Grading Alabama's Post-Spring Depth Chart
With Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game in the books, the focus for Nick Saban and his staff shifts to evaluating the Tide’s roster in anticipation of fall camp.
With the rest of the Tide’s 2014 recruiting class, and incoming quarterback transfer Jacob Coker, set to arrive in the summer, plus Saban’s dislike of depth charts at this time of year, there's still plenty of time before the eventual lineup against West Virginia on Aug. 30 is settled.
However, a handful of players made a significant amount of progress and will head into fall with momentum toward earning a starting role.
Taking into account the recent happenings of spring practice, here’s an idea of how the Tide’s lineup may look in the season-opener against the Mountaineers.
Starter – Blake Sims
Backups – Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod, David Cornwell
Analysis: While it’s common knowledge that the battle for the starting spot won’t officially begin until Coker arrives, Sims still appears to be the best option among the five passers who battled in spring camp.
Even though his lackluster spring game took some shine off his entire body of work, none of the other passers stepped up to wrestle control of the battle away from Sims. Following the spring game, Saban admitted that Sims was hindered, in part, due to the game plan limiting the things he excels at, per Trevor Hewett of BamaOnline.
“Blake Sims, probably, there’s some things he can do as a quarterback we really don’t feature in this game,” Saban said. “For him to be an effective player at that position, in fairness to him, it’s probably good for us to do things like that.”
However, the redshirt senior was a standout in each of the first two scrimmages, as evidenced by the stats he accumulated, per AL.com’s Michael Casagrande.
Cooper Bateman showed flashes of his talents in the spring game, but he also had his share of questionable throws into double coverage, and he was facing the second-team defense.
While the spring game put a damper on the enthusiasm that was building in Sims’ favor, the arrival of Coker will signal a new beginning in the competition to replace AJ McCarron.
Grade – C
Starter – T.J. Yeldon
Backups – Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Jalston Fowler, Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones
Analysis: The biggest news out of Tuscaloosa this spring may have been the emergence of sophomore running back Derrick Henry. On the heels of his breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl, Henry has kicked the hype machine into overdrive with a strong spring.
However, with junior T.J. Yeldon established as one of the nation’s top rushers, it’s unlikely for Henry or any of the other stable of backs to unseat him for the starting job. Yeldon captured his third straight A-Day MVP award after running for 95 yards and a score, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
Kenyan Drake is another explosive weapon, but a recurring issue for him is putting the ball on the ground, and he had another fumble in the A-Day game.
Regardless of how the rotation shakes out, expect Yeldon and Henry to share more of the workload and form a dynamic one-two punch for Lane Kiffin this season.
Grade – A
Starters – Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones
Backups – Chris Black, Robert Foster, Cameron Sims, Raheem Falkins, ArDarius Stewart
Analysis: Alabama has plenty of experience with upperclassmen Amari Cooper, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White—who missed the spring due to a toe injury.
As pointed out by Andrew Gribble of AL.com, Saban feels comfortable about that trio leading his receiver unit.
"We feel like there’s three guys if we can throw DeAndrew White in there with Amari Cooper and Christion Jones that have a lot of experience and a lot of ability,” Saban said.
However, the emergence of redshirt sophomore Chris Black—who hauled in six passes for 89 yards in the Tide’s second scrimmage per Casagrande—is a welcomed development.
The Tide will need that type of production to continue from Black, along with contributions from some of the younger receivers on the roster. Players such as Foster, Falkins and Sims are bigger receivers who have the physical ability to contribute this fall if they can improve on their consistency and mastery of the fundamentals of the position.
Even though this unit was plagued by drops and inconsistency in the spring game, Saban admitted he doesn’t like to feature skill players in a spring game setting.
“We really don’t feature our skill guys very much, but Amari Cooper had a great spring,” Saban said. “So did Christion Jones. We had three running backs that had really good springs. I don’t think the consistency on offense is what I’d like for it to have been today. We made some plays, but there wasn’t the sort of consistency that you would really like to see in the offense.”
Grade – A
Starter – O.J. Howard
Backups – Brian Vogler, Malcolm Faciane, Kurt Freitag
Analysis: Alabama has typically used its tight ends primarily as blockers first.
However, the arrival of 5-star recruit O.J. Howard last season signaled the Tide’s desire to get a bigger weapon who can hurt defenses in the passing game.
Brian Vogler still gives the Tide a physical blocking option who can essentially serve as a sixth lineman to open holes in the ground game. Incoming JUCO transfer Ty Flournoy-Smith, Kurt Freitag, Malcolm Faciane and running back Jalston Fowler provide more options who can give the Tide some flexibility at tight end and H-back.
Grade – B
Starters – from left to right, Cameron Robinson, Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Leon Brown, Austin Shepherd
Backups – Grant Hill, Alphonse Taylor, Brandon Greene, Bradley Bozeman, Isaac Luatua
Analysis: After spending the first half of spring ball moving players around in an effort to get the best combination of players on the field, Saban and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal finished spring with a first unit that consisted of Brandon Greene, Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Leon Brown and Austin Shepherd, from left to right.
The only noticeable change to that unit was inserting stud true freshman left tackle Cameron Robinson—who came on strong to finish the spring after some early struggles—into the first unit. As noted by Andrew Gribble of AL.com, the fact that Robinson played the entire game with the first unit is a telling sign of how the staff views his long-term potential to win the left tackle job.
