Alabama Football: 5 Unanswered Questions Heading into the Spring Game
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Body language is always important with Nick Saban.
While the coach always reminds his players at the University of Alabama that it can be very telling during a game or practice, he too can speak volumes without saying a single word.
After being pretty pleased following the Crimson Tide’s first closed scrimmage of the spring at Bryant-Denny Stadium, he was more guarded following the second on Saturday afternoon.
While he told reporters that there had been dramatic improvement in some areas, which often occurs between the first two scrimmages, his body had a bit of a different message, of cautiously optimistic: Good, but not great.
“I still think our team has to develop the mental toughness, the psychological disposition to sustain better, finish things better, play harder, be a more relentless competitor,” he said. “I like the attitude of our team, but I still think there are guys that need to improve in that area.
“If we are going to improve as a team, in the difficult times, finishing the game, fourth quarter, things get difficult, you get tired, that's when we have to execute and do things well. So you know there's a lot for us to work on.”
Afterward players tweeted about how tired they were, but the scrimmage served as sort of a physical pinnacle of spring as the Crimson Tide followed with two days of rest.
The team will practice on Tuesday and Thursday before closing spring workouts on A-Day (Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPNU).
“We need to take advantage these last couple practices,” said Saban. But regardless, the Crimson Tide will head into the summer with some unanswered questions:
As previously noted here, the competition won’t kick into high gear until Jacob Coker graduates and transfers from Florida State. So far, though, senior Blake Sims has done nothing to disappoint.
“Blake has shown a lot of command out there,” Saban said. “Blake made probably three or four plays with his feet scrambling, and then making a play throwing the ball. I know there were several third-down situations today where the front guys couldn’t get him on the ground, get him tagged, and he ended up scrambling around and made a play about three or four times.
“He’s doing a better job in the pocket. He’s been very accurate, and his consistency has been good.”
Although spring statistics should always be taken with a grain a salt—especially since Alabama hasn’t released any interception numbers—if there’s one to pay attention to in the passing game, it may be Sims’ completion percentage.
To put his 64.5 percentage into perspective, consider that AJ McCarron’s career percentage was 66.9.
As for the rest of the pecking order, redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman appears to have made a move and has taken the second-most snaps during the scrimmages. Saban repeated that the thing he needs to work on the most is “consistency.”
Combined spring passer statistics
Blake Sims 40-of-62, 455 yards, 5 TDs, 64.5 completion percentage
Cooper Bateman 30-of-56, 262 yards, 2 TDs, 53.6
Alec Morris 12-of-19, 147 yards, 1 TD, 63.2
Like with the quarterbacks, the competition may last into the regular season, especially with sophomore Eddie Jackson sustaining a knee injury that required surgery. Sophomore Maurice Smith also missed a couple of practices last week due to a concussion, but he will likely participate on A-Day.
The flip side to all of that is the opportunity the injuries gave other players.
“It’s given Tony Brown a ton of reps,” Saban said. “Bradley (Sylve) has been getting a ton of reps. Anthony Averett gets a lot more reps now because we actually had two corners down for two practices. Those guys have been doing a good job.”
Cyrus Jones is the other veteran with Sylve, as both are juniors and converted wide receivers. Hoover High 5-star recruit Marlon Humphrey arrives over the summer, and the team is hopeful that Jackson can return for the fall.
3. Left Tackle
The coaching staff is giving senior Leon Brown every chance to lock down a starting job, and last week they moved him from left tackle to right guard, where he filled in for injured Anthony Steen during the Sugar Bowl. Should that stick, the left tackle competition becomes a two-man race for now, and possibly three-man when junior college transfer Dominick Jackson (6’7”, 304 pounds) arrives.
While early enrollee Cam Robinson (6’6”, 325) has apparently only worked as a reserve left tackle, the surprise has been sophomore Brandon Greene (6’5”, 305). Last year he went from reserve left tackle to tight end, where he played in all 13 games, primarily in short-yardage situations.
“He could really block,” sophomore tight end O.J. Howard said. “He taught me some things, because he was an O-lineman at first, so he knew how to block really well. I taught him some things running routes because he really didn't know how to run routes.
“It was pretty impressive for a guy that big to play tight end. He's really athletic for his size.”
However, Alabama didn’t run the ball very well during Saturday's scrimmage, and Saban has hinted at some protection lapses, so there’s still obviously some work to be done on the offensive line.
4. Inside Linebackers
This only appears to be an issue because of Reuben Foster’s reoccurring injuries that again have him wearing extra neck support. The sophomore weak-side linebacker took another stinger during the first scrimmage.
When Foster can’t go, junior Reggie Ragland has a bigger role and junior Dillon Lee slides over from strong-side linebacker to help out—although Lee’s likely back in Saban’s doghouse for a while following his recent arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (he was one of two players sent back from Miami before Alabama beat Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship due to violation of team rules).
“They are doing great: Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland and Rueben Randle…I mean Reuben Foster,” junior safety Landon Collins said. “Reuben Foster is doing fantastic. They’re learning the defense and have been doing it for a long time and have that connection, and they are on the same page.”
5. Reserve Wide Receivers
Barring a setback, the starting three will be junior Amari Cooper, senior DeAndrew White, who is out this spring following surgery to repair a turf-toe injury, and senior Christion Jones in the slot when Alabama opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30.
During the first two scrimmages, combined, Cooper has had 19 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns, while Jones has six receptions for 39 yards and one touchdown.
Coaches would ideally like to be three receivers deep at each spot (nine total, although most know more than one role), but the player to watch among the reserves appears to again be sophomore Chris Black.
He caught six balls for 89 yards in the second scrimmage while redshirt freshman Robert Foster had four catches for 34 yards and a score.
Among the others, early enrollee Cam Sims had two catches for 48 yards in the first scrimmage while Raheem Falkins had two for 21 yards. ArDarius Stewart, who got a look at safety this spring, had two receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown in the second scrimmage.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.