A position-by-position look at Alabama after Saturday's scrimmage
A little more than a week after Nick Saban opened training camp by saying that the University of Alabama football team needed to “resurrect the identity of the Alabama football program,” the coach got his first real gauge of its progress Saturday.
So far, so good.
“I like this team,” he said. “I kind of feel like this team has a lot of togetherness. I think they like each other off the field. I think they need to take the brotherhood to the field a little bit.
“I think leadership is something that is a work in progress that we need to keep working on. I think we have a lot more maturity on offense in terms of older, more experienced players who have leadership qualities than we do on defense. But I think we certainly need to develop that.”
Despite steady rain and a 40-minute delay midway through the scrimmage due to lightning, the Crimson Tide got through everything without having to move indoors. That was important to Saban who wanted coaches to make play-calls from the press box and the players to perform where they’ll be hosting games.
While numerous student-athletes didn’t participate for a variety of reasons, junior running back Kenyan Drake led the team with 88 rushing yards and 65 receiving. He also scored a touchdown.
Here’s a position-by-position look at the Crimson Tide, which will hold its final camp scrimmage next Saturday.
Quarterbacks: Similar to what Alabama did in 2011 when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims were competing to start, the passing numbers for junior Jacob Coker and senior Blake Sims were not released.
“I think they both did a lot of good things,” Saban said. “I think they both have some things that they wish they had back, and I think they both probably made some choices and decisions that we can improve on. But I also think that both guys showed that they’re capable of doing what we need to do with them on offense so that we can be effective with the other players that we have.”
Saban noted that the playing conditions and weather delay made things difficult for the quarterbacks.
“I thought both guys handled that well too,” he said.
Running backs: None of the top three running backs (T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Drake) had more than six carries, while redshirt freshman Tyren Jones had 13 for 30 yards, most likely with the second unit against the first-team defense.
Something to note, though, was that Drake had four receptions as new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is trying to get him the ball more in space.
“I thought all three of our backs did very well,” Saban said.
Wide receivers: Saban only said that “receivers made plays,” but also had a few drops due to the poor conditions. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that junior Amari Cooper led the wideouts with four catches for 56 yards, or that senior Christion Jones and redshirt freshman Robert Foster had some big receptions as well. Days after Saban called redshirt freshman ArDarius Stewart the most improved among the young receivers he had three catches for 33 yards.
Tight ends: Fans looking for O.J. Howard numbers should get used to the fact that Alabama isn’t going to tip its hand about how much he could be a part of the passing game. He had no receptions on A-Day and barely saw the ball during the open practice on Fan Day.
Meanwhile, Saban announced that sophomore reserve Kurt Freitag’s turf toe was probably the most significant injury of the day.
“Those are always difficult and we probably need further to evaluate that,” he said.
Offensive line: Junior-college transfer Dominick Jackson’s chances of winning a starting job hit a bump when he sustained a sprained ankle that could sideline him up for a couple of weeks. He was in the mix at right guard, where senior Leon Brown has been out with a foot injury and sophomore Alphonse Taylor has been taking first-team reps.
“Cam Robinson is doing really well and has been doing really, really well all camp,” Saban said about the true freshman left tackle. “I’ve been encouraged by the offensive line to this point. Leon will probably start doing some stuff this week.
“We’ve been physical upfront. Dominick is a very physical player. He was certainly going to have a presence. (Ross) Pierschbacher, as a freshman, looks like a guy who may be able to contribute in the two-deep. So I’ve been kind of pleased with the way that group is coming along.”
Defensive line: Alabama’s line depth has all but vanished during training camp as the Crimson Tide was without four players for the scrimmage. Coming off suspensions Jarran Reed and Brandon Ivory finished their acclimation period and should rejoin teammates in full pads on Monday. Sophomore A’Shawn Robinson (sprained knee) and sophomore Dalvin Tomlinson (who had a toe stepped on Friday night) were both held out.
“I think Jonathan Allen’s really been playing well, I think (D.J.) Pettway’s really been playing well, Darren Lake has made some improvement,” Saban said. “(Joshua Frazier) is a freshman who’s getting lots of turns and lots of reps. So there are guys who are making a significant amount of improvement.”
Linebackers: Alabama held out senior Trey DePriest (knee), junior Denzel Devall (unknown) was limited and sophomore Tim Williams remains suspended. No one put up eye-popping numbers among the linebackers, although sophomore Reuben Foster did have a sack, and, most importantly, wasn’t mentioned with the injured players.
Nevertheless, Saban made a point to say that the overall defense has a ways to go: “I think we need to improve in coverage. I think we need to improve in mental errors. I think we need to improve how we strike people up front. I think we missed too many tackles today, so we’ve got to tackle a whole lot better. And we can’t give up big plays. And we’ve got to be able to pressure the quarterback better. So I think if we can do all those things better we’ll probably play against everybody better.”
Defensive backs: Saban only said that everyone’s playing a lot, including true freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, but no statistics were released. Sophomore cornerback Eddie Jackson (knee) could have participated, but was held out.
“Cyrus Jones has had a really good camp. Bradley Sylve’s done a really
good job so far. Those two guys have done a good job,” he said. “Maurice Smith has done a good job so far. So they’re all getting plenty of turns.”
A few days after being praised by defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (“He’s just starting to feel comfortable there, but he has a different skill set than those other three. He’s a little bit cover, athlete guy”), safety Geno Smith sustained a sprained knee and is expected to miss a few days.
Special teams: Although Alabama will have new kickers this season, with Adam Griffith taking over the kickoff and field-goal responsibilities and true freshman J.K. Scott slated to punt, Saban said he was “really pleased” with both. Griffith made 4 of 5 field-goal attempts Saturday, and Saban indicated that the miss was when he didn’t have his usual holder when trying to finish a possession before the storm hit.
Earlier in the week Saban said that Griffith had just missed his first field-goal attempt of camp: “As long as he doesn’t have the whole world evaluating every kick that he misses and the guy has to read the Internet and, you know, go see the psychiatrist because he gets criticized for every kick that he misses, I think he’s got a chance, a really good chance. If he doesn’t make the kick (against Auburn), we have to overcome whatever we have to do as a team so that it really doesn’t matter. It’s not all about that. We want to support him, we want to help him, we want him to do well, he wants to do well, he’s working hard, we’re encouraged by the progress that he’s made.”
(As released by the University of Alabama)
*Statistics include 11-on-11, situational drills, red area, goal line, 2-minute
Kenyan Drake: 6 rushes, 88 yards, 1 TD
T.J. Yeldon: 4 rushes, 35 yards
Tyren Jones: 13 rushes, 30 yards, 1 TD
Derrick Henry: 6 rushes, 23 yards, 1 TD
Kenyan Drake: 4 rec., 65 yards
Robert Foster: 2 rec., 57 yards
Amari Cooper: 4 rec., 56 yards, 1 TD
Christion Jones: 2 rec., 45 yards, 1 TD
ArDarius Stewart: 3 rec., 33 yards
Jonathan Allen: 5 tackles, 2 sacks
Dillon Lee: 4 tackles
Da’Shawn Hand: 4 tackles, 1 sack
Reuben Foster: 3 tackles, 1 sack
Reggie Ragland: 3 tackles