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Alabama's Defense Still Great, but Offense Has Much to Work On

Christopher Walsh@@WritingWalshCollege Football National ColumnistApril 17, 2016

Running back Damien Harris had 114 rushing yards on 20 carries en route to being named MVP of Alabama's A-Day.
Running back Damien Harris had 114 rushing yards on 20 carries en route to being named MVP of Alabama's A-Day.Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was impressive the way he shifted his weight, aimed and followed through on each throw while hitting target after target with precision.

The irony was not lost on anyone at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where 76,212 fans showed up for the University of Alabama’s final football practice of the spring, known as A-Day. They had hoped to see a quarterback put on a show, but didn’t expect it would be last year’s starter Jake Coker during a halftime passing challenge.

Otherwise, it was long day for the Crimson Tide’s offensive players, especially the quarterbacks.

“I think there were some good things out there today and there were obviously some things that we could have done better,” head coach Nick Saban said. “But I think when you match yourself against yourself sometimes there's mismatches that you really can't overcome.

“I'm not sure we have all the best players on the best teams.”

Consequently, Saban said that the numbers from Saturday’s scrimmage didn't really mean that much, especially with the final score of 7-3.

The White team, which had the first-team defense and second-unit offense, scored the only touchdown. Running back Damien Harris, who isn’t ready to concede the starting job to Bo Scarbrough, had 114 rushing yards on 20 carries and was named game MVP.

For winning, those players will all get steak at the team banquet. The Crimson team, which struggled to move the ball and was credited with minus-five rushing yards, will be served the traditional franks and beans.

Nick Saban said fans shouldn't be quick to draw conclusions after A-Day.
Nick Saban said fans shouldn't be quick to draw conclusions after A-Day.Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

One takeaway, though, was that Alabama’s defense appears to not just be very good, but potentially outstanding. Even with numerous new starters and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen held out after having shoulder surgery, it was credited with 16 tackles for a loss including 14 sacks, eight quarterback hurries and seven passes broken up. 

Only four plays resulted in gains of 20 yards or more, just six out of 28 third-down opportunities were converted and JK Scott punted 15 times. The lone touchdown, a five-yard pass from true freshman Jalen Hurts to Derek Kief, came when many of the backup players for the reserves were playing in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we played pretty well, but I thought I saw a lot of things that the defense could improve on,” senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. “I feel like we’re going to be even better than we showed today.”

Two defensive players with new roles clearly stood out. Rashaan Evans, who moved from outside to inside linebacker this spring, made 17 tackles for the Crimson team, despite still learning the position, and won the game’s best lineman award.

Even though they couldn't hit any quarterbacks, Alabama's defensive players were swarming Saturday.
Even though they couldn't hit any quarterbacks, Alabama's defensive players were swarming Saturday.Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

“I felt really good. I felt really comfortable out there,” Evans said.

“My main thing is whoever has the ball, go get ’em.”

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Tim Williams, who is making the transition from pass-rusher to every-down player, made two sacks and was extremely disruptive for the White team.

“You have to have something in your heart to play on our defense—I can’t really put it into words,” said Williams, who did admit that he thinks that the 2016 Crimson Tide defense will be faster.

“Last year’s team was last year’s team. We’re trying to find our identity.”

Linebacker Reuben Foster's first time leading Jeremy Pruitt's D appeared to go well.
Linebacker Reuben Foster's first time leading Jeremy Pruitt's D appeared to go well.Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Yet some of his success was a bit circumstantial as well. With Cam Robinson (shoulder) held out, Williams was often pass-rushing against Korren Kirven at left tackle.

Saban noted that Lester Cotton would have probably fared better at right tackle, but played at left guard, where he’s expected to line up in the fall, and right guard Alphonse Taylor will stay with the second team until he drops some weight.

“All the pieces are not together,” Saban said.

“Who you’re playing against matters.”

That was especially true of the quarterbacks, where the expected front-runners had the toughest circumstances and the worst numbers:

  • Blake Barnett: 9-16-0, 112 yards
  • Cooper Bateman: 9-24-1, 86 yards
  • David Cornwell: 5-13-0, 50 yards
  • Jalen Hurts: 11-15-0 120 yards, 1 touchdown

In the first half, they combined to complete 16-of-31 attempts for 138 yards (4.45 yards per attempt). Nobody had a turnover, but they also failed to post any points, with Adam Griffith missing four field-goal attempts of 36, 47, 42, and 54 yards for the White team.

Things only got a little better during the final two quarters. A 10-play drive led by Cornwell scored the first points, while Barnett had the longest possession of the day, 12 plays for 63 yards.

Fittingly, the game essentially ended when the first-team offense’s lone drive into the red zone ended with an interception by safety Ronnie Harrison in the end zone. With that, the defensive players didn’t mind not getting the shutout.

“No, I’m kind of happy,” Williams said. "I get to eat steak."

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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