Alabama Football: Compete Spring Game Preview
With Easter on Sunday, University of Alabama fans are enjoying a sort of double-holiday weekend as the Crimson Tide will close this year’s spring practices with the annual scrimmage known as A-Day.
It’s almost as big as a home game in the fall, both in size and potential impact, as Tuscaloosa is similarly overrun. Some of the events corresponding with what happens inside Bryant-Denny Stadium are a fan fest, the walk-of-fame ceremony to honor last year’s captains, numerous autograph sessions, the third annual Chris Rogers Paintball Tournament for former players, golf tournaments, a charity basketball game with the Tuscaloosa Police Department and a whole lot of tailgating.
“This A-Day game, I look at a little bit like it's an exhibition game for our players and our team,” coach Nick Saban said. “It's an opportunity for them to go out and play a game-like circumstance, a game-like situation, and it's really your first opportunity as an individual, as a unit or as a team, to really create an identity for who you are and how you play, how you compete, the kind of effort you give, the kind of toughness you play with, the kind of discipline you have to execute. The ability to focus on the next play regardless of what happened on the last play.
“Those things are important, I think, in being able to compete through the tough circumstances and adversity that we have in our league and the tough teams and tough places to play.”
The coach is also looking for another big crowd, and although Alabama hasn’t had a six-figure turnout yet, it did reach capacity his first year at the Capstone in 2007, before the south end-zone stadium expansion was completed.
This year’s game is expected to be in the 80,000-to-90,000 range.
Before Saban, Alabama’s A-Day attendance record was 51,117, set in 1988. Only six other times had it attracted 35,000 or more fans.
However, in addition to being a big celebration for the fans, it’s also a huge recruiting tool for all of the athletic programs.
“We'll have a ton of people here that are guys we're looking at for the future, in terms of recruits, that can be very much impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and passion that we show in this game, and I think it's a tradition and something that we're very proud of and something that has helped the program tremendously,” Saban said. “I hope that we continue to show that kind of support for our team and the program. I think it's very, very beneficial.”
Alabama’s Biggest A-Day attendance
Time: 1 p.m. (CT)
Gates open at Bryant-Denny Stadium: 10 a.m.
Walk of champions: It’s normally two hours prior to kickoff, but the Crimson Tide will not do so for A-Day
Forecast: Partly cloudy conditions, high of 76, 10-mph winds.
Format: Alabama is split into the Crimson and White teams, with the first-unit offense (Crimson) facing the first-team defense (White), and the second-team offense (White) opposing the defensive reserves (Crimson).
What’s at stake: The winning side gets steak at the final team meal of spring, while the losers have to eat franks and beans.
Pregame ceremony: walk-of-fame ceremony at Denny Chimes (last year’s team captains have names, footprints and handprints set in concrete), 11:20 a.m.
Postgame ceremony: Crimson Tide coaches will announce the winners of numerous spring awards, including the A-Day MVP and best lineman.
2. Position Battles to Watch
Although the competition at left tackle appears to be over for now, as early enrollee Cam Robinson will work with the first unit Saturday, there are two in particular to keep an eye on:
Even though Jacob Coker hasn’t arrived yet, as he first has to graduate from Florida State next month before transferring in order to be eligible to play this season without having to sit out a year, per NCAA rules, it’s still an important day for Blake Sims.
During the first two scrimmages he completed 40 of 62 passes (64.5 completion percentage) for 455 yards and five touchdowns. With a good performance he can set the bar high before fall camp, while redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman can take another important step in his development as well.
Coaches will have a close eye on the group to see how much has sunk in this spring, especially with early enrollee Tony Brown. With sophomore Eddie Jackson out with a knee injury, the most experienced players, Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve, will be on the first-team defense going against Amari Cooper and Christion Jones.
Brown and Anthony Averett will likely start for the Crimson team, which will have the second-team defense, while Maurice Smith is expected to play the star position as the nickel back.
3. Top Storylines
The No. 1 thing that fans always want to see during A-Day are the new faces, both on the field and on the sideline:
Lane Kiffin's adjustments to Alabama’s offense
Nick Saban wants his offense to be more explosive, and even though the play calls will be pretty simple so opponents don’t see too much, the aim will be to get the ball to the offense’s biggest threats in space. Considering the numerous playmakers Alabama has on the roster, the first-team defense better come ready to play.
Can T.J. Yeldon do it again?
This will be the third spring game for running back T.J. Yeldon, and the other two times he won the Dixie Howell Memorial Award as the most valuable player. No player in the history of Crimson Tide football has won it three times.
Look for the other award, the Dwight Stephenson Most Valuable Lineman, to go to a defensive lineman with something to prove, while early enrollee Cam Robinson will be playing left tackle for the first-team offense (Crimson team). Favorites: Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson and D.J. Pettway.
4. What Other Experts Are Saying
An intriguing A-Day
Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News thinks Blake Sims' development makes A-Day more interesting (pay site).
Jacob Coker watching, waiting
The full breakdown
Al.com's writers Michael Casagrande and Andrew Gribble give a full position-by-position breakdown of the offense and defense, and the one thing that everyone agrees on is that Alabama has a ton of talent.
BamaOnline's Travis Reier wonders if Cam Robinson is really ready for life in the SEC (pay site).
6. Important Injuries
The sophomore cornerback recently underwent knee surgery to repair a ligament, but he’s expected to be back in the fall. Nick Saban said more than once that Jackson had been Alabama’s best cornerback this spring.
The senior wide receiver who is expected to start with junior standout Amari Cooper missed the spring after having a procedure to repair a turf-toe injury. He’s expected to participate in summer drills.
Coaches had hoped the junior would push Brandon Ivory at nose tackle, but he sustained a torn pectoral muscle during offseason conditioning, requiring surgery. He’s expected to be ready for summer conditioning.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.