With Alabama’s A-Day spring game set for April 19, the Tide are nearing the conclusion of spring practice.
A critical loss in the secondary and the fallout from the Tide’s first scrimmage held last Saturday headline the biggest news of the week.
News of the Week
“I was really pleased with the effort and intensity the players had,” Saban said. “I really like the attitude of this team in terms of how they go about what they try to do, how they work, the effort that they give and the mental and physical toughness that we play with.”
The biggest headliners on offense were quarterback Blake Sims and receiver Amari Cooper, while linebackers Trey DePriest and Denzel Devall led the charge defensively.
Cooper, who caught 10 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, looks primed to have a monster season under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
However, the news wasn’t all good. Sophomore corner Eddie Jackson suffered a torn ACL in a non-contact drill during the scrimmage, according to ESPN’s Alex Scarborough.
Jackson’s injury means a corner rotation already thin on experience will be without a key contributor—one who was seeing reps with the first team for a majority of the spring—for the foreseeable future.
Another distraction for the Tide came on Thursday when junior linebacker Dillon Lee was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
In a statement released by Alabama’s media relations department, Saban said he will handle the situation appropriately, "once I’ve had a chance to review all of the information.”
Lee has been one of the spring’s most notable standouts, and his off-field mishap is concerning for a team looking to regain its focus and discipline heading into the season.
Sims Takes Charge
While Saban has repeated that the quarterback competition is one that will play out well into fall camp, Sims took a step forward in separating himself from the pack in the first scrimmage.
The senior went 16-of-23 for 227 yards and two scores with no interceptions. Those numbers were good enough to get the attention of Saban, who praised Sims for “taking some command,” as noted by Scarborough.
Considering Sims was able to hurt the defense by making big plays through the air, his continued development as a passer gives the Tide’s offense an added dimension when his ability to create plays with his legs factor into the equation.
“There are two plays with Blake: the one they call on offense and then when that one doesn't go right, it's the one he makes with his feet,” senior safety Nick Perry said.
If Sims continues to make progress, he has a strong chance of exiting the spring as the prime challenger to incoming transfer Jacob Coker when fall camp begins in August.
Last week’s report featured a note on Saban’s unhappiness with the perceived depth and talent along the defensive line. However, Saban clarified his thoughts on that position during a visit to Mobile for a charity dinner, according to AL.com’s Mike Herndon.
I was told what a great defensive line we have, by someone in your position. So I asked: 'What's the basis of your criteria that you're using to make this assessment?' And he says: 'Well, it looks that way on paper.' So, I just kind of took offense to that and said that we're not satisfied with how they're playing, but we're looking forward to them getting better. And they are getting better, and I think probably will be better, more athletic than we were a year ago.
Elsewhere, despite the Tide’s base defense being a 3-4 scheme, Alabama is spending more snaps in nickel sets due to the number of teams using spread offenses with three and four receiver sets.
During the first two practices earlier this week, the Tide’s nickel package featured Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve at the corners, Landon Collins and Geno Smith at safety with Jarrick Williams at star, according to Gribble.
With the injury to Jackson and freshman Tony Brown nursing a shoulder injury, the rotation at corner will be worth monitoring as A-Day approaches. Smith getting a chance to work alongside Collins at safety is also a new development that could stick depending on how things play out until the end of spring.
Spring practice is nearing its conclusion, and the next date to pay attention to is Saturday when the Tide will hold their second scrimmage, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
The position battles at critical spots such as offensive line, defensive end, linebacker and at various spots in the secondary are ones to watch over the final handful of practices.
With precious few opportunities for players to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff, expect the intensity to pick up with this scrimmage and the subsequent practices leading up to next weekend’s spring game.