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Jumbo Package: Nick Saban is remarkably upbeat after Alabama Football’s first scrimmage of 2021

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Let’s go win another one, boys.

Texas A&M vs Alabama Photo by UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

There weren’t a lot of positives to take away from the diamond this Easter weekend, but one was the emergence of Rory the Dog.

Since its opening night of SEC play with a shelling of No. 1 Arkansas, the Crimson Tide’s injury woes on the mound, a brutal schedule, and lack of timely hitting have the Crimson Tide program in a serious funk. Alabama sits at just 2-7 in the league after facing three straight programs ranked in the Top 6 of Baseball America’s Top 25.

This was always going to be a slow rebound for Coach Bohannon; no one seriously expected this to take anything less than a 3-5 year turnaround. But between losing last year to the ‘Rona, losing talent to the draft that the Tide can scarce afford, and two straight years of injury woes, the program is stuck in neutral until Alabama can stockpile more dudes — and a few healthy pitchers would be nice. Hitting coach Jerry Zulli has come under a lot of fire, but it’s not like the guy just suddenly started sucking after a decade of consistent results. The issue is simply one of a possible talent deficiency — if you can even you tell at this stage of their career, since Alabama fields the second-youngest team in the SEC.

I know we consistently caution patience around these parts, but you can’t make 18-year-olds become instant veterans or will players back to health.

Let’s check in on the 2022 NSD class, shall we:

Alabama currently sits with five commitments, good for the No. 16 class in the country. UA’s per commit grade average is 94.65, which is the fourth highest per commit average as things currently stand.

Everything is back to normal in Knoxville! A player didn’t shoot himself in a bar — his teammate did. Throw in four players absent after robbing a drug dealer and another player who is facing jail time for animal cruelty, and the Vols are just being the Vols again.

Heir apparent to a suddenly-dominant quarterback legacy, Bryce Young, lit it up in Friday’s first scrimmage:

Bryce Young, the favorite to replace Mac Jones as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback, had a strong showing. The former five-star recruit had in the range of four touchdown passes, including a couple against Alabama’s first-team defense. Two of the touchdown passes went to tight end Cameron Latu. The others went to wide receivers Javon Baker and Xavier Williams. The first Young-Latu touchdown was set up by a big gain on a pass from Young to wide receiver Slade Bolden. “I thought Bryce did a pretty good job of managing the game and was accurate with the ball and did a nice job,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “Made a few explosive plays. But I thought really did a good job of managing the whole situation on offense when he was in there.”

For the offseason that Tyson has had, Young has needed to really step up his game. And fortunately, he has.

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few is a name that is forever going to circulate on the Blue Blood checklist until he either takes a prime time job or leaves for the NBA. The latest suitor spurned was Oregon. Perhaps one day Duke will pry him away.

And this is relevant because Nate Oats is still coming up way too much for my liking connected to the vacant North Carolina job. And many still think the Tarheels will be Few’s next landing spot (Vegas lists him as the second-most likely candidate behind Hubert Davis).

But we can breathe a little easier — all #sauces out of Chapel Hill are saying that Williams assistant Davis is most likely the next man up. (And Roger called this one about 5 minutes after Roy Williams retired, BTW.)

One job we won’t have to worry about Coach Oats skipping town for is the Kansas Jayhawks. Despite facing five Level One infractions, KU gave Bill Self a lifetime contract — even if the NCAA nukes Kansas from orbit. What is his penalty for naughtiness? He forfeits half his salary every year KU is on probation. And that seems a substantial hit...until you realize they offset it with a $2.65 million retention bonus...yearly.

Lawrence is every bit the cesspit of Baton Rouge, only with friendly smiling Midwest faces and fields of winter wheat.

As far as the contract goes, look for lifetime deals to become a new normal for cash-flush programs with elite late-career coaches. We have already seen it in Alabama football, where the Board of Trustees routinely extended Nick Saban for seven-years at a time. The most valuable public employee in America doesn’t even worry about contract extensions any more though. His is set to expire at the end of the 2021 season, and his $9.1 million base salary will undoubtedly increase.

