As the final gasping breath of fooball before a 5-month drought, the A-Day spring game is often a source of hyper-scrutiny where every positive takeaway about one player or position group means there’s a negative for the opposing group. It’s ultimately a zero-sum game, and Nick Saban warns us every year about reading too much into what happens.
So, we’re going to do just that.
The White team consisted of the first team offense and second team defense, while the Crimson was the first team defense and 2nd team offense. There was a huge glut of players missing for various reasons (12 of which are 2-deep depth chart players), so we got a good look at many younger players on both teams that otherwise we might have never seen.
Rather than go through the flow of the game, I’m going to give a few quick thoughts on what we saw from each position group, and how I feel about them going into summer.
It’s felt kind of weird the last few weeks with Saban reiterating that Bryce Young was the guy at QB, rather than the usual noncommittal answers we’ve become used to in his career. Today, Young showed us why. He was comfortable, sharp, and displayed both his arm talent and natural quickness while going 25/44 for 333 yards and a touchdown. He honestly could have had 4 touchdowns with some things going differently. One was a brilliant throw where he deftly avoided a rusher and launched a ballistic dart across his body to sophomore Traeshon Holden, who dropped the TD catch.
Later, he threw a fade to Holden in the front corner of the end zone, and he made a phenomenal one-handed grab as the defensive back was shoving him out of bounds. On replay he might have gotten a foot down, but it was never stopped to be reviewed.
Then he went to escape the pocket and tossed one to Slade Bolden for what would have been a walk-in score, but it was ruled a sack as the defender had technically touched him.
As for the backups, Paul Tyson had a few decent throws but also looked uncomfortable in the pocket and mostly stuck to throwaways and check downs. Some of that had to do with the patchwork offensive line in front of him, but he’s clearly behind Bryce.
Walk-on Braxton Barker stepped in for freshman Jalen Milroe, and while he’s got surprising quickness and had no qualms flinging it deep, he also threw two interceptions in his limited attempts.
Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan both performed really well depite their offensive lines being mostly overwhelmed by the defensive front-sevens. Williams broke his fair share of tackles and displayed the ability to pick his way up the gut for nice gains, and had a few big sprints down the sideline on swing passes.
McClellan showed his athletic ability in the open field, embarrassing a number of different defenders on many different plays and displaying nice hands catching a few errant passes.
Keilan Robinson got a little time as a 3rd down back, and Kyle Edwards got a few carries, but the two are clearly behind McClellan and Williams.
Freshman Agiye Hall was the star of the show, as he made circus catch after circus catch all game long. The 2nd team DBs couldn’t do anything about him, and he even displayed some YAC ability to go along with his crazy catches when he stiff armed senior Daniel Wright into the dirt on a huge pick up.
Sophomore Traeshon Holden was the game’s leading receiver. He had a couple of rough drops and a bad screen play, but he also held on to some tough contested catches and was consistently open enough to get a big volume.
Javon Baker and Xavier Williams both struggled with drops, only bringing in 4 catches on a combined 12 targets. Not a great showing for the two that many expected to be at the top of the pecking order to replace DeVonta Smith.
Slade Bolden had a healthy 5 catches for 56 yards. He was targeted running slants and curls across the middle, and made a couple of tough-reaction grabs on laser beams from Bryce.
Thaiu Jones-Bell didn’t really get talked about, but he broke at least one tackle on all 3 of his catches. The dude is twitchy fast and compactly built.
Jahleel Billingsley made a few tough catches while getting rocked by a safety, and Cam Latu had the highlight of the day with a 52-yard catch and run for the only offensive touchdown in the game. For a guy that big, he straight up outran DeMarcco Hellams down the sideline for the score. He also pulled in another really impressive catch, though he did drop two as well.
Freshman Robbie Ouzts weighs every bit of the 260 he’s listed on the roster, and just flattened linebacker Demouy Kennedy on his one catch for the day.
This group always struggles at A-Day, and this year was no exception. Not only did they lose three starters to the Draft, but Emil Ekiyor was out with injury, as were top backups Pierce Quick and Amari Kight. The first team group mostly did alright, and I felt Dameion George played really well at right guard, and I liked what I saw, pass-blocking wise, from both Javion Cohen and Tommy Brown at left guard. Senior Kendall Randolph really seemed to struggle at right tackle against Chris Braswell.
The second team OL was glaringly overmatched by the second team pass rush, though. Tim Smith manhandled everyone up the middle (of course, Tim Smith being on the second team wasn’t exactly fair), and both true freshman tackles, Tommy Brockermeyer and JC Latham, looked very much like true freshmen.
