Alabama Football: 5 Things to Look for in the Spring Game
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Perhaps at no other school in the country are spring games more anticipated, or even celebrated, than they are at the University of Alabama.
Since Nick Saban has taken over, Crimson Tide supporters have flocked to Bryant-Denny Stadium each year, overflowing with optimism and enthusiasm about catching their first glimpse of the Tide’s squad for the upcoming season.
The two-time defending national champions once again return a loaded squad that will compete for a third consecutive crystal football.
But what areas will Tide fans be zeroed in on during the annual A-Day game on Saturday?
Aside from tuning in to see the revamped units on the offensive and defensive lines, the secondary has a few intriguing subplots—from the expected emergence of sophomore safety Landon Collins, to the quest of solidifying the rotation at corner—worth monitoring.
This game turned into a showcase for running back T.J. Yeldon a year ago, so can another underclassman follow suit with a strong effort this weekend?
Here are five things to look for in Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game on Saturday.
5. The Backup QBs
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Senior A.J. McCarron is firmly entrenched as the team’s starter at quarterback, and as such, there’s little incentive or purpose to focus on his results on Saturday whether they are good or bad.
However, the bigger agenda for Tide fans will be getting a look at who could potentially replace him next season.
Junior Blake Sims was effective making plays with his legs as the Tide’s main backup a year ago, but there will be four new quarterbacks getting their first taste of live action in front of a packed crowd.
Redshirt freshman Alec Morris and early enrollees Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio will enter the mix to fight for the right to be McCarron’s successor in 2014.
4. Impact Early Enrollees
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Yeldon and receivers Amari Cooper and Chris Black put on a show in last season’s spring game.
This year, former 5-star recruits running back Derrick Henry and tight end O.J. Howard were billed as the main newcomers that would be the biggest attractions in this weekend’s A-Day game.
However, Henry suffered a fractured tibia in last weekend’s scrimmage and a subsequent surgery will keep the emerging running back on the shelf possibly until fall camp according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
While the new quarterbacks and JUCO transfer offensive tackle Leon Brown will be under the microscope this weekend, the biggest spotlight will be reserved for Howard—who could take a big step forward in his development with a strong performance on Saturday.
3. Second-Year Standouts
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Cooper and Yeldon are already established stars, but a host of their classmates from the 2012 recruiting class are ready to bust loose this fall.
A quartet of defensive players—defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, linebacker Denzel Devall, corner Geno Smith and Collins at safety—appear primed for major roles on the defense.
On offense, sophomore running back Kenyan Drake will be in the backfield mix and Black should become a valuable cog in the rotation at receiver.
With a number of these players likely to be counted upon in the fall, fans will get a good glimpse of the team’s future during the A-Day game.
2. The Replacements
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With both the offensive and defensive lines losing at least three major contributors from last season’s team, fans will be glued in on the players stepping up to assume the big shoes of players such as Barrett Jones and Jesse Williams.
Another area of potential concern is the situation at corner. While John Fulton, Deion Belue and Geno Smith appear to be the team’s top three corners, most fans will be watching to see the transformation of former receiver Cyrus Jones.
Jones was one of three offensive players that switched to corner at the beginning of spring in an effort to give the Tide depth at the position.
The good news for Tide supporters is that there is a good mix of experience and talent waiting in the wings at each of those positions.
1. The Next Dominant Defender
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Aside from Yeldon, linebacker Adrian Hubbard was the star of last spring for the defense. So which player is a candidate to assume that mantle this year?
Junior defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan has flashed ability as a potential impact player during spot duty in each of his first two years in Tuscaloosa.
Pagan is primed to enjoy a breakout campaign in the end spot opposite senior Ed Stinson.
Saturday’s spring game represents a chance for Pagan to make the Tide’s opponents notice his intention of becoming one of the SEC’s premier defensive linemen this season.