At this point, the Tom Izzos and Nick Sabans of the world don’t even need contracts — they can just show up for work and have school administrators pay them after the fact. But for the Bill Selfs and Mark Fews of the world, look for schools to increasingly view lifetime deals as smart investment.

The Miami Dolphins have put on a masterclass of patient franchise-building.

When they traded away Tunsil, selling off assets, and began tanking for Tua, it appeared that they had little idea where they wanted to go aside from “get a quarterback.” But almost three years later, it is clear the front office has a plan and have been aggressive in implementing it — including a wild 26-minute phone call this offseason that will very likely send Mac Jones to the San Francisco 49ers and very possibly reunite Smitty with Tagovailoa.

Excellent read here.

Speaking of wild, the NCAA Tournament bubble format was by most accounts wildly successful for the teams involved. It was the most intensive logistical undertaking in NCAA history.

Here’s what life was like inside the bubble, and all of the things teams have had to do to make postseason play a reality.

A decimated wide receiving corps has opened up a lot of playing time for new faces (including one I’m very curious to see if he can blow up — Xavier Williams). Saban was brutally honest in that no one has stepped up to become WR1 with John Metchie sidelined by ankle injury

Slade Bolden is the most experienced wide receiver in spring drills. Earlier this week, the head coach said the Tide doesn’t have any first-round picks going through spring.

In addition to Bolden, players like Javon Baker, Traeshon Holden and Xavier Williams worked with the first-team offense with Baker scoring a touchdown. No stats were released by UA.

“I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are new guys at those positions,” Saban said. “Without John Metchie playing out there, we’ve got — really other than Slade — not a whole lot of experience. I saw good things from everybody and I saw things that we definitely need to improve on. But for me to single out somebody that I thought was outstanding today, I’m not really ready to do that.”

One group we will be keeping a serious eye on is the offensive line. Alabama lost 89% of its offensive production this year, but OL is a group very long on talent and very thin on experience. I suspect there will be at least one of those fabulous freshmen earning a start this fall.

With Emil Ekiyor out for the spring, Evan Neal is the only starter back from a group that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top offensive line.

“I think they’ve got a lot of ability,” Saban said. “I think their heads [are] swimming probably a little bit right now with all the different things that they have to learn on offense but you’re also seeing probably a lot more things than you’re used to seeing out of the defense so that creates a lot of multiples for a young guy.”

One player that Saban has consistently praised this spring is early enrollee Kool Aid McKinstry. It’s going to be very hard to keep this kid off the field in the fall, despite playing one of the most demanding positions on the team.

“Kool-Aid is making progress,” Saban said. “I think he’s shown that he has some ability to contribute to the team. I think that he has to play with more consistency in his position. He needs to know what to do all the time. He’s like all the other young players out there. I think these guys find out that this is not going to be as easy as they thought it was. But I think he’s shown a lot of maturity. And he has played with toughness. I’m not satisfied with where he is, but I’m certainly pleased with the progress he’s making.

But overall, Saban seemed really pleased and upbeat...for a first scrimmage. And, yes, there were those “teachable moments” he loves so much.

Alabama football held its first scrimmage of the spring Friday, leaving coach Nick Saban pleased with the intensity of the afternoon session inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“There was a lot of good hitting, and there was a lot of good things to teach from,” he said.

Poll

Will Kool Aid McKinstry earn a starting job by season’s end?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Yes, as a nickel / dime DB. He’s too good to keep on the sideline.
    (361 votes)
  • 40%
    Not if everyone is healthy. Branch, Banks, Job, JAD, Moore & Hellams are a great veteran unit. But he’ll earn meaningful playing time.
    (277 votes)
  • 5%
    Maybe in mop-up duty and on special teams. DB is a very hard position for freshmen to master.
    (34 votes)
  • 0%
    Nope. He’ll be a bust. I’m a salty LSU fan.
    (6 votes)
678 votes total Vote Now