Post-spring report card: What Alabama does well, needs to do better
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Spring practice is over for Alabama football, but it’s still fresh on the brain.
Alabama will once again field one of the top teams in the nation. The Crimson Tide didn’t show a lot of plays during A-Day, but the talent still stood out. Particularly on defense.
Here are our grades from Alabama’s spring. The expectation is some of them will improve in the fall.
QB situation: A
Outside of maybe Clemson because it is guaranteed 2 more years with Trevor Lawrence, Alabama has the best quarterback situation in the country.
Tua Tagovailoa looks poised to make another run at the Heisman Trophy while leading Alabama back to the College Football Playoff. The key for Tagovailoa will be remaining healthy. He was banged up a lot last year.
This season, there is no Jalen Hurts to come off the bench and save Alabama if Tagovailoa is knocked out of a game. Mac Jones is a solid backup, but he doesn’t have the game experience yet. Alabama’s two young quarterbacks — Taulia Tagovailoa and Paul Tyson — have a lot of growing to do before they’re ready for game action.
Running game: B
There weren’t a ton of running lanes for the first-team offense because the first-team defense is really good. Najee Harris had a touchdown, and a few other good runs, but nothing crazy. He did try to hurdle, which didn’t fool the defender. The result of the play was Harris landing on his neck. He popped up immediately, but it didn’t look good. At some point, he has to cut down on the hurdling, especially against tacklers will more ill intent than a teammate.
Najee Harris: I’ll have “things I shouldn’t do in a spring game” for a thousand, Alex. pic.twitter.com/2k2aSzjaOt
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) April 13, 2019
The running game will mostly depend on the play of the offensive line. If they’re getting movement and creating holes, Harris should have a massive year. So will Brian Robinson. Both are talented and physical ball carriers.
Passing game (including WRs and TEs): B
First, Jerry Jeudy and others had some drops during A-Day, so we can’t overlook that. That said, this will be the strength of Alabama’s offense again this season. We all know about Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle. But with freshman John Metchie, Alabama could go five deep at wide receiver.
There’s also tight ends Miller Forristall and Cameron Latu, who made some nice catches during A-Day. Replacing Irv Smith Jr. won’t be easy, but Forristall and Latu have the ability to be threats in the passing game.
They will certainly get one-on-one opportunities as defenses look to take away the receivers. If the offensive line can hold up, Tua Tagovailoa should have another big year with all these weapons.
Offensive line: C
The offensive line is probably still a question mark because of injuries and new players stepping into bigger roles. Alabama’s pass rushers had strong performances on the first- and second-team defense during A-Day.
Starting right tackle Jedrick Wills missed the majority of spring with an injury. Matt Womack stepped in at right tackle for Wills while Deonte Brown lined up at right guard. Redshirt freshman Emil Ekiyor and redshirt junior Chris Owens worked at left guard and center, respectively, with the first-team offense. Alex Leatherwood is back at left tackle for the first time since replacing an injured Jonah Williams in the national championship game against Georgia during the 2017 season.
This is a talented group, but they need more time to develop together as a unit. Getting Wills back will send one of those guys to a backup role which will help the second unit as well.
Run defense: B
The first-team defense gave up one rushing touchdown, but there wasn’t much outside of that. Granted, Alabama wasn’t going to overwork Najee Harris during a scrimmage game, but it was positive to see the front seven hold up against the run.
Freshman DJ Dale looks ready to be an elite SEC nose tackle despite arriving on campus just a few months ago. Having guys like Raekwon Davis, LaBryan Ray, Anfernee Jennings and others gives Alabama a strong presence up front. Dylan Moses is one of the most talented linebackers in the country, and Josh McMillon looks ready to step up at the other inside linebacker spot.
Passing defense: A
Arguably the brightest spot for the entire team was the play of the first-team secondary. They picked off Tua Tagovailoa once, and could have had a couple of more takeaways.
This group has the chance to be one of the best in the country. That’s an impressive turnaround considering how much they were picked on in the 2018 postseason.
Trevon Diggs, Josh Jobe and Patrick Surtain II are all long, athletic corners who can be physical with receivers and cover down field. They gave up one bomb when Tua found Jeudy for a late touchdown, but other than that, the secondary was lockdown during A-Day. That’s a great sign for Alabama’s defense overall. A good pass rush and a good secondary will keep Alabama’s playing at a high level again this year.
Special teams: C
The only aspects of special teams you can judge during spring is punting and kicking because the return game isn’t live. Alabama made two field goals — one from Joseph Bulovas and one from hyped recruit Will Reichard. Alabama also missed two field goals — both by Bulovas. Take from that what you will. Reichard only got one opportunity, but he made good on it. Bulovas struggled, including on this extra point.
Death. Taxes. Bama kicking FGs. pic.twitter.com/LRNrQIz6P1
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) April 13, 2019
There’s a chance Alabama could use both throughout the year.
Mostly the offensive line. They just need more time together.
Alabama has finished in the SEC’s top 5 in yards per carry 9 times in the past 10 seasons. There’s no reason to panic or think that’s going to change in 2019. As pass heavy as the Tide were in 2018, they still averaged 5.21 yards per carry.
Alabama also needs to continue to develop its defensive depth. As we’ve seen, the first group is really good, but guys behind them need to step up so the starters aren’t worn down throughout the season.