07 August 2010
The Alabama football team donned shells on Saturday, putting on the shoulder pads for the first time in fall camp. The transition from shirts to shells isn't as drastic as the transition to full pads, but it does get us one step closer to real football. The heat index dropped to nearly 100 in Tuscaloosa, but the energy in the practice seemed to increase.
Here's what you need to know:
Bama remains injury free. If you think it's silly to lead with that after just three days of practice, take a look at what has happened to Tennessee so far. They have lost two potential starters on the defensive line to achilles injuries. Every day closer to the season that you can get without seeing an injury pop up is a good thing.
Kendall Kelly was held out of practice again, though it isn't from an injury. We're still hearing that it was due to "issues with the heat", which probably signals an illness of some kind. Kelly needs all of the reps that he can get as he continues to transition from wide receiver to safety, so I'm sure the staff would like to get him back out there quickly.
Mark Ingram was absent from practice, having traveled home for the funeral of his grandfather. He'll miss Sunday's fan day as well.
The 105-man roster was released to the media, and two scholarship players were absent from the list. Jeramie Griffin still hasn't passed his physical, so he's being held out to continue the recovery from knee surgery. This happened a few years ago with Will Oakley, and Griffin could easily join the team once school starts and the rosters expand. If he still isn't cleared, he will likely be given a medical hardship. If that happens, Bama actually has a scholarship open, and we might see that go to a walk-on, with Will Lowery being the strongest candidate.
Robby Green was the other guy missing, as he's set to sit out the 2010 season due to a suspension from the NCAA. He is eligible to practice, but since he won't play this season, there is no reason to waste a 105 spot on him. He'll rejoin the team when school starts, and has a real opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills based on how he acts throughout the season.
Blake Sims was working with the quarterbacks again during the media viewing period. As was the case yesterday, he was not wearing a black jersey like the rest of the QBs. That likely means that he is getting work at other position along with quarterback. His father had indicated earlier in the week that he might see time at running back, and I would imagine that the staff took advantage of the extra reps available due to the absence of Mark Ingram to get Blake some time there. He'll likely continue to get time with the quarterbacks, as Alabama has just two guys set to return at the position in 2011, and no serious targets on the recruiting trail at this time. But until we see him go into a black jersey, I won't believe that he's actually making a real move to the position. What was interesting to see was that after every pass attempt he got encouragement and a little coaching from Greg McElroy.
The first group at offensive line remained the same for the third straight day. There is still plenty of time for someone to make a move, but Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker have had a stranglehold on left guard and right tackle, respectively, since the midway point of spring practice. It looks like it is their job to lose. With William Vlachos back after missing the spring, it would be a big bonus for Bama to have already determined their starting five across the front. If these guys have four more weeks to gel, it should really help their early season performance.
The second group on the line changed a good bit from yesterday, though. Alfred McCullough slid from left guard to left tackle, replacing Tyler Love. Senior Brian Motley got his shot with the second group, replacing McCullough. Love worked with the third group, with Arie Kouandjio at right tackle.
The running back rotation certainly looked odd with Ingram absent, but it did give us a chance to see just how much talent that Bama has at the position. The Heisman Trophy winner wasn't there, but the other preseason first team all-SEC running back led the personnel groupings. Trent Richardson had a great freshman season, and he looks poised to take on a larger role in 2010. The fact that he will likely take more carries from Ingram is the main reason that you won't see Mark listed on many lists as a favorite to repeat as the Heisman winner. That's a good problem to have.
What is interesting to note is that Demetrius Goode is continuing to work ahead of Eddie Lacy. Coach Saban would warn against judging depth chart issues based on organizational groupings, but history tells us that the guys usually line up in the order that they stand on the depth chart. Lacy is clearly a gifted runner, but he's still working to be a complete back. Goode is better in route running, pass catching, and blitz pickup right now. Lacy will still have a role on this team, and will probably get more carries than Goode, but Demetrius is a far better back than most people give him credit for being.
Mike Marrow is still getting reps at running back, after working at H-back in the fall. With Harrison Jones grayshirting, I thought we might see Marrow move back over to backup Preston Dial and Brad Smelley. But for now he is Bama's "big" back. That's a bit misleading, though, considering Ingram's 1,000+ yards after contact in 2009.
