Alabama Football: Top Performers from the Crimson Tide's Spring Game
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Although most of the coaching staff’s spring evaluations were already done, the University of Alabama’s annual A-Day game at Bryant-Denny Stadium was the only time before the season opener that it could see how the players reacted to a large crowd.
Some obviously thrived in the spotlight, while others learned what they need to work on before fall camp opens in August.
“We did make some plays, but there wasn’t the consistency that you would like to see in the offense,” Coach Nick Saban said. “However, when you play against each other, what’s good for one is not so good for the other. So, you have to give the defense some credit.
“I really thought that our front people on defense made a lot of improvement this spring. We’re more athletic, we probably have more depth, we have more guys who can rush (the passer).”
Here’s a look at 10 players who helped themselves during Saturday’s A-Day game and the spring awards they won.
1. T.J. Yeldon
Although Alabama’s depth at running back is impressive, junior T.J. Yeldon was the only one to have any carries go 10-plus yards against the first-team defense Saturday. He had four, including a 36-yard gain.
By finishing with 95 yards on 11 carries (8.6 average) and one touchdown, he not only became the first player in Crimson Tide history to be named the A-Day most valuable player for a third time, but also effectively quieted the clamor of those wanting sophomore Derrick Henry to cut into his carries.
“It is great having a running back like that, especially as an offensive lineman,” junior center Ryan Kelly said. “To have a guy like that who can miss defenders, obviously not every play is going to be perfect but with a guy like that back there running the ball, some big plays can spring up. We just wish we could have done a little bit better blocking to make those big plays happen today.”
2. Jonathan Allen
Playing against the second-team offense, Jonathan Allen had a favorable matchup, but the sophomore defensive end took advantage by recording six tackles, including four for a loss and two sacks, and blocking a field-goal attempt.
“A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen were both freshman last year, and I always say that you make the most improvement between your freshman and sophomore year,” Coach Nick Saban said. “Those guys got to play a lot last year; they’ve both had great springs.”
Allen won two spring honors, the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the A-Day Game Award, which is voted on by media, and one of the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Awards by the coaching staff.
3. Chris Black
His teammates claimed they saw a difference in sophomore Chris Black this spring, and he was one of the recipients of the Jerry Duncan “I Like to Practice” Award from the coaching staff.
Thanks to his 55-yard touchdown late in the A-Day game, he topped all wide receivers with 78 yards and figures to be a rotation regular this season.
“I thought the spring went pretty well,” Black said.
4. Reggie Ragland
Junior Reggie Ragland had pretty much solidified a regular spot on the defense before the spring, but the question was where he would primarily play.
Coaches were looking to try him at strong-side linebacker, but when sophomore Reuben Foster sustained another stinger during the second spring scrimmage (and had another setback on A-Day), Ragland started alongside Trey DePriest at middle linebacker.
He responded by leading all players with 10 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, and had an interception. Coaches also presented him with the Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award for the spring.
“We had three inside linebackers that I thought played really well. Trey DePriest had a really good spring. Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster as well,” Nick Saban said.
5. Tony Brown
Although Nick Saban hinted that early enrollee Tony Brown will need surgery to repair his shoulder injury, the true freshman didn’t seem to be bothered by it while wearing a black no-contact jersey on A-Day.
The more he played, the more his confidence grew, as Brown showed why he had been considered a 5-star prospect, per 247Sports. He had an interception and broke up two passes.
“I thought he had a pretty good game,” wide receiver Chris Black said.
Brown was one of the players to receive the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award from the coaching staff.
6. Cam Robinson
He was far from perfect, but early enrollee Cameron Robinson held his own despite being thrown into the fire at left tackle on the first unit. The first-team defense that he was facing only had one tackle for a loss from the outside, Xzavier Dickson’s sack from the “Jack” (the hybrid linebacker/defensive end who lines up across the left tackle) spot.
“Cam is going to be a work in progress, he’s a very talented guy,” Nick Saban said. “He made some mistakes today. For example, we throw a screen and he blocked the wrong guy, and because he blocked the wrong guy, the screen got intercepted and returned for a touchdown. But all those things are learning opportunities.”
Robinson’s emergence at left tackle allowed coaches to move senior Leon Brown to right guard, where he and right tackle Austin Shepherd set up some nice blocks for the running backs.
He was also one of the players to receive the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award from the coaching staff.
7. Cooper Bateman
Coming into the spring, there were four quarterbacks vying for the chance to start for the White team on A-Day, featuring the second-unit players, which ended up being Cooper Bateman.
He completed 11 of 24 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown, a 32-yard pass to ArDarius Stewart in the fourth quarter.
In addition to essentially being the only quarterback not to have a pass intercepted (early enrollee David Cornwell’s only attempt went straight to the ground), he had the best completion percentage of 45.8 percent compared to senior Blake Sims (43.3 percent) and sophomore Alec Morris (42.9 percent).
Bateman was also the lone quarterback to lead a drive lasting more than five plays, which he did four times.
8. Tim Williams
After spending last season at outside linebacker, coaches moved Tim Williams down to the line this spring. The sophomore played better than his numbers indicated, as the defensive end made a pair of tackles, broke up a pass and made a fumble recovery during A-Day.
“Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson both contributed and improved,” Nick Saban said in regard to the reserve pass-rushers.
Look for the 6’3”, 242-pound Williams, who played in seven games last season, to get on the field more in the fall.
9. Robert Foster
Alabama came very close to taking the redshirt off Robert Foster last season, and as the primary wide receiver for the White team (second-unit offense), he led all players with four receptions for 50 yards. No one else on his side had more than two catches.
He also had arguably the most impressive reception of A-Day, when quarterback Cooper Bateman led him with a terrific throw for a 34-yard completion to give White a first down at the 2-yard line.
Another player to get the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award from the coaching staff, look for Foster to essentially be an understudy to Amari Cooper this season and possibly take his place in the starting lineup next year.
10. D.J. Pettway/Jarran Reed
Both of Alabama’s junior college transfers on the defensive line appear poised to make significant contributions. Jarran Reed started at defensive end, while D.J. Pettway came off the bench to intercept a pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring on A-Day.
“I think we have a lot of experienced players,” Nick Saban said about the defensive line. “Pettway and Reed add a lot of depth and athleticism to that group.”
Reed landed a Bart Starr Most Improved Player Award from the coaches, while Pettway won a Jerry Duncan “I Like to Practice” Award and shared the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the A-Day Game Award with Jonathan Allen.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.