18 August 2008
Fall camp for 2008 has been concluded. In 19 practices, including 2 scrimmages in 16 days, the Tide players are in the middle of their 2nd consecutive day off before beginning "in season" practice.
With only 30 of the scholarship players in camp being seniors and juniors it is a young squad, but there has been significant progress over the course of fall camp.
Here are the things you need to know:
The best news is that Bama made it through fall camp healthy. Auburn, Florida, Georgia & Ole Miss all felt the unfortunate sting of severe injury to one, or more players expected to contribute. The only serious injury suffered by a Bama played was a hand injury to freshman walk-on Adam Fuller.
There have been some nagging things, which are to be expected, and senior wide receiver Will Oakley has missed the entire fall camp recovering from foot surgery – he is expected to join the team on Wednesday. Freshman offensive lineman Tyler Love has a small stress fracture issue just prior to the opening of fall camp, but he is practicing now without an extra brace of any kind.
Josh Chapman & Charlie Higgenbotham are both dealing with minor injuries right now, though both are expected back soon, possibly as early as tomorrow’s practice.
Darius Hanks spent the first 8 days of camp in a black no contact jersey after off season shoulder surgery, but he was cleared on day 9 and has been at 100% since.
Otherwise no one has spent more than 3 days in a black jersey. Bama has not had that type injury luck in recent years, and it is definitely great to see.
Is it luck? Is it conditioning? Is it something else?
The answer to all 3 of those questions is “yes.” There will always be luck involved with some injuries. Freaky things can happen, like Tyrone Prothro’s leg, and there is little that can be done to avoid that type of injury.
Conditioning can go a long way towards helping your injury situation. It isn’t a huge leap to say that athletes who are in better condition are less likely to have muscle pulls and strains. The better conditioned an athlete is, the less likely he is to get tired and have something strange happen after he loses mental focus.
But there’s more to it than that. Nick Saban subscribes to the “thud” theory in practice. What that means is that Tide players do not fully tackle in practices. Defenders will make solid contact with the upper body of the ball carrier, stopping forward progress, and then the play is whistled dead. Players are not taken to the ground, and there is no piling on. Avoiding those 2 situations helps to limit opportunities for injury.
Discipline is another issue. Look no further than the Auburn Tigers having lost a player to a broken leg after a fight this fall, or one during the spring to a cervical sprain after a fight. Or look at the Carolina Panthers who have had to suspend star receiver Steve Smith after he broke a teammate’s nose in a fight – by the way, that’s a far more appropriate response from a coaching staff than saying “they aren’t hurting anybody” like Auburn’s Tommy Tubberville gave us after a rash of fights in Auburn.
The Tide players seem to be on the same page. There has been physical play, and there have doubtless been some tempers flare. But things have remained within reason, and Bama has kept the true fighting contained to battling for playing time.
A guy moving from left guard to right guard, or from inside linebacker to outside linebacker isn’t something that stands out. But a guy changing sides of the ball? That’s a different story altogether.
Bama has had 3 of these changes during fall camp:
- Baron Huber opened fall camp at a different position (fullback) than where he closed spring practice (WILL linebacker). This move didn’t involve much of an adjustment for Huber, as he’d played fullback for all but 1 day of his Alabama career prior to the spring. This was more of a “move back”, but it showed this coaching staff’s willingness to move guys around to find the best combination of players.
- Demetrius Goode had his second consecutive newsworthy fall camp. Last year it was tearing an ACL during the first practice. This year it was making the move from running back to cornerback. With the Tide deep at the running back position, something had to give, and Goode’s athleticism should serve him well at a position where Bama needs people. Early reports indicate that he has looked good in basic coverage packages, but has struggled a little in some of the more complex packages – something that really shouldn’t be a surprise.
- Chris Jordan was given the opportunity at running back that he was promised. After 2 weeks of fall camp he was still 6th (or 8th if you count the 2 fullbacks) on the depth chart. With none of the 5 guys in front of him a senior, and the Tide expected to bring in one of the nation’s top running backs next season (Trent Richardson), playing time at the position seemed bleak for the big freshman. Linebacker, especially in the middle, isn’t in the same situation, though. Help is desperately needed there, and not just for this season. He’s only had 1 practice there, so it’s too early to really judge his progress, though Nick Saban had positive things to say about him after Saturday’s scrimmage.
Brian Motley remained at the center position that he moved to late in spring practice, something that surprised a lot of folks. This isn’t a position change, as much as it is a confirmation that a change made in the spring appears to be permanent, rather than just a reaction to a minor injury in the spring.
The easiest way to discuss the battle for playing time is to start with the positions that are more or less locked down.
On offense, the starting group is mostly set. There is still a battle within rotations at running back, wide receiver & tight end, but those battles will continue all season. The players in those rotations are mostly set, though.
At running back it looks as though the top 3 guys are going to be Glen Coffee, Terry Grant & Mark Ingram, with Roy Upchurch as the 4th guy.
At wide receiver I expect all 10 of Bama’s scholarship guys to get playing time early in the season. That will gradually thin over the course of the season, but all 9 guys who were in fall camp battled well, and the addition of Oakley this week makes the position deeper.
At tight end it is simply a matter of Colin Peek’s eligibility and Brad Smelley’s potential redshirt. Otherwise the other 4 tight ends will all play.
