Alabama Spring Practice: An "A-Day," of Sorts...

T.L. PellmanSenior Analyst IMarch 28, 2009

By Terry Pellman

A year ago this spring, after witnessing the impact that the spring camp coaching clinic had on the visiting coaches, I began to get a glimpse of the impact and importance this short two-day weekend has on high school coaches and how it's viewed by Coach Nick Saban.

Last year, I was impressed, and Saban summed it up well with his thoughts looking forward to that weekend.

The annual coaching clinic is one of our favorite events of the year," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. "This year we have a great lineup of speakers, including Vince Dooley, Bill Belichick, Dean Pees, Al Groh, and Fernando Bryant. We will also be featuring several of the region's championship-winning high school coaches."

Bill Belichick...his name summed up the story. Al Groh (whose son is currently serving as a graduate assistant at Bama) and Vince Dooley are two well known coaches in college football around the Southeast and were highly sought after that weekend.

What struck me the most was the invitation of Fernando Bryant. It wasn't his career as an NFL player that made his name a "headliner" to the weekend, it was the point of a former Alabama player being welcomed back to the Capstone.

"I didn't feel welcome," Bryant said. "I didn't feel like the old tradition was being upheld, and I didn't want to be a part of it."

That tradition, albeit a new one when compared to the clinics held by former coaches Shula and Franchoine, was upheld his weekend when former All-American and current NFL General Manager, Ozzie Newsome, was invited to be a part of this weekend's clinic.

Newsome, who addressed the media shortly after speaking to the high school coaches attending the camp, spoke briefly on the importance of his return weekend.

“I think there were two reasons,” Newsome said. “A friend called, Nick (Saban), and said he would like for me to come down and share and be a part of his clinic. And the second part is to show my appreciation for high school football.

"That is where I got my start at. I wanted to let those coaches know that they do make an impact and they have a chance to make a difference in a young man’s life.”

Coach Dooley, who brought the experience of a college national championship along with the business side of running an athletic department to last years clinic, certainly has his equal appearing this weekend. Perhaps, depending on your point of view, his visit was eclipsed.

Tom Osbourne, known for his coaching acumen during his days leading the Nebraska Cornhuskers, was the featured speaker this weekend in Tuscaloosa.

Osbourne, currently the Athletic Director at Nebraska, is joined by other notable coaches like Derek Dooley, Jason Garrett, Stan Hixon, and several of the region’s championship-winning high school coaches.

The reported attendance at this years camps is over 1,200 high school coaches, which is thought to be the largest group to have ever attended a coaching clinic at UA.

Oh...lest I forget. "Hey, there's Joe Montana!"

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana attended Friday’s practice along with his son Nick. Nick currently holds a scholarship offer from UA as one of the handful of quarterbacks the Tide staff has offered for the 2010 freshman class.

OK, it wasn't "A-day," the official designation for Alabama's Crimson and White game to cap off the spring season.

But, it's certainly a day that featured a "A-list" of personalities in the football world.


On to the practice fields

If practicing four of the 15 allotted days as an offensive guard is an indication there is serious consideration being given to John Michael Boswell taking over the vacated right guard position on the offensive line...well, we've got an indication despite the "no depth chart" mandate.

In fact, we may be beginning to get a glimpse at how the line will shake out for the fall. The center positions' mainstay this year has been William Vlachos, with Barrett Jones and Evan Cardwell also sharing snaps.

What's interesting is it was reported by one practice observer that David Ross was getting a look at the center position as well.

In Friday's individual drills, IF they were an indication of how the Tide would field an offensive line if we played today, we'd see James Carpenter (LT), Mike Johnson (LG), William Vlachos (C), John Michael Boswell (RG), and Drew Davis (RT).

The Fanny watch continues...well, better said, the Fanney search continues.

Brandon, serving a suspension from the team, wasn't practicing with the team yesterday.

The JACK position has seen a few players getting reps this spring. Yesterday, as has been the case a few times this spring, Eryk Anders was working with the first unit at that hybrid linebacker position.

Dont'a Hightower, who has worked at that position as well this spring, was in the same position he spent Wednesday (and last season) as the weak side linebacker.

The leader of the linebacking corps, inside/middle linebacker Rolando McClain, had high remarks for Dont'a after last Wednesday's practice.

"Dont’a can play any position on the field,” McClain said. “He’s a freak to me. He’s amazing. I can’t explain it. I’m sure I can’t do certain things he can do and the way he just takes it and they move him to jack one day and back to will the next day, he’s doing a good job. He’s just going with it. If we need him to play jack, he can play jack. Or whatever. We’re not worried about it."

What a lot of fans have as a concern is who ends up replacing the leadership role Rashad Johnson had last year on defense. While McLain doesn't play in the same position, he understands his role in filling that void.

"I know I need to be more of a leader with Rashad gone. I was a little last year but I think my role has intensified some. I just want to lead by example as well as being more of a vocal leader. I do a good job trying to be vocal in practice. I mean, my play speaks for itself, I think. But I need to do a better job of keeping everybody intense and everybody up."

In the meantime, the battle for filling the actual position continues with a variety of players getting a look at the safety positions. Ali Sharief, Mark Barron, and Tyrone King saw reps there Friday.

Alabama returns Saturday for its fifth spring practice and is expected to be in full pads for the workout. The first scrimmage of the year, originally thought to be today, is expected next Wednesday.

Video Highlights of Friday: