22 November 2010
The calendar said it was Sunday, but for the Alabama football team it was Monday. When you are set to play on Friday, the days of the week become a little blurred, and Alabama is now in full preparation for the Auburn Tigers. As is normally the case for the first practice of the week, the Tide was in shells.
Here's what you need to know:
The injury situation is pretty good. Everyone practiced on Sunday with the exception of Barrett Jones, and the staff is optimistic that he'll be able to go by Saturday.
Trent Richardson missed the last two games, though he could have played against Georgia State had there been any real need. There wasn't, and instead we got to see extra carries for Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler. While Lacy certainly has more upside potential, it makes me laugh to watch Fowler destroy potential tacklers. It's going to be increasingly difficult for the staff to keep him off of the field if he develops the other parts of his game.
Anthony Steen worked with the first unit at right guard with Jones out. Steen started there against Georgia State, and did quite well. Really, though, I think the staff could have drawn a random name out of a hat of reserve offensive linemen, and any of them could have done well against GSU. Steen looks like he could be a solid player down the road, but getting Jones back could be huge in this game. It's likely that Jones and center William Vlachos will be the primary guys taking on Nick Fairly, and how well Bama can block him will likely determine how much success the Tide has on offense.
B.J. Scott was not at practice again, after Coach Saban indicated last week that he was likely going to have season ending ankle surgery. B.J. has struggled to find a position in which he is completely comfortable, and has now spent three seasons searching for a way to get onto the field. He played sparingly as a wide receiver in 2008, before redshirting 2009 to learn the cornerback position. The fact that he was immediately passed by incoming freshman DeMarcus Milliner and injured JuCo transfer DeQuan Menzie does not indicate that he's likely to have found that position at cornerback, either. Bama is extremely young in the defensive backfield, and any veteran players that could not find time there this season are unlikely to find time there next year. Scott could be moved back to offense, but my guess is that he'll attempt to work on his zone coverage skills and stay at CB. By all accounts he is fine when the Tide defense is in man-to-man, but can not grasp the zone packages. With an injury causing the end of his season, he could also become a candidate for being placed on a medical hardship scholarship.
At this point there is no reason to believe that anyone other than Cam Newton will be playing quarterback for the Tigers on Friday, so that's what Bama is preparing for. There really isn't anyone on the Tide roster that can truly simulate what Newton does, though Bama will likely turn once again to freshman Blake Sims on the scout team. Sims is redshirting, and he's been the go-to guy when Bama is preparing for a mobile quarterback. Sims is a little fastr than Newton, but is nowhere close to as big. But he will, at least, give the defense an opportunity to work against a quarterback that can kill you with his feet.
One interesting thing of note from a position standpoint is that Ed Stinson was working with the defensive linemen. Stinson has been the backup to Courtney Upshaw at the jack linebacker this season, but could see time at defensive end against Auburn. He was an end in high school, so the transition there should not be too tough. My guess is that the thought process of the coach staff is that Auburn isn't capable of lining up and pounding the ball between the tackles. Instead the Tigers like to use misdirection and make use of their speed on the edges. With that being the case, lining up 300 lbs. ends only works in their favor. If Stinson slides to end, we would likely see Kerry Murphy slide back inside to nose guard to alternate with Josh Chapman. Of course, it's also possible that we'll see Bama go with a modified version of its rabbit rusher group all game. That would likely mean that Marcell Dareus would line up in the middle, and in this case, possibly Stinson alongside him. Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower would also be on the line of scrimmage, and C.J. Mosley would be the middle linebacker. If Bama goes with this grouping up front, that would likely mean we will either see a dime package, or possibly Nico Johnson or Jerrell Harris lining up as a second true linebacker.
Practices were mostly closed last week, and my guess is that whatever the Tide staff is doing now, they've been doing it since last Monday. Georgia State played hard, but that was never going to be a game. There is a reason Bama scheduled them, and also a reason that the game was played on Thursday. Bama was able to have two weeks of practice for Auburn with a scrimmage in the middle. So don't be surprised to see a lot of new things on defense. The Tigers pulled that trick last season, opening the Iron Bowl with a completely new defensive scheme. I doubt Bama will go quite that far, but I expect we'll see some formations and personnel groupings that we have not seen before.
The Tide will practice again on Monday, and if the staff stays true to their previous schedules, the practice will be in full pads. We'll have our normal report.
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