Alabama Football: 5 Players to Watch in Tide's Spring Game
With Alabama’s spring game on tap for this weekend, Tide fans will get their first glimpse of what Nick Saban’s club has in store for the 2014 season.
Plenty of changes have been made in the offseason. From notable departures due to graduation and early entries to the NFL draft, plus the addition of new coaches such as offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the Tide’s program has undergone its biggest period of transition since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Which players should fans be watching closely as the action unfolds inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon?
5. O.J. Howard
After enjoying a solid freshman campaign, sophomore tight end O.J. Howard is a candidate to break out in a major way in 2014.
The 6’6”, 237-pounder caught 14 passes for 269 yards and a pair of scores, but those numbers should increase after his first full offseason in the program.
However, before he can become an every-down player, Saban still has areas where he wants to see the former 5-star recruit grow, as detailed by Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News:
O.J. is a very talented guy. I think he needs to continue to improve in some of those areas because he's a great pass-receiver, but we continue to work with him and try to improve him as a blocker and get him to pay attention to detail and the importance of that part of the game as well.
Catching a glimpse of Howard in action this weekend should give fans an idea of how the Tide plan to get him more involved in the passing attack this season.
4. Reuben Foster
Despite the loss of starters C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard, Alabama’s linebacker unit is still loaded with talent and depth.
While upperclassmen Reggie Ragland and Trey DePriest are projected to be the Tide’s two starters at inside linebacker, sophomore Reuben Foster is an intriguing talent who should see his share of snaps on Saturday.
The former 5-star recruit has had problems staying healthy, with a shoulder stinger causing him to exit the Tide’s first scrimmage early, as noted by BamaOnline’s Travis Reier (subscription required).
However, Foster is a physical force against the run who is looking to show that he can handle an increased workload in the fall.
3. Dalvin Tomlinson
Ever since he stepped foot on campus, it seems as if injuries are the only thing keeping Dalvin Tomlinson from being an impact player on the Tide’s defensive line.
However, after knee surgeries cost him each of the last two seasons, Tomlinson will still be counted on to bring more heat on opposing quarterbacks, according to Reier.
Sophomores A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen are the headliners at defensive end, but Tomlinson is an athletic edge rusher who can provide an added dimension with his quickness off the ball.
Saban has repeated his desire to get more athletic along the defensive line this season, and Tomlinson is one of a handful of players who will be on display Saturday that can provide that type of presence.
2. Tony Brown
Considering the Tide’s struggles at corner last season, Tony Brown was a player viewed as an impact early enrollee.
With the recent injury to Eddie Jackson, the continued development of Brown has taken on added importance.
The 6’0”, 188-pounder has the type of size and speed necessary to play right away against the SEC’s best receivers.
If he can close out his spring with a strong showing in the A-Day game, Brown will cement a spot in the rotation—and perhaps a shot at a starting role—entering fall camp.
1. Blake Sims
Entering spring practice, the quarterback derby to replace AJ McCarron was a race filled with more questions than answers.
Could any of the five players participating in spring ball really be a threat to incoming Florida State transfer Jacob Coker?
After the impressive display put on by senior Blake Sims in each of the Tide’s first two scrimmages, the answer to that question was a resounding "yes."
The A-Day game gives Sims a platform to show the coaching staff and fans that he is a legitimate option to start the Tide’s season opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30.