The culmination of the Alabama Crimson Tide spring practice is almost upon us. At 2 p.m. Saturday, April 16th, Alabama will conduct their annual A-Day game at Bryant-Denny stadium.
Every year, the game gives new insight to the upcoming season and offers a better projection than the regular spring practices or even scrimmages.
We won't know exactly who the starters are until it's almost September, but the A-Day game will give a good indication of where present and future Tide stars are at.
Some of what goes down on Saturday won't be a surprise, while other things may shock even the coaches.
Here's a few predictions about some interesting things that may happen.
Trent Richardson can run, even while the opponent's defenses rides piggy-back on him. So can Eddie Lacy, Demetrius Goode and so forth.
We know they can run, but a back's receiving game can be just as important, just with fewer numbers. The 2009 Iron Bowl game-winning touchdown came from running back Roy Upchurch.
Since the running backs aren't in question, I don't expect a whole lot of rock-toting in the spring game. It doesn't really seem necessary. The big pile-ups at the line of scrimmage have "injury" written all over them.
As with last year, I suspect there will be a lot of running backs going out for passes. Richardson in particular has proven to be a favored target of A.J. McCarron.
Demetrius Hart should bring his set of soft hands as well. He is an incredible receiver, which he displayed at Gridiron Kings 2010 and all through high school. Only half of Hart's stats in high school came from the rushing attack.
Still not convinced about more catches and less carries? The hot topic isn't the running back depth chart. That's all but carved in stone, even with Demetrius Hart nipping at Lacy's heels.
The quarterback battle is what needs the investigating. Just another reason to see more passing—even if it's to a running back.
Phillip Sims is poised to raise some eyebrows on Saturday (as if he hasn't already). He's a pocket passer with an arm and isn't reckless. He's ideal for Saban's pro-style offense.
Sims and A.J. McCarron's completion percentages may not break 60 percent on Saturday, but the spring game is the perfect time to take those long, risky throws. McCarron was called on to do that quite a bit in last year's spring game, as displayed here.
Sims will be on one team, and McCarron will be on the other. Both will be getting a lot of snaps. Expect at least 30 attempts by both of them, because there is a dire need to see these guys in action. This is the closest thing to a real game before the season opener.
Though I believe Sims is sure to impress, I don't think it will be enough to totally convince people. So far, they have been neck and neck, with no quarterback outshining the other. Dead-even just isn't enough to bench McCarron. If Sims is to clinch the starting spot, he'll have to wait until fall practice.
McCarron will be staying in Tuscaloosa over the summer to work with the receivers and their routes. To my knowledge, Sims has not decided to do the same. He needs to, however, to have any chance of making the cut as the starter.
With their raw abilities arguably equal, the starting job will fall to the guy who knows the playbook better.
Though I believe both quarterbacks will have a great day overall on Saturday, I believe at the same time, they will show a lot of mistakes—mistakes like throwing the ball to the other guy.
The quarterbacks will be throwing against what may be the best secondary in the nation. The corners are great in themselves but the real meat is in the safeties—even with Robby Green on suspension and Mark Barron injured.
The last I heard is Mark Barron is still wearing a black non-contact jersey, and likely will be laid up come Saturday as well.
Will Lowery and Robert Lester, as the safety squad in the Capital One Bowl, showed they mesh well together. Lester has proven to be a turnover machine, and Lowery is no slouch either when it comes to picks.
The corners are developing into prototypical shutdown corners—specifically Dre Kirkpatrick—and they mostly stand over 6'0" tall. Kirkpatrick snagged the game-ending interception against Arkansas in 2010.
Add in pseudo-safety middle linebacker and ball hawk C.J. Mosley and we've got a game that will be decided by turnovers.
As of now, the left tackle position is wide open. There are, however, two primary contenders for it.
Potbellied senior Alfred McCullough has been putting up a great fight, but at a squat 6'2", he has some folks questioning if he has the height and wingspan to cover the blindside. He has the weight at least, closing in on 320 lbs.
The other prime candidate is junior college transfer Aaron Douglas. Though he's got a list of character concerns, including a DUI arrest, it may not be enough to have Nick Saban keep him on the bench.
The former Vol has the prototypical height and wingspan for a left tackle. He should be weighing in at over 290 lbs. by now, but that still leaves him somewhat underweight. He stands at a towering 6'7" and has very little bad body weight, so that "underweight" status may not be entirely correct.
With offensive line shuffling all through spring practice, I don't believe the A-Day game will bring us any closer to knowing what it will look like in 2011.
Two-year starter at right guard Barrett Jones even did a little blocking at left tackle and center this spring.
Alabama's other quarterbacks, beyond A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims, include Blake Sims (no relation to Phillip Sims) and Phillip Ely.
Blake was recruited as an athlete and has all the makings of a wildcat quarterback. He's quite a runner and has even practiced with the running backs.
Phillip Ely is a lower-end 3-star recruit. Judging by footage, he seems to have some accuracy issues but he does have quite an arm and puts a lot of zip into his throws. He seems to throw the ball low, however, making for easy pass breakups by guys closer to the line of scrimmage.
Buried deep in the depth chart is Morgan Ogilvie—son of Major Ogilvie, one of Bear Bryant's boys—but it's very unlikely for him to ever get any playing time in the regular season.
In any case, the "backup-backups" should see some time. Nick Saban is certain to be keen on the rumors floating around that Sims or McCarron will transfer if they lose the starting job. They are both just too talented to spend a career as a backup.
