If we learned nothing else this spring, we learned the Crimson Tide’s depth at running back is off-the-charts strong. What Alabama has at the front-end of the rotation is frightening for opposing defenses: Bo Scarbrough with his thunderous downhill power, Josh Jacobs with his electric skill set in the open field, and Damien Harris, who stylistically falls somewhere in between. Of those three, only Jacobs saw A-Day action, but Najee Harris showed why he’s fully capable of entering the mix and perhaps making a fourth-stringer out of someone who would probably start for more most SEC teams.
Throw in freshman Brian Robinson and B.J. Emmons, who should be healthy again this fall, and it’s an embarrassment of riches in the UA backfield.
No, Tua Tagoviola isn’t going to take Jalen Hurts’ job away.
But the incoming freshman quarterback showed a fearless, gunslinger’s mentality in his first appearance in front of Alabama fans, which was made all the more fun to watch because he’s left-handed. His release is quick as a whip, and he’s got the arm to fit the ball into tight windows. From a pure velocity standpoint, it's clear that the newcomer has a little more juice on his fastball than does Hurts. But it’s equally clear that Hurts is the more complete quarterback, and the one more worthy of Nick Saban’s trust when the Tide kicks off against Florida State in the season opener. Hurts looked improved in the vertical passing game, which is a primary area of offseason development for him, and he remains a major rushing threat (something that Saban and staff are embracing more than ever as they adapt to the college game’s offensive evolvement toward RPOs). After the fall defections of three scholarship quarterbacks transferring out of Alabama, it’s reasonable for Tide fans to wonder if Tagoviola’s patience, along with that of Mac Jones, will already be on the clock this fall. But for now, suffice it to say the UA coaching staff has at least two capable options, if not two experienced ones. And that’s a good problem to have.
RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
Alabama will go into the fall with no doubts about it’s No. 1 receiver — Calvin Ridley will be back for his third and probably last season as one of the SEC’s most dangerous playmakers. After that, assumptions aren’t recommended. Jerry Jeudy certainly flashed the athleticism and ability to be Hurts’ No. 2 option, but too many others could emerge in that role for Jeudy to be handed the sidecar role. Cam Sims and Robert Foster are two veteran possibilities, and they aren’t the only ones. At tight end, Miller Forristall is a relatively easy pick as the Tide’s top receiving target, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be on the field full-time, and youngster Irv Smith Jr., whose father once played at Notre Dame and for the New Orleans Saints, looks the part of a more complete tight end who can handle the blocking element of the role with the power Brian Daboll will want on the field on early downs.
Spring practice answered a couple of questions, including whether Jonah Williams would be comfortable on the left side as a second-year starter at tackle. By all accounts from practice sources who spoke with Crimson Cover this spring, Williams took to left tackle like a duck to water. That nailed things down to center Bradley Bozeman’s left. To his right, fall camp represents a renewed battle among four or five candidates for two positions. It certainly looks as though Lester Cotton is in the driver’s seat for a starting role, but it remains to be seen whether that will be at guard or tackle. The guess here is guard, but it could be late August before it’s clear who will man the right side with Cotton, and from which position.
J.K. Scott, dual-role specialist? Based on A-Day results, that’s what one might think. Scott connected on three A-Day field goals and showed the lift and trajectory you want from a kicker to clear the line of scrimmage. That said, it’s doubtful that the UA staff will want to put both kicking and punting chores on Scott unless it has to. As such, look for Andy Pappastanos to get every chance to win the job in the fall. As for the return game, A-Day isn’t much of a measure for what you might see in the fall. Trevor Diggs showed last year he can handle punt return duty, so there’s some experience to work with at that spot. But there will be healthy competition both there and at kickoff return this fall, and as usual, the freshman class will likely play a role in it.
Alabama fans got a nice look at the up-and-coming talent on the defensive line on A-Day, even more so because Da’Shawn Hand was held out of the game. He and Da’Ron Payne will give Alabama its veteran presence up front, but don’t expect either to be an every-down presence the way Jonathan Allen was a year ago. Isaiah Buggs will clearly play a key role on this team, as well. What’s beginning to look more likely is that the Tide defensive line will take on more of its shape from 2015, and by that we mean more rotation and substitution than we saw a year ago. Most opponents won’t be able to sustain enough offense to wear Alabama’s defensive front down with a high number of snaps the way Clemson has the last two years and Ole Miss has the last three. But when that does happen, the Alabama coaching staff will need to have faith in its second group, and with the likes of Quinnen Williams ready to provide starters with a blow, that shouldn’t be a problem.
At linebacker, there was no shortage of athletes but a big shortage of experience on the field for A-Day. That will change this fall when Shaun Dion Hamilton returns to the field and, potentially, takes over for Reuben Foster at the Mike position. Between he and Rashaan Evans, the Crimson Tide will have two LBs this fall with significant action under their belt, and Anfernee Jennings has flashed the ability to be a plus presence against the run at OLB. Beyond that, the scramble flows from Mack Wilson to Dylan Moses, from Terrell Hall to Dylan Moses, and whoever else (Christian Miller?) is ready to step into action.
The best thing to happen for the Alabama defense in the spring was the emergence of Trevor Diggs at cornerback. He could’ve played better in the A-Day game, but for a guy who has practiced a lot more on offense than defense in his time at UA, don’t make any assumptions based on a single scrimmage. His presence on the outside as a potential replacement for Marlon Humphrey allows the UA coaching staff a lot more flexibility elsewhere in the defensive backfield, and in case of injury, as well. Practice sources told Crimson Cover that Tony Brown had the best spring of his career, perhaps a sign that the Texas native is finally ready to fulfill his potential.