A sloppy A-Day spring game will give Nick Saban enough ammunition to light a fire under his team in the months leading up to the 2013 season.
With last weekend’s A-Day game signaling the end of spring practice for Alabama’s football team, Nick Saban and his staff will now begin the process of preparing for fall camp in August.
A sloppy finale to the spring will give Saban more than enough ammunition to light a fire under his team in the months ahead. But make no mistake about it, this team is loaded for a run at the school’s 16th national championship.
The calendar may have flipped, but not much else has changed in Tuscaloosa. A host of valuable contributors such as quarterback AJ McCarron return to help the two-time defending national champs embark on a historic march towards a three-peat.
But just like every other coach across the country, Saban has areas on his roster that he would like to see improve leading up to fall camp.
What potential items of note are on Saban’s offseason checklist?
Find out in this breakdown tackling Saban’s five biggest concerns following the conclusion of the Tide’s spring practice.
One thing that separates Alabama as one of the nation’s elite teams is its ability to substitute freely at several positions with minimal, if any, dropoff.
In order to employ a healthy rotation, Saban and his staff are in charge of getting the players filling out the latter portion of the team’s two-deep ready to contribute early and often.
At times this spring, especially early on, Saban chimed in about his desire to see more players step up and embrace the opportunities in front of them, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
We don't have enough guys doing the right things the right way all the time. That's something we really need to work on. It's a work in progress to try to continue to improve. A lot of young guys out there who can have a role on this team and can help us who really need to focus on what they need to do to improve, have a better understanding of what's expected of them.
That sentiment was echoed in the spring game when several younger players with a golden opportunity to step up and make a statement failed to do so on a big stage.
While some areas of the team made significant progress by the end of spring practice, several players will face the challenge to continue their personal development over the summer.
Alabama is in a much better position numbers-wise at quarterback—with six quarterbacks seeing action during the A-Day game.
The problem was that all of them struggled to consistently move the offense without turning the ball over.
Junior Blake Sims, who got most of the time as McCarron’s backup a year ago, threw two first-half interceptions and struggled to get in any kind of rhythm throwing the football.
Phillip Ely didn’t throw any picks, but he didn’t exactly light up the defense either and the horde of freshman passers all looked green in their first major taste of action at the college level.
The bottom line is that the Tide has a long way to go in determining not only who will backup McCarron this fall, but also in figuring out who will take over for him in 2014.
No team across the country has done a better job at replacing its departing stars year after year like Alabama has.
This year, the Tide’s offensive line will be without a trio of fixtures on that unit for most of the last three seasons in Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker.
While players like Ryan Kelly, Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd have been on campus for at least two years and appear ready to step into their respective roles, the biggest challenge for those players will be developing the continuity that the Tide enjoyed up front for the last few seasons.
Additionally, the entire line will be getting a fresh start under new offensive line coach Mario Cristobal. Even though the Tide still possess everything necessary to be one of the top lines in the SEC, growing pains are likely with so many moving parts trying to get on the same page.
However, Saban is pleased with the direction that this unit is headed in after a solid spring effort, according to Don Kausler, Jr. of AL.com.
With projected top corner John Fulton missing the spring recovering from offseason toe surgery, the remaining members of Alabama’s segment of corners were subject to a baptism by fire in the team’s scrimmages.
McCarron was able to put up video-game numbers at times, partly due to the combination of growing pains and new faces at the corner spots (h/t Andrew Gribble, AL.com).
Even though the corners played well for the most part in the spring game, that performance was more of the exception than the rule over the last month of practices.
Getting Fulton back healthy (more on that later) is a significant piece to the puzzle, but players like Deion Belue and Geno Smith will have to take on the challenge of raising their level of play over the summer.
If the veterans are unable to seize the moment, Alabama could be in the somewhat murky position of counting on a handful of incoming freshmen to play significant minutes this fall.
The team Tide fans saw take the field in Bryant-Denny Stadium last weekend was missing several key contributors that missed all or portions of spring recovering from injuries.
That’s why Saban’s primary concern likely lies with getting players like Fulton, linebackers Xzavier Dickson and Trey DePriest, and running back Derrick Henry to enter fall camp with a clean bill of health.
Injuries are a part of the game that can derail any team’s fortunes, and Alabama has proven that it can fight through them as it was able to do a year ago.
But, if the Tide can get their current list of walking wounded healed up by August, Saban has to feel good about the team’s outlook heading into the 2013 season.