08 September 2008
The Tide went back to work today with a different attitude than last Monday. A week ago Bama was riding high after demolishing a top ten team, today they were getting a heavy dose of "I told you so" brutality. In the long run of the season this sluggish game against Tulane may have been the best thing for this young Alabama unit.
The injury news is all good. Not one single Tide player practiced in a black no contact jersey today. The news is not as good for Bama's opponent as Western Kentucky will be without starting quarterback K.J. Black due to a dislocated shoulder. Taking his place will be former Notre Dame QB David Wolke - who, by the way, was recruited to play at Alabama back in 2004.
With Andre Smith (knee) back at left tackle and Marlon Davis (hamstring) back at right guard, Bama practiced with the first unit offensive line that was dominant against Clemson. Both Smith and Davis are less than 100%, but if there are no set backs, then both guys should be ready to go Saturday.
The receiver group was a bit more crowded today than they've been all season. Will Oakley continues to increase his role as he recovers from off season foot surgery. Earl Alexander missed the Tulane game with an injured foot as well, but he is back working with the 2nd unit behind Julio Jones. Redshirt freshman Brandon Gibson has served his two game suspension and could factor into the rotation quickly.
The focus today for the offense was on pass protection - and that was for the entire offense. The offensive line struggled to protect QB John Parker Wilson all game against Tulane, but Nick Saban indicated that the line was not to blame for three of the sacks given up Saturday night. With that in mind there was a considerable amount of time spent with the running backs working on blitz pick up. Wilson and the receivers worked on checking down to hot routes to combat the corner blitz that Tulane used effectively.
Even with the Hilltoppers missing their starting QB the defense spent time today working on stopping the spread offense. There are a variety of different looks that are encompassed with the term "spread offense" and Nick Saban has mentioned how different the WKU version is than any Bama has seen. Through two games they are averaging 176.5 in the air and 155.5 on the ground.
Despite that balance there will likely be the need for Bama to spend a lot more time in the nickel and dime defenses than we've seen so far this season. Marquis Johnson is coming off of two very solid games and will likely see more responsibility with the opponents' top receivers. Kareem Jackson will still be the top guy on the outside, but Johnson is beginning to show the capability of handling those duties occasionally to give Jackson a break.
Having Arenas back is big for this unit as well. Mark Barron struggled in pass coverage considerably Saturday night and this would be a tough offense for him to learn in week three. I expect that we'll see him get playing time as Bama is certain to face more spread offenses later in the season, but that time can now be rationed and controlled by the coaches; rather than forced by injury.