5 things to look for during Alabama's first scrimmage of training camp
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ For most of the freshmen it seems like they just arrived at the University of Alabama, but the clock is already ticking regarding the 2014 season.
With the season opener now just three weeks away, against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, the Crimson Tide will host its first scrimmage of training camp Saturday afternoon.
It’s only one of two, with the other being next Saturday, and both are important for the team’s preseason development.
“This first scrimmage is really to evaluate players, to see if we can get them in the right positions,” Nick Saban said. “I always talk about when the coaches aren’t in the huddle anymore, when the coaches aren’t making the calls, when you’ve got to go out there and make adjustments on your own – whether they’re blocking assignments or coverage adjustments or whatever it might be – which guys can sort of function and execute in that situation? It’s just another step of how close are you to being ready to play.”
Actually, it can be a pretty big test for players because in the next week or so the coaches will hold their version of cut-down day, which means they decide which players have the best chance to contribute and will be the ones they focus on the most this fall.
Players can still see their roles changed as the season develops, especially when injuries start to mount, but the general rule is that anyone who wants to be on the field this season needs to start showing it now.
“In my first scrimmage I was just out there running trying to make plays,” said junior linebacker Reggie Ragland, who played in 11 games during his first season in 2012, but almost exclusively on special teams. “Now I can diagnose and see the formation and do it as I should.
“You just have to take it one day at a time. At first it’s hard, but once you catch on, you’re like ‘Man, how did I mess up on that?”
Here are five things to keep an eye on regarding Saturday’s scrimmage (which is closed to the public):
1. The quarterback competition: This will be the first indication for how well Jake Coker, the transfer from Florida State, is learning the offense, and the first real side-by-side comparison with senior Blake Sims. Don’t be surprised if Coker gets as many or more passing plays because coaches already have a pretty good feel for Sims’ capabilities.
2. Reuben Foster: The most important thing for the sophomore interior linebacker during camp is to stay healthy … and by stay healthy we mean keep his head up when making tackles and not have another head/nick injury. While coaches will likely show caution and keep Trey DePriest (knee) on the sideline both Foster and true freshman Shaun Dion Hamilton could see a lot of snaps.
3. The cornerbacks: If true freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey do well the competition to start will kick into another gear, especially with sophomore Eddie Jackson doing everything he can to get back on the field as soon as possible following knee surgery in the spring. Juniors Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones have been working with the first unit, but if Alabama has the 1s facing the 2s like usual, the freshmen will be frequently matched up against Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones.
4. Position battles: There aren’t many starting spots up for grabs – outside of what’s been previously mentioned — but coaches will see how Alphonse Taylor and Dominick Jackson play in a game-like situation at right guard while Leon Brown is out with a foot injury. The scrimmage could be crucial for Nick Perry’s attempt to be the starting free safety, and with junior linebacker Denzel Devall limited at Friday morning’s practice of a two-a-day don’t be surprised if senior Xzavier Dickson is in on a lot of tackles.
5. Depth: Alabama will get a good feel for how big its rotation can be at key spots, including the defensive line and wide receiver. On the line, sophomore A’Shawn Robinson is out with a knee sprain while Brandon Ivory and Jarran Reed are coming off suspensions and won’t do more than individual drills. That’ll mean more reps for players like Jonathan Allen, Darren Lake, D.J. Pettway, Korren Kirven and Dalvin Tomlinson, and give freshmen like Da’Shawn Hand and Joshua Frazier a chance to show if they’re ready to play at this level.
Meanwhile, Saban said on Thursday that the receiving corps is off to a good start and the younger players have “really, really had good camps.”
“I think we have plenty of receivers who are capable of making plays,” he said. “Ardarius Stewart is probably the one guy who is really showing a whole lot of improvement from a year ago.”