Alabama Crimson Tide fans watch the annual A-Day game each year hoping to learn something about the new squad, or at the very least get a bit of a preview of what's to come.
This year, nothing new surfaced. From the quarterback battle to the offensive line questions all the way to the ferocity of the defense, there were no surprises.
There were, however, a lot of unanswered questions.
First off, obviously, is the quarterback battle. A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims both played a tale of two halves on Saturday.
A.J. started off with the first string offense, playing against the first string defense. He cut them apart, basically...in the first half. The second half had McCarron playing with the second string offense against the second string defense, where he struggled. The only rough spot in McCarron's first 30 minutes was a bad snap, which was clearly A.J.'s fault, and not the center, William Vlachos.
Overall, McCarron went 21 for 38, for 222 tards, one TD and one interception. Strangely enough, A.J.'s best stats came in the first half of the game when he played with the first string offense. With the second string he threw almost no completions, though he was called on to make some risky deep throws.
Conversely, Phillip Sims had an abysmal first half, and a great second half. He scraped by in the first 30 minutes, barely completing 40 percent of his passes and throwing a pick. The final half of the game, however, Sims and the first string receivers (and Trent Richardson) sliced and diced the defense.
Sims went 19 for 38 for 229 Yards, zero TD, and one interception. Looks very similar to McCarron's numbers, doesn't it? The scary thing is their numbers were almost identical while playing for the first and second string.
What caused these mirrored halves? Why did the quarterbacks do well with the first string offense against the first string defense, yet terrible with/against the second string? There are a few possibilities.
1. Are first string receivers phenomenal, capable of stressing the first string secondary?
2. Is the second string receiver corps raw, inexperienced, unfamiliar with their routes, and overall not ready?
3. Is the first string secondary not as good as we thought?
4. Is the second string secondary group really good?
Anyone who keeps up with 'Bama football knows that #3 just isn't true. So, by deduction, #1, #2, and #3 are true.
The Tide secondary, first and second string, harbors some of the best players in the country. Even new linebacker-turned-safety Vinnie Sunseri showed he could put a hit on someone.
The simple fact that the two "untested" quarterbacks were able to complete a slew of passes to the first string receivers and not the second string is a testament to the first and second string defensive backs. Sims and McCarron won't face a tougher secondary all year in the 2011 season. If they can beat their own secondary, then that means the quarterbacks and their receivers are gonna be giving some people the business.
While the quarterback and secondary displayed their incredible depth, the receivers showed their lack of. Again, the quarterbacks were unable to land completions to the second string receivers. Judging by their performance with the first string, it's clearly not a quarterback issue.
The quarterbacks didn't have perfect halves with the first string offense, however. On many plays they burned through their progressions and had to settle for dumping the ball on short passes to the running backs. Trent Richardson racked up about as many catches as he had carries. "Take what the defense gives you," Nick Saban always says.
The improved pass rush wasn't a surprise, yet it was still pleasant news. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw pushed the first string offensive line around all game and chased the quarterbacks all over the backfield. This isn't a big deal as the Bama O-line won't face a linebacker squad as tough as their own.
The defensive line, however, didn't contribute a whole lot to the pass rush other than eating up blocks to free up the blitzing linebackers. That's what their job is, though. That's what a 3-4 defense is all about.
Future star defensive lineman Jesse Williams made a few brief appearances with the second string, but due to his still recovering knee injury he won't get to shine until September.
The offensive line was something to marvel, regardless of the fact that Hightower and Upshaw ran amok all day. Those two will do the same against any O-line in the nation. The second string offensive line (and first string temporary right guard Anthony Steen), however, looked a little raw.
Barrett Jones, the experimental left tackle, guarded the blindside like a brick wall. Nothing got past him. If Jones wasn't so critical to create the run game between the tackles, he'd be a stellar left tackle. Expect him to be right back at right guard in the fall, making holes for Richardson and Eddie Lacy all year.
Speaking of Lacy, if there were any doubts that he wasn't the second string running back then they were answered on Saturday.
With his tree-trunk legs creating an extremely low center of gravity, Lacy bulldozed over the defense. Suffice to say, Alabama looks good with two power backs that can juke with the best of them. Add to that the elusive Demetrius Hart (who hasn't fully adjusted to the college game yet) and Bama has a running back corps for the ages.
Though Trent Richardson seems to be the consensus star of the A-Day game, I have a different opinion.
DeQuan Menzie, the senior cornerback and junior college transfer, looked like a prototypical shutdown corner with extreme physicality and aggression. I expected Saturday to be the advent of Milliner Island. I was wrong. Menzie Island it is.
Menzie pushed receivers around all day. With so many schools lacking tall, muscular, and aggressive receivers these days, Menzie looks to be a first-round draft pick in 2012. He's quick, stops on a dime, and he's big.
DeQuan Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick will be the certain starters come fall, and they are both first-round NFL talent. Throw in the highly talented DeMarcus Milliner and the greatly improved Phelon Jones, and you can expect the safeties to go crazy in 2011 with two shutdown corners.
Overall, the A-Day game was not productive with answering questions, but was certainly some good experience for the youngsters on the team to get acclimated to a crowd of 90,000+.
The quarterbacks looked good throwing to the first string receivers, the first and second string defensive backs performed admirably, and the offensive line looked like the "Thin Red Line" of lore. Oh, and don't forget what is arguably the best linebacker corps in the nation. Looks good to me.
Everything played out as it should, and, if you don't get driven into a frenzy by the second half stats of the quarterbacks, then you'll be comfortable with the whole team, especially the quarterbacks.
Well, except the kicking game. There was a horrible punt shank and some missed field goals. Let's not give ourselves headaches just yet, though.
Though I'm sure everyone had fun watching the game, anyone who was looking for answers about the depth chart will have to wait until fall.
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