Corey Grant continues to impress a lot of folks with his speed and quickness. Those are two totally different skills, and he appears to have both. It also didn't look as though the addition of shoulder pads, and the weight that comes with that, slowed him down any. This kid looks very impressive, and has a totally unique skill-set to any of Bama's other backs. Don't be shocked to see him have a role on this year's team.
Michael Bowman looks to have possibly worked his way out of the doghouse, as was back in front of the incoming freshmen and walk-ons in the wide receiver grouping. He was still working behind Julio Jones, Brandon Gibson, and Earl Alexander at the X receiver spot. Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are running as the top two at the Y receiver spot, with a bevy of young guys behind them. Bama has a lot of talent at the receiver position, though behind Jones, Maze, and Hanks, there is very little valuable experience.
Michael Williams is a big man, folks, and he can move. He needs to work on his pass catching, as we all saw during A-Day, but he has a chance to be a big-time playmaker for Bama from the tight end spot. We saw how effective Colin Peek was in Bama's offense in 2009, and Williams is bigger and more athletic than Peek. He needs to continue to develop consistency as both a blocker and receiver to be as effective as Peek was, but the potential is certainly there.
The defensive line is still the talk of the camp. Brandon Lewis is really pushing the second group of guys for a spot in the rotation. Junior College guys under Nick Saban have a strong history of early playing time, and Lewis looks like a strong candidate to continue that. If Marcell Dareus misses any time due to a suspension, Lewis is a strong candidate to fill his role, with Damion Square flipping to the left side as his main competition.
There is no question that this defense belongs to Dont'a Hightower right now. He has slimmed down a bit since the spring, and really looks to be moving well. It's still yet to be determined if he'll make all of the calls on the field the way that Rolando McClain did last year, but if I had to bet, I would say that he will. He is also doing a great job of teaching the mike to the guys behind, most notably Chris Jordan.
Dre Kirkpatrick and B.J. Scott continue to be the top two guys in the cornerback grouping. DeQuan Menzie and Phelon Jones are in the second group, which means they are guys likely battling for the third corner spot. With the nickel being used more often in 2009 than the base 3-4, that is the real battle to watch this fall. Menzie had to have his left ankle re-taped during the practice (that is the achilles he tore in April), but he didn't seem to have any problems after the fact. His health is likely to be the determining factor as to who wins that battle.
Robert Lester looks to be a little ahead of Will Lowery as the safety opposite Mark Barron. Lester was thought by some to a signing simply to appease his high school teammate Julio Jones, but after a strong showing on special teams in 2009, he's demonstrating what earned him the scholarship offer. Lester is more athletic than Lowery, but Will has a better grasp on the defense at this time. While Rashad Johnson demonstrated that a walk-on can become a special player at safety, Lester looks to be catching up on the mental aspect of things every day. And with all due respect to Lowery, he doesn't appear to be the type of elite athlete that Johnson is.
One interesting name jumped out on the 105-man roster - Caleb Castille. He's the youngest of Jeremiah's sons to play at Bama, following Tim and Simeon. He's on the Bryant Scholarship, playing defensive back, and wearing the #33.
Fan day is tomorrow, and Bama will practice at Bryant-Denny Stadium in front of anyone who chooses to go.
Here's what the official release from Alabama says:
The Alabama football team's annual Fan Day will get underway at 2:30 p.m. Sunday with an open practice inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Players and coaches will be available for autographs immediately following the practice on the field for 45 minutes.
----Fans may enter the stadium beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the northwest spiral (gate 5) and occupy the lower bowl (sections A-N). The open practice, which is slated to start at 2:30 p.m., is scheduled to last approximately two hours.
At the conclusion of practice, those wishing to participate in Fan Day will enter the field through gate 46 and exit via gate 5. Fans that do not wish to view practice and would like to start lining up early can do so beginning at 1:30 p.m. Those fans can enter through gate 46.
Following practice, the Crimson Tide football team, coaching staff and head coach Nick Saban will be available for autographs on the field. The gate to the field will be open once the autograph session has been set up. Due to meeting commitments for the team and the coaching staff, the session is limited to 45 minutes. In an effort to facilitate as many autographs in the time allowed, fans will be limited to one item per person for autographs, and no posed photographs will be permitted.----
We'll have full coverage from fan day from Ell. Check back tomorrow afternoon for a report including comments from players and coaches.
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