26 March 2011
The Alabama football team practiced on Friday for the third time during the 2011 Spring Football Practice period. The pads went on for the first time on Friday as the team barrels towards its first scrimmage.
Here's what you need to know:
The Tide is still healthy through three practices. There are still a number of guys wearing black jerseys, but no new injuries have cropped up during the first three days of practice.
Robby Green was absent for the third straight practice as he serves an undefined suspension. Also absent, for the first time, was defensive lineman Brandon Moore. No official reason was given for his absence, but the rumor mill indicates that his future in Tuscaloosa could be in question. Once we hit practice #8, if Moore and Green are not practicing, I think we can really start speculating on their future.
Mark Barron (pectoral surgery), Jarrick Williams (shoulder), Nick Perry (shoulder), Jonathan Atchison (bicep), and Brad Smelley (wrist) were all still in black no contact jerseys as they battle injuries. Barron's is the only severe out of the group, as he rehabilitates from surgery. None of the other injuries are thought to be serious at this time.
Tyler Love was once again working with the tackles, after spending the first two practices at center. I expect we'll see him get more reps at center, and possibly even some at guard, as the staff looks to turn him into a utility lineman. While he has yet to put on the type of weight that most would like for an exterior lineman, he still has great size and adequate athleticism for a lineman. Don't be shocked to see him follow John Michael Boswell and Alfred McCullough as the staff's primary backup at multiple positions. The fact that the Tide has two, and with Love potentially three, lineman capable of playing all throughout the line is a great thing.
Otherwise, there were no position changes. While the staff has indicated that the moves shown in the first practice are still technically experimental, every day that goes by with guys staying at their new position increases the likelihood of them staying there. Especially of note is true freshman Vinnie Sunseri, who continues to impress by being around the ball and laying the wood. The son of Bama outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri is making the move to safety, and he's furthering his reputation as an overachiever.
The team is still working out the kinks created by a long offseason, but through three practices the overall intensity level has been good. I expect we'll hear Coach Saban indicate that when he meets with the media again. There seems to be a fierce determination among some of the upperclassmen (most notably Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, and Trent Richardson), and even some of the younger guys (most notably A.J. McCarron) to get the team back into the mentality that led to the high level of intensity seen throughout the 2009 National Championship season. The 2008 loss to Florida seemed to keep a fire burning in the stomach of a lot of members of the 2009 squad. It looks like the collapse against Auburn (sorry for bringing that up) may serve as a similar catalyst for the 2011 team.
On player who seems to be making a strong push for consideration for playing time is Arie Kouandjio. The redshirt freshman is giving Chance Warmack a real battle for the first team (organizationally) reps at left guard. While the Tide returns four starters on the offensive line, the fact that Jeff Stoutland is new as the offensive line coach means that there is no one guaranteed a starting spot. I would be shocked if anyone other than pre-season All-American Barrett Jones started at right guard, and I don't see anyone challenging William Vlachos at center, there is real competition at both tackle spots and left guard. While I expect D.J. Fluker to be the guy at right tackle, he could make a push on the left side. Also, Alfred McCullough impressed the staff when he started in place of Fluker when the big guy was out with an injury during the 2010 season. So write Fluker in at right tackle in pencil. Aaron Douglas is still the presumptive guy at left tackle, but until the team scrimmages at least once, and probably twice, don't write him down in pen quite yet.
There is no new news at the quarterback position through two practices. A.J. McCarron has stepped up his game in the leadership department, and has received rave reviews for his off season commitment in the weight room, the film room, and in voluntary pass skeletons. But as of Friday's practice, he and Phillip Sims were still splitting the first group reps. I expect we'll see that continue throughout the spring and into the fall. There is a ton of fan speculation that the loser of the quarterback battle could potentially look to transfer. If there is no starter named until the season starts, that likelihood drops considerably.
Blake Sims and Phillip Ely both continued to work with the second units at quarterback. This Sims is likely not in real consideration for the regular quarterback position, but he does continue to show a different skill set than the other three guys, and that could be his ticket to playing time in a special package. Ely still doesn't jump out at you with any one skill, but he has been far more polished than most people expected. He reminds a lot of folks of Greg McElroy as a true freshman. The overall talent level at the position is higher than when McElroy entered the program, but Ely looks to be a solid game manager style of quarterback. And you really can't object to the idea of having one of those guys as a part of your program.
Alabama will practice again on Saturday, and we'll have our normal report.
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