept the middle bottled up whenever Najee Harris tried to run up the gut. He forced both Harris and Jerome Ford to reroute and go for a different hole 3 different times that I saw, which is a good day for a nose tackle.