While that unit is solid, similar to the situation at quarterback, the lineup in the trenches is far from settled. In particular, the pass protection was abysmal at times during the spring game.
The Tide will welcome five additional linemen signed in the 2014 class in the summer, which should help bolster the competition up front. Even though the Tide’s rushing statistics weren’t gaudy, the added experience for players such as Kouandjio, Kelly and Brown should help the Tide establish better continuity in the trenches this fall.
Grade – B
Starters – A’Shawn Robinson, Brandon Ivory, Jonathan Allen
Backups – Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Darren Lake, Dee Liner, Dalvin Tomlinson, Tim Williams, Korren Kirven, Dakota Ball
Analysis: Despite Saban’s reluctance to praise his defensive line early in the spring, that unit figures to be much improved from a year ago.
With the emergence of young talents such as sophomores A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, and the addition of JUCO transfers Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway, new defensive line coach Bo Davis will have ample talent and depth to work with at defensive end.
Between Dalvin Tomlinson being healthy, the progression of gifted talents such as Allen and Tim Williams and the addition of Pettway, the Tide's pass rush should make a significant jump in 2014.
On the inside, Brandon Ivory enters his senior season with plenty of experience. However, keeping him healthy is the biggest issue, especially considering that backup Darren Lake missed the spring with a torn pectoral muscle.
Overall, this unit will be tasked with playing up to its enormous potential this fall. However, if their dominant showing in the spring game is any indicator, the Tide’s defensive line will be one of the team’s biggest strengths this season.
Grade – A
Starters – Denzel Devall, Reggie Ragland, Trey DePriest, Dillon Lee
Backups – Xzavier Dickson, Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson, Shaun Hamilton, Walker Jones
Analysis: With the loss of C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard, the Tide has two huge holes to fill in their linebacker segment. However, a pair of juniors—Reggie Ragland and Dillon Lee—have been groomed to take over those two spots, and the early returns on their performance in spring is positive.
However, if there was one negative development, it was the nagging injuries that caused sophomore Reuben Foster to be limited for most of the spring. Foster was on his way to having a monster spring game until he went down with a neck injury late in the first half.
Despite that setback, the linebacker segment is still one of the Tide’s clear strengths on defense. Saban noted that the front seven has made significant progress from last season.
“From a front seven standpoint, I feel a lot further along (this year),” Saban said. “Maybe not quite enough depth at inside linebacker, and there will be some opportunities for some young guys to continue to develop at that position.”
Even with the limited depth inside, the Tide’s first four linebackers are strong, and the depth issues should be alleviated when a decorated crop of linebackers from the 2014 recruiting class make it to campus in the summer.
Grade – A
Starters – Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones (corner), Landon Collins and Geno Smith (safety), Jarrick Williams (star/nickel)
Backups – Tony Brown, Maurice Smith, Jonathan Cook and Anthony Averett (corner)
Nick Perry, Jarrick Williams, Laurence Jones, Jabriel Washington (safety)
Analysis – The loss of sophomore corner Eddie Jackson was a significant blow to a team searching for answers at both corner spots.
Juniors Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones occupy the top spots exiting spring, but their hold on those jobs is tenuous at best mostly due to a lack of quality experience.
True freshman Tony Brown has put himself in a good position to battle for one of the starting spots in fall camp. After snaring a pick and breaking up two passes, despite playing the spring game in a non-contact jersey due to an injured shoulder, Brown is a player who may be prove to be simply too talented to keep off the field.
At safety, junior Geno Smith appears to have earned the job opposite veteran Landon Collins. Even though this unit had a strong showing in the spring game, it’s still possible that each position could see an incoming freshman make an early impact, provided they are ready to make the jump to the college level.
Grade – B
Starters – Adam Griffith (kicker and kickoff), Alec Morris (punter), Cooper Bateman (holder), Cole Mazza (snapper), Christion Jones (returns)
Backups – JK Scott (kicker and punter), Chris Black and ArDarius Stewart (kick and punt returns)
Analysis: The Tide’s special teams unit will have some holes to fill, but having Christion Jones back as a return man will help to anchor that unit. Chris Black and ArDarius Stewart are candidates to join Jones on kickoff returns.
Cole Mazza will handle the snapping duties while Adam Griffith takes over for Cade Foster as the Tide’s field goal and kickoff man. However, Tide fans have reason to be concerned after the sophomore made only one of his three field goal attempts and added a missed extra point in the spring game.
Saban commented on the team’s kicking woes following A-Day.
"Adam Griffith is a very talented guy,” Saban said. “Obviously, we’d like for him to be a little more consistent. We have a guy (JK Scott) that we recruited that is a very good kicker as well as a punter. There will be competition in the fall to try to play the guy that has the most consistency in terms of kicking. Statistically, I think we were first in the SEC in special teams and 12th in field goal percentage last year. It’s certainly our goal to become more consistent in that part of our kicking game.
However, a reliable option must be found for departed punter Cody Mandell. Also, with the graduation of AJ McCarron, the Tide will also be searching for a new holder. Bateman handled the holding duties in the spring game, while Alec Morris did a solid job moonlighting as the team’s punter.
Grade – C