Alabama football: 4 most critical position battles for 2020
The entire point of spring practice for college football programs is to improve and nurture young talent for the upcoming season without the additional rigor of preparing for an opponent right around the corner.
Those 15 practices, which for the Alabama Crimson Tide culminates with A-Day (date TBA), are the proving ground for the 105 players on the roster and the handful more of walk-ons.
Incoming early-enrollee freshmen get those 15 practices to fully acclimate themselves into life in Tuscaloosa and fully immerse themselves into the Crimson Tide football program. Returning starters see the hungry youngsters coming in as imminent threats, and use those 15 workouts to solidify their positions. And the players in between scratch and claw for every inch forward they possibly can.
In theory, all 22 positions (plus kickers, punters, long snappers and kick returners) are open for competition at any time. In reality, unless there is an injury, there are maybe a handful and change of true competitive spots.
Here are 4 of Alabama’s biggest position battles heading into 2020:
Mac Jones vs. Bryce Young
What to expect: This will certainly be the most visible position battle in the spring, as early-enrollee Young and returning semi-starter Jones will go throw for throw in every practice.
The early money is on Jones, and for good reason: He went 3-1 as the Alabama starter after Tua Tagovailoa’s twin injuries in 2019. Young, meanwhile, was setting records and earning 5-star recruiting huzzahs at Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, Calif.
Tagovailoa’s younger brother Taulia, a sophomore, will be in play here as well. But the junior Jones has a significant head start on both other QBs. Barring injury or an unforeseen circumstance, it would take a monster spring from Young to overtake Jones.
Projected winner: Jones, for now…
Christian Harris vs. Joshua McMillon vs. Dylan Moses vs. Shane Lee
What to expect: Precisely the opposite problem that Alabama had entering the 2019 season, 2020 sees a bumper crop of middle linebackers — as McMillon and Moses return from season-eating knee injuries to compete with 2019 replacements Harris and Lee.
Alabama wasn’t sure this would be a problem until after the Citrus Bowl, when McMillon was granted medical exemption for a 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA and Moses opted not to head to the NFL early. Harris was named to the Freshman All-SEC squad by the league coaches, and tied for 3rd in the league among all-SEC freshman defenders in tackles for loss with 5.5. Lee made ESPN.com’s Freshman All-American team and the Freshman All-SEC team by the league coaches.
Now with 4 starters for 2 spots, Alabama is rolling deep in the heart of its defense. Who will start in 2020? Anyone have a coin to flip?
Projected winners: The lucky coin says Harris and Moses.
DJ Dale vs. Christian Barmore
What to expect: Another situation where talent has outgrown the available positions, as Alabama has 2 outstanding defensive tackles in a 3-4 base defense that allows for only 1.
Dale started 10 games at DT in 2019 and recorded 17 tackles, including 3 for loss. Barmore was named to the Freshman All-SEC team by the league coaches, working in 12 games with 2 starts. He totaled 26 tackles, including 6 for loss (-26 yards) and 2 sacks (-12 yards)
Barmore clearly emerged as more of the pass-rushing threat as the season wore on, and would be penciled in at the top spot anywhere in the SEC except Alabama — where Dale works alongside him. A spirited spring and fall battle will take place at the anchor spot along the Crimson Tide’s defensive line before this one is hashed out.
Projected winner: Dale is a great talent. Barmore is an emerging freak. Advantage, Barmore.
Will Reichard vs. Joseph Bulovas
What to expect: We know, we know … the goal-post-hittingest team in college football history having a position battle at kicker is not unlike two 4th-graders smacking each other with couch pillows.
But this could actually be a debate in 2020, as Reichard’s injury-prone ways in 2020 gave Bulovas a chance to doink more PATs and field goals as the season wore on. Bulovas ended the season 8-of-11 on field goals and 59-of-61 on PAT kicks.
Reichard went 4-of-7 on field goals and 21-of-22 on PATs before injuring his hip accidentally hitting the kickoff tee with his foot in the Southern Miss game.
Projected winner: Using the “can’t lose job to injury” rationale, this is Reichard’s to lose.