15 August 2011
The University of Alabama held its first scrimmage of the 2011 fall camp on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The scrimmage, which lasted just over two hours was the first of three scrimmages that Bama will have this fall leading up to the September 3rd opener with Kent State.
Here's what you need to know:
Nick Saban is serious about keeping things under wraps during this fall camp. He joked about messing with reporters by putting fake information onto internet message boards, but instead it looks like he's decided to go into a virtual black-out. Coach Saban has never released complete statistics from a scrimmage - very few staffs do. But there were almost no stats released from this one. We know that Marquis Maze had five catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns. That's it as far as the offense goes, because it is literally the only offensive stat that was released.
Coach Saban obviously has his reasons. This year's quarterback battle is probably the most intense that has been seen in Tuscaloosa. Both A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims are elite talents, and the intense spotlight created by internet message boards, blog site, talk radio, and 24-hour sports networks means that every official anything released by the University becomes gospel in a matter of seconds. By not releasing any stats from the quarterbacks, he's able to shield not only the two college kids involved, but also his coach staff. It also means that none of the Tide's opponents know anything more about what to expect from the Bama offense than did before Saturday.
As much as we all like to speculate about how well the Bama offense will do this season, because the squad is littered with talented players, there are really only three known quantities - Trent Richardson, Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze. Everyone else has seen limited action, and Hanks won't play in the first two weeks. So neither Kent State, nor (more importantly) Penn State know what the health situation is for Richardson or Eddie Lacy. They also don't know who is likely to be a go-to guy behind Maze at receiver. Yes, the cat will be out of the bag some after the Kent State game. But at that point Penn State will have just six days to prepare, rather than nearly a month.
The battle at quarterback is far from over, as well. One scrimmage performance would almost certainly set the blogosphere on fire with claims of one guy's imminent rise to the top. Next week's scrimmage could go the other way, and you'd see just as big of a swing in the other direction. And that doesn't help anyone. So, we're all going to be kept in the dark until September 3rd. My guess is that we'll see the first official depth chart on the Monday before the Kent State game have a great big fat "OR" between McCarron and Sims as the starting quarterback.
Having said all of that, no matter how much the staff tries to keep things from the media, things do get out. Reporters have sources, and they get their information. It's just not official. If you have paid close attention over the course of the last few weeks, there have been more articles discussing the skill-set of Phillip Sims.
There have been more veiled comments about Sims improving in the film room - that's become even more pronounced in the last four days. There have been more comments about the battle being closer than ever. McCarron has always been the presumptive starter for the media and most of the fans. Now? That seems to be going away. If you're a savvy enough fan, you can deduce what that means.
My take? If the first game was being played tomorrow, Phillip Sims would be the starting quarterback. I know that I said differently on Friday. The battle hasn't been won based on the performance of one scrimmage, but if the game were played tomorrow, I believe that Sims would get the start. McCarron has three weeks to flip that back.
Regardless of who wins the starting job, we'll see three quarterbacks against Kent State. The third guy is another part of the reason we aren't getting stats. Blake Sims is going to be a part of this offense - a major part. If you're old enough to remember David Palmer's final year at Alabama - a year in which he actually started a game at quarterback - then you have an idea as to how big of a part of the offense this Sims could be. While he isn't quite as slippery and elusive as Palmer was (I don't know if anyone other than Barry Sanders could make that claim), he is a far more natural passer, and has better straight line speed than Palmer had. Expect to see Bama's "wildcat offense" to include Sims taking snaps from under center, as well as in the traditional shotgun. Sims will get a lot touches this season, and is the type of dynamic playmaker that Alabama has not had since the 1993 season.
This is the first time that the injury report has not been at the top of the article, and that's because there isn't much to report. Brian Vogler (off-season shoulder surgery), Ryan Kelly (concussion) and Alex Watkins (off-season knee surgery) were withheld from the scrimmage to give their injuries more time to heal. Dee Milliner took a shot to the chin, but is expected to practice on Monday. William Vlachos was back at practice, and participated in some parts of the scrimmage. Otherwise, there was no injury news out of the scrimmage. And that's big news.
Vlachos not fully participating meant that Barrett Jones took a lot of the snaps at center. That meant that Cyrus Kouandjio took the majority of the snaps at left tackle with the first unit. He's getting his chance now to show what he is capable of, and he's faring quite well. If he doesn't end up starting, it will likely be more because of the development of Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack at the guard spots than any deficiency on his part. The offensive line has to develop well if the Bama offense is going to do anything this season, and as of right now, it looks like Bama has six legitimate candidates to start, and has "ready to play" depth at four of the five positions. While Kellen Williams will be listed as the back-up center, Barrett Jones would start there if there was a reason that Vlachos could not.
It was assumed by most that Damion Square and Ed Stinson would be the starting defensive ends, but Quinton Dial has made that an issue. Dial has worked at both end spots, but is most likely to play on the weak side, inside of the jack linebacker. That end spot plays more like a defensive tackle when the jack linebacker has his hand down, and Dial is capable of playing both tackle and end. He is not the pass rusher that either Square or Stinson is, but he is good enough at rushing the passer to make his run stopping abilities very enticing to the staff. Don't be surprised to see him working with the first unit this week.
One area that we've not discussed at all is the return game. With Bama's lack of depth at running back, it's unlikely that we'll see Trent Richardson playing special teams. With Julio Jones now an Atlanta Falcon, that means we'll have new primary guys at both the punt and kick return spots. At the moment it appears that Marquis Maze is the primary guy at both. DeAndrew White is getting a solid look, and though Coach Saban mentioned that Christion Jones had a few issues, the fact that he mentioned him at all is an indication that he is a real threat to earn time as a return guy.
Coach Saban also indicated that the punters (Cody Mandell and Jay Williams) were more consistent, and mentioned that he was pleased with both Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley. The kicking game hasn't gotten a lot of attention because Bama is returning every one of their specialsts there - assuming that Carson Tinker is ready to go by the opener. And I'm guessing it would take a team of doctors renting a team of wild horses to keep him off of the field.
The big news is that Bama has made it through the first two weeks and the first scrimmage without major injury. That bug hit before camp opened when Dee Hart was likely lost for the season. But Bama has otherwise had good injury luck.
If Coach Saban is truly planning to keep any and all real information from the scrimmage leaking out, then the media won't get a chance to see any new organizational groupings this week - they will simply wait for the media to leave before they re-align. I am guessing we'll see if there is any movement on the offensive and defensive lines, but that we still won'tk know anything more about quarterback.
Bama will practice again on Monday, and we'll have our normal report.
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