Saban knows the grim possibility of this. A bad case scenario would be one of the two transferring. The worst case would be one transferring and the winning starter getting hurt.
It's not good to hear it, but it is a very real possibility that Blake Sims or Phillip Ely could be the starting quarterback sometime in 2011. Neither of them is ready to be a starter, so getting these two to take some snaps in a crowded stadium is a must.
Jesse Williams, the prodigy defensive tackle out of Australia, is still sporting a knee brace. It's not unusual for a lineman on either side to do so, but Williams really needs it.
He is still recovering from a knee injury he sustained at his Arizona Junior College, an injury which held him out of a practice this spring.
A knee injury is the worst kind in football other than spinal injuries, especially for linemen on both sides.
Spring practices and even scrimmages aren't nearly as physical as the A-Day game is. Williams didn't record any stats in the last scrimmage, which tells me it's very likely Saban isn't risking further aggravating Jesse's injury.
Tide fans very well may have to settle for practice footage of Jesse Williams while they wait for fall.
Courtney Upshaw, perhaps the best jack linebacker in the nation, has become a ferocious pass rusher.
As he regained his health late in the 2010 season, he became that missing puzzle piece for the Tide, who had a mediocre pass rush for most of the season.
Upshaw is likely a future first-round NFL draft pick, and he plays like he's NFL-ready right now.
He has been gaining a lot of muscle mass since he joined the team, and shows no signs of slowing down. He has a big frame with little body fat, so he can carry a heavy muscle mass just fine. He weighed in at 263 lbs. before the 2010 season, so its likely he's at 270 or more. He truly has the speed of a linebacker with the strength and size of a lineman.
Look for him to be shucking blocks all day Saturday.
We won't, however, get to see how punishing he is to the quarterbacks due to non-contact jerseys.
There is footage of Dont'a Hightower doing what he does best: embarrassing people. I've watched both of these videos plenty of times, and I love to mention them.
He wasn't even fully healed in April of 2010. In the Triumvirate of Terror, Hightower, Upshaw and Mosley, he's probably the scariest.
I'll never forget when he was suiting up for the first full-contact practice with pads in fall of 2010. He smuggly said, "This is how I make people hate me," as he his donned his plastic armor.
Here's how you can tell an offensive lineman is doing his job: Nobody talks about him during the game. Before the game or after, maybe—but not during. It's not until they mess up or allow a sack that they are mentioned.
The Battle Dwarf has anchored the line at center for going on three years now. I'm not sure if I've ever heard his name mentioned during a game. His name comes up plenty after games, or when discussing future games or practices.
Offensive lineman Anthony Steen was asked who he goes to when he has a question. "Vlachos," was his quick, firm and immediate answer, but it was Steen who got the spotlight when he was called out directly on national television when he allowed a key sack in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
I'd wager there are some folks who don't keep up with sports much who heard the name Anthony Steen before they heard the name William Vlachos.
Case in point, Getty Images—the visual media provider for Bleacher Report writers—has over one hundred images of Trent Richardson. The guy in front pushing the big uglies out of Trent's way has a grand total of two.
I like it when the linemen don't get talked about during the game. The most important guys on the team are largely ignored when their doing their jobs. It's sort of like toilet paper: you don't give it a second thought...until you get caught without it.
As a redneck drag racing fan, I used to visit the local drag strip to watch other rednecks race their cars. My favorites were the sleepers.
Nothing tickled me more than a car that looked so ugly and neglected that the paint job was still primer gray that dropped jaws when it ran a sub-11 second quarter-mile.
Well, the University of Alabama has one of those from the 2010 signing class. Nobody even knew about him until a few weeks before national signing day.
Brandon Ivory, a 6'3", 340-lb nose tackle, got his attention during a post-high-school all-star game. I'd wager the first thing Nick Saban thought was "Terrance Cody." He's got all the good and bad that Cody had, but with a little less bad body weight. Only time will tell if he can sniff out a play as well as Cody.
With the large amount of playing time everyone gets in a spring game, I believe Ivory is going to turn some heads. "Hey, who that feller?"
Doesn't it feel good to see Dee Hart wearing that particular shade of blue? I suppose that's only because he now wears a particular shade of crimson.
Hart is the most likely future of the punt, and possibly, kick-return game. If all goes according to plan, he will be looking very much like Javier Arenas.
The amount of carries he gets in the A-Day game may be limited, but I'll wager he'll see plenty of special teams action, both this spring and this fall.
Though a 5-star recruit and the best cornerback in his recruiting class, DeMarcus Milliner had a tumultuous true freshman year.
His broken coverages in 2010 came during critical games and were mostly during confusing zone-coverage schemes.
Fast forward a year later and Milliner knows the playbook.
He has elite speed, size, anticipatory skills and now he knows the playbook.
Welcome to Milliner Island.
Even if the A-Day game is a royal goatrope, even if the offensive line allows 20 "sacks" (not real ones due to non-contact jerseys), even if the quarterbacks each throw a trio of pick-sixes, and yes, even if Trent Richardson falls flat on his face, the team will learn something.
New year, new team. Other than the scrimmages, this is their first "game" together.
In good times or bad times, a real team shares victory, and they share defeat.
This photo is the closest you'll get to Nick Saban smiling, but you'll never see it in a game.
The man is a chronic frowner. I think we'll see some yelling, with maybe a burst forehead vein or two.
With my luck, I'll have this all wrong, back'erds and mixed up.
So please, come back to comment Saturday night to tell me what a boondoggle this article was.