Alabama Football: 6 Position Battles to Watch in Fall Camp
With Alabama’s fall camp set to open next month, Tide fans will have their sights set on a few position battles in the practices leading up to the team’s season opener.
The race to find AJ McCarron’s successor will generate the most headlines, but other intriguing spots that will feature tight races include positions along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.
Which positions are likely to field the toughest calls for Nick Saban and his staff to make before the season opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30?
Quarterback: Jacob Coker vs. the Field
New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin inherits a roster stacked with talent and experience at the skill positions, along with three returning starters on the offensive line. His top priority will be to find a clear top option at quarterback.
Spring practice featured a battle between five passers that produced little clarity—with senior Blake Sims and redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman doing a majority of the heavy lifting during the A-Day game. However, help is on the way in the form of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker—who arrives at the Capstone with plenty of praise from his former his former coach, Jimbo Fisher.
“As an athlete, he is a tremendous player,” Fisher told Mobile radio station WNSP in May (via Mark Heim of AL.com). “I think he is going to be a very high draft pick in the NFL. He has that type of potential. I'm a Jacob Coker fan, and I think he'll do great at Alabama. I think he'll have a tremendous career."
While the 6’5”, 230-pound Coker appears to have all physical tools necessary to be one of the nation’s top passers, he still has to go out and prove it. His first chance will come on the Tide’s practice fields—in an environment that may challenge him more than games in the fall.
Regardless, the answer to one of the Tide’s most burning offseason questions will begin to take shape when the pads come on next month.
Left Tackle: Cameron Robinson vs. Dominick Jackson
The loss of Cyrus Kouandjio to the draft leaves a void at the critical position of left tackle. Exiting spring practice, Cameron Robinson—an early enrollee and the crown jewel of the Tide’s top-rated 2014 class—has a leg up on the job.
Saban even deemed him “the starting left tackle” in a radio interview with Nashville's 102.5 The Game in May (via BamaOnline’s Marc Torrence). The 6’6”, 325-pound Robinson is the rare true freshman with the talent and physical ability to step in and hold his own in the SEC’s trench wars.
However, another 2014 class member—JUCO transfer Dominick Jackson—arrived in the summer and will make a case to nab a spot in the starting five.
Jackson—who was rated the nation’s top JUCO tackle according to 247Sports—is a versatile defender with the necessary mean streak and athletic ability to become an immediate factor up front for the Tide.
Whether its at left tackle or either guard position, Jackson will be a player to watch early in fall camp.
Defensive End: Jonathan Allen vs. Jarran Reed
Saban has a lengthy history with bringing in JUCO recruits and plugging them into the lineup immediately.
After bringing in a pair of defensive ends in Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway, the Tide’s defensive line competition should be among the most heated in fall camp.
Sophomore A’Shawn Robinson appears to be established at one end spot after a Freshman All-American campaign. After a monster performance during Alabama’s spring game, fellow sophomore Jonathan Allen appears to be on the verge of following in his classmate’s footsteps this fall.
As noted by AL.com’s Andrew Gribble, Reed also impressed in the spring by displaying brute strength and physicality to go along with a quick burst that gave the Tide’s offensive line fits at times during spring ball.
Regardless of which player emerges to win the job opposite Robinson, the continued development of both will go a long way toward the Tide’s pass rush going from weakness to strength by season’s end.
Corner: Cyrus Jones vs. Bradley Sylve vs. Tony Brown
OK, this is technically cheating, but think of this as a derby between three players for two starting spots.
Cyrus Jones is the only one of the group to have any starting experience. But Brown—another former 5-star recruit who enrolled in January and went through spring ball—is a real threat to win a spot because his inexperience doesn’t hurt him in this battle.
Sylve is a speedster who has battled injuries during his career, but he’s healthy now and ready to challenge for a larger role as a junior.
While others such as sophomore Maurice Smith and Marlon Humphrey will also be in the mix, a pair of the aforementioned trio enters fall camp with the best chance to take the first snap of the season against the Mountaineers.
Safety: Geno Smith vs. Nick Perry
After a shoulder injury suffered early last season, Nick Perry earned a medical redshirt and will enter 2014 as a fifth-year senior fighting for the safety spot opposite Landon Collins.
Rising junior Geno Smith—who has been a spot contributor at corner and safety during his first two seasons—exited spring as his primary challenger for that spot.
Perry has more experience, but Smith seemed to make a big jump this spring in finding a permanent home at safety.
Both players are sure to see extensive action, but it would be a good sign for the secondary to see one of the two players step up and be a reliable battery mate with Collins.
Kicker: Adam Griffith vs. JK Scott
Adam Griffith’s fated last-second miss against Auburn places him on the wrong side of history in the Iron Bowl, but his struggles in the spring game—where he missed one kick and had another blocked—did little to ease the worries of Tide supporters about the kicking game.
Enter JK Scott—a 3-star recruit who excelled as a kicker and punter at Mullen High School in Denver.
While Scott could also factor in the punting competition, he’d have a chance to make a bigger impact if he can become a consistent field goal kicker from 40 yards and in—similar to the role occupied by former Tide kicker Jeremy Shelley.
Scott will get his first crack at proving his ability in fall camp, and in the process he can put a bit of pressure on Griffith to step up in hopes of giving the Tide a reliable place-kicking option.