The offensive line hasn’t changed since day 1 of fall camp. Andre Smith, Mike Johnson, Antoine Caldwell, Marlon Davis & Drew Davis have not been challenged by the 2nd unit, and they appear to be the front 5 for the Tide.
Defense is another story altogether. Only 5 positions are set at this point – Rashad Johnson at free safety, Kareem Jackson at cornerback, Rolando McClain at MIKE linebacker & Brandon Deaderick and Bobby Greenwood at the defensive ends. The other 6 positions are still open – some more than others.
It looks like Javier Arenas has locked down the other cornerback spot, though he often slides to the star position when Bama goes to its nickel defense. Justin Woodall similarly appears to have claimed the strong safety position, though Mark Barron is pushing him.
The other 4 positions, nose guard and the other 3 linebacker spots, are still wide open. There are options at each position, and competition should only make guys better.
- At nose guard it’s a 3 man battle between Terrence Cody, Lorenzo Washington & Josh Chapman. All 3 of these guys will probably play, but their battle has been intense and fierce, with these 3 guys among the strongest on the team.
- WILL linebacker looked to be settled earlier in camp, with Cory Reamer getting most of the snaps there as Don’ta Hightower developed. In recent days Reamer has been getting looks at the SAM as well, with Hightower manning the WILL.
- Where Reamer ends up will determine the SAM, the WILL & the JACK. Eryk Anders had been working with the 1st unit at SAM until Reamer moved over there. At that point Anders got work with the first unit at JACK. The SAM looks potentially deep with Chavis Williams & Jerrell Harris also showing signs of being game ready.
- The JACK is probably Brandon Fanney’s to lose, but he is being pushed by Anders as well as Alex Watkins & Courtney Upshaw.
There are still a lot of furious battles going on for spots in the 2-deep, essentially for playing time. We’ll try to follow those through this next week as Bama begins to prepare for Clemson.
So what else has happened that you should know about?
- The 2nd team offensive line has seen a huge shakeup, with that group currently featuring Tyler Love, David Ross, Brian Motley, Barrett Jones & John Michael Boswell. That has left Evan Cardwell & William Vlachos on the outside looking in, a big surprise given where those 2 guys were at the end of spring. This could change any day, though we’ve been saying that for a week now.
- Prince Hall’s suspension was officially announced as a 3-game deal. He’ll miss Clemson, Tulane & Western Kentucky. This was no shock when Coach Saban announced early in the fall camp, and the other players at the MIKE have had plenty of time to prepare.
- Julio Jones is the real deal. With every day that has passed during camp more and more good things have been said about him. He’s gone from being an almost certainty to play in the Clemson game to being an almost certainty to start against Clemson.
- Mark Ingram has flown up the depth chart at running back. Under Jim McElwain & Nick Saban it is doubtful that anyone will be asked to carry the load alone, so having 3 guys capable of making an impact is a huge deal. It didn’t take Ingram but about 4 days to pass Roy Upchurch and all but guarantee playing time in the running back rotation.
- The star position will be an interesting thing to watch develop over the next 2 weeks. The Tide can go one of 2 ways with it – slide a corner (Javier Arenas) over to star and have 3 corners on the field; or have an extra safety (Mark Barron) near the line of scrimmage, serving as a hybrid safety/linebacker. Figuring out ways to get plays from the secondary is a specialty for Nick Saban & Kirby Smart, and this should be fun to watch.
- Chris Jackson went from having a quiet spring practice to impressing enough to possibly be the Tide’s #1 option at the slot receiver.
- Marquis Maze was thought to be a definite for the slot receiver position at 5’9, but his position as arguably the fastest guy on the team has seen him getting most of his looks on the outside.
- The competition for spots in the playing rotation at defensive end is a fantastic one. Nick Gentry, Milton Talbert, Alfred McCullough & Luther Davis are trying to fight off a serious push by freshman Marcel Dareus… my guess is Dareus sees the field early.
- Nobody knows for sure what the situation is with Jonathan Lowe. The senior walk-on was not a part of the 105 man roster, sparking debate over whether or not he’ll be a part of the team starting Wednesday. Jonathan seems to think he’ll join when the Tide rosters expand, though there is some doubt as to whether or not that will happen.
- NFL scouts at Bama practices has been a frequent thing. Considering Bama’s pitiful showing on draft day this year, having an NFL presence in camp can only help.
- Reserve defensive back Sam Burnthall left the team last Wednesday. Sam had seen some time on special teams, but was not expected to be a major contributor.
- There is still a buzz around Tuscaloosa about Nick Saban appearing on the cover of Forbes Magazine. Labeled “The Most Powerful Coach in Sports”, Saban continues to keep Alabama football as a national presence.
- The family of Colin Peek is continuing to fight the NCAA over his eligibility for this fall. It is doubtful that things will get cleared up prior to this season, but if the NCAA decides in favor of Peek, he could be granted an extra year of eligibility in 2010.
The next few days of practice will likely be used to transition from basic, fundamental style practices to being more game specific, especially as the roster expands with school beginning.
By Thursday, Friday at the latest I expect we’ll start to see the Tide begin to work on the offensive and defensive game plans for the Clemson game. Obviously secrecy will become more of an issue as that happens, so information will be tougher to come by.
We’ll do our best to get you any information that you need to know, though we’ll also do our best not to help the Tigers by giving them any information that they would like to know.