This is a deep, talented, and experienced group, and it showed. Tim Smith, Jamil Burroughs, and Jah-Marien Latham, all back-up interior guys, were quite disruptive. The first grouping of D.J. Dale, LaBryan Ray, Justin Eboigbe, and Byron Young all did their job of shutting down the run game as well.
Will Anderson sat this one out (and it’s probably a good thing, or this would have ended without a single offensive touchdown), and Chris Braswell stepped up in his stead. The 2020 5-star didn’t see playing time his freshman year, but looked extremely explosive today. He had 5 tackles and led the way with 3 sacks, one of which was a strip sack on Bryce Young that was recovered for a touchdown.
Quandarrius Robinson had some nice rushes with the second team grouping, though he still needs to add some bulk to become a player that can hold up in the run game at the line of scrimmage. King Mwikuta had some nice rushes as well. Hopefully one or two of these guys can get to a point of being a rotational piece that can give Chris Allen and Anderson a break in games.
Christian Harris sat out this game, and Deontae Lawson stepped in and played lights out. The freshman had a tackle for loss and a couple of impressive pass break-ups. Looks kind of like another former #32 linebacker out of the Mobile-Theodore area...
Senior Jaylen Moody was a one-man wrecking crew as he played with speed and confidence. He looked like someone who’s been an SEC level starter for years, not someone vying to win the starting job. Honestly, I think he’s locked the job up at this point.
On the second team, Jackson Bratton made some really nice tackles, though Jase McClellan got the better of him on a couple of out routes out of the backfield. Demouy Kennedy and Ian Jackson each had a couple of nice blitzes. I really like the depth at this position.
Across from Josh Jobe, Jalyn Armour-Davis played exceptionally well. He had an amazing breakup on a deep shot down the sidelines to Javon Baker, and wound up leading the team in PBUs with 3. He may not have the job locked up yet, but he’s the clear leader and definitely helped himself today.
Only problem is, freshman Ga’Quincy McKinstry might have had an even better day. Kool-Aid was all over the field, snagging interceptions, pass breakups, and even a tackle for loss. He flat out-ran Xavier Williams on a deep shot and nearly caught the ball himself. He’s got a whole lot of personality to go along with his crazy talent, and it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.
Ronald Williams, Jr. on the other hand, was routinely victimized by Agiye Hall, and you have to think he’s clearly behind the other two in his bid for replacing Pat Surtain.
Brandon Turnage also turned some heads near the end of the game as he broke up back to back passes intended for the red-hot hall. He’s been a forgotten name the last couple of years as he’s worked to improve from a positionless athlete to a defensive back, and this was a nice showing.
Jordan Battle is obviously the leader here, but it looks like DeMarcco Hellams has held on to the other starting job after supplanting Daniel Wright in the playoffs last year. Hellams did get outrun by Latu on the big touchdown, but he also layed a whole bunch of huge hits, included popping Latu so hard down the seam that it forced an incompletion. He led the game with 12 tackles.
Kristian Story also had an interception, baiting and undercutting a bad throw from Braxton Barker. It looked like he might house it for a touchdown, but then he looked up and saw he was about to truck a hapless Nick Saban, and wound up fumbling the ball as someone tapped him from behind. The whole sequence had everyone laughing.
The punters were... underwhelming, as Sam Johnson averaged all of 27 yards per punt, making Charlie Scott’s 35 yards per punt look good.
Will Reichard also missed three field goals. Two were long-distance shots into the wind, but the third was a bad 33-yard miss. Hopefully the Alabama kicking curse hasn’t broken him too.
I was nervous about the receiver group coming in, and the lack of production from Xavier Williams and Javon Baker didn’t help assuage that. However, Agiye Hall definitely showed that he could become a guy that’s an explosive difference maker from day one, and Alabama will sorely need that. I think the passing game is definitely going to have some growing pains this year, even with Bryce Young’s undeniable talent. The running back group and tight ends should be able to help ease the transition, though.
Defensively, man, this unit has potential to be easily the most complete defensive unit since 2016. The front seven is crazy deep, and Jaylen Moody just might bring some fire to the middle linebacker position that we haven’t really had since Reuben Foster. Anderson and Allen are explosive edge rushers, and there’s potential budding depth behind them in Braswell. The corners look to be on track, with Malachi Moore and Brian Branch both returning for their second seasons and providing a lot of versatility. And Battle and Hellams at safety are a tandem of headhunting enforcers.