22 September 2010
The Alabama football team practiced in full pads on Tuesday in preparation for the SEC opener against Arkansas on Saturday.
Here's what you need to know:
Courtney Upshaw appears to be the only guy being limited due to injury. High ankle sprains are always tough to recover from, and how much Courtney plays Saturday might just depend on how little hits he takes on that ankle. He's a tough kid, and he'll play as much as the staff will let him. At 100% he's the best jack linebacker that Bama has. If he's limited enough, Bama has better options. The most obvious is Ed Stinson, but there are other options as well. The most intriguing involves the idea of Dont'a Hightower lining up at the jack with Nico Johnson and Chris Jordan manning the middle. We've yet to see the Hightower to jack move that a lot of folks thought would happen last year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some of it this weekend.
Bama has been very vanilla on defense through its first three games. Even with Coach Saban being quite unhappy about the defense's second quarter performance against Duke, the Tide still played a basic scheme in the second half. The coach likely had time to notice that due to the Trent Richardson kick return that the Bama defense was on the field for better than 20 straight plays. He also likely got to lay into Marcell Dareus and Mark Barron, who both missed sacks because they went for the big hit rather than the form tackle.
I say all of that as a lead in to this week's game, where I expect we'll see a lot more from the Bama defense. Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas offense are good enough to score points if the Tide sits back and lets the Hogs come at them. In last year's game the Tide went after Mallett, and forced him into his lowest completion percentage of the year. Expect to see Bama throw everything at him again, which is where Hightower at the jack probably comes into play. If Mallett hits on 60% of his passes, the Hogs probably win the game. I'd be shocked if either of those happened.
As Glen55 pointed out in his MFTC - Bama likely has the best two backs in the nation. If you weren't impressed with Mark Ingram's season debut, then you're simply not going to be impressed. He could have easily run for 250+ had the staff decided to give him 20 carries. Thankfully the staff is more concerned with winning games than with individual numbers. That's also why you'll see a lot of both Mark and Trent Richardson on Saturday. Don't expect to see a lot of two back sets, either. This staff appears to be pretty content to stay within the offense and simply run a fresh future first round pick out there. While the idea of seeing both guys in at the same time is appealing, the idea of having them both playing while fully rested is probably a better avenue for success. We might see a play or two during the season with both, but don't expect to see it as a standard set for the offense.
What you will see a lot of this week is the play-action passing game. Arkansas stacked the box last season and forced Alabama to pass. Thankfully Greg McElroy had his second best game of the season (I'm don't care what stats say, the SEC Championship Game was his best), and the Tide won with relative ease. Look for the Hogs to stack the box and blitz like hell. The Tide offensive line has done a solid job in pass protection so far in 2010, and Trent Richardson has flipped at least three oncoming blitzers so far. The only way we don't see Ingram and Richardson blowing up linebackers in the backfield in pass protection is if they are chipping guys and catching screen passes. Expect to see a lot of that, and a lot of short passes to Julio. If the Tide can force Arkansas to back off of the line of scrimmage, then Bama will pound the Hog defense into submission.
For the second consecutive day Nico Johnson was working with the first unit at the will linebacker spot. Jerrell Harris is still with the first unit, but now at the sam linebacker. Chavis Williams has played alright in the first three games, but the level of competition at linebacker right now is ridiculous. Jalston Fowler would be starting as a true freshman at better than half of the schools in the SEC, and he's been moved to running back. C.J. Mosley would be starting for every school in the SEC, and if Johnson lets up any from his stellar performance at Duke, we might see him start at Alabama.
That's the only personnel change headed into week four, which is a good thing. The injury bug has bitten several times so far, but nothing appears to be major. Courtney Upshaw's injury would be the closest, but I still think we'll see him in on a dozen or so snaps this weekend. Luther Davis was back practicing at full speed, though I think he'll continue to back up Damion Square.
One interesting thing to watch for this weekend will be the alignment of the defensive line. We saw a ton of Marcell Dareus playing nose guard, with Square and either Kerry Murphy or Josh Chapman lining up at the ends. I don't know if that was a matchup situation for Duke, or if the staff thinks that Dareus can get more consistent inside pressure than anyone else, while Murphy and Chapman are capable of better pressure from teh end spots. Arkansas is starting a freshman at both right guard and center, so don't be shocked to see Dareus line up a lot inside on Saturday to exploit that potential weakness.
Bama will practice again on Wednesday, and that will be the final practice of the week with a media viewing period.
We'll have our